A New Zealand-based grower-exporter is upbeat about volume and demand this coming season for Meyer lemons, a variety known for having a milder, less acidic taste than more common cultivars.
First Fresh managing director Ian Albers tells www.freshfruitportal.com current conditions bode well for the current crop, which is expected to recover from last year's production decline.
"We've had a good growing season through the spring of 2015 and the summer of 2016, so the crop is looking to be 15-20% up on last year, which in itself was down on the year before so we’re looking to get back to where we were in 2014," Albers says.
"We would normally start shipping around the third week of May, and at this stage there’s nothing to suggest it’s going to be anything different this year.
"Basically we need some cool nights to get color development kicked off. We’ll run through probably until mid-September."
He highlights the fruit is looking in good shape cosmetically as well.
"It looks very clean, so I think we should be seeing some very good Class 1 packouts," he says.
"Size-wise the crop is probably going to peak on 140 this year which gives us a good mix of sizes for various market and customer demands.
He says the majority of fruit will likely go to the U.S., Japan and China, while the company is also looking to develop markets in Southeast Asia as well.
"In the U.S. the majority is going through retail club stores and then just general supermarket chains - it's across the board really.
"And we're seeing a growing demand in the foodservice area as well for Meyer lemons – you’re starting to see them mentioned by name on menus. That’s all pretty positive.
"In China it's a bit through e-commerce, some into retail chains and a small amount will go through the wholesale markets as well, but predominantly we’re targeting the e-commerce, high-end retail type outlets," he says adding the New Zealand industry is fortunate in having access to ship directly into the Chinese market without cold treatment.
Building on a successful trial run for Meyer lemons in Malaysia two years ago, Albers is optimistic the message about the fruit's distinct attributes will grow in the Southeast Asian region.
"We come up against a lot of South African product in that part of the world so we really have to push the niche attributes of the Meyer to justify the price premium.
"I think we’re slowly starting to get that message across and as global awareness of the Meyer lemon..it's very fragrant, probably more fragrant than a standard lemon, and it's pretty juicy."
He adds the flavor is milder, which lends itself to use in desserts and baking.
When asked about increased plantings to keep up with demand, the executive emphasized the need for a "measured approach to growth".
"We think that there is opportunity to grow the total volume but we need to do it in a measured way.
"There has been a global upsurge in new lemon plantings and New Zealand is no exception, but we want New Zealand to maintain its specialty niche item status."