Citrus has become China’s largest fruit category after a strong growth period but the effects of Covid-19 have seen the market steady

A period of growth is set to come to an end for Chinese citrus production in the upcoming marketing year 2022/23 (12 months from 1 October 2022) but consumption and demand for high quality fruit remain strong according to a new report from the USDA.

The report predicts orange productions to increase slightly while mandarin and tangerine will drop as will grapefruit production. Continuing Covid-19 challenges, unfavourable weather, and phytosanitary issues are all influencing factors.

“Despite economic woes, citrus demand remains strong as health-conscious consumers, aided by an expanding e-commerce sector, seek out products rich in Vitamin C,” the report said.

Orange production is expected to 7.6m tonnes in 2022/23, up from 7.5m tonnes the year before. The forecast is based on increased production in new planting areas (i.e., Hubei, Yunnan, Hunan) offsetting navel orange production decreases in Jiangxi province. Exports are forecast to rise 6,000 tonnes to 70,000 tonnes a slight recovery with the removal of Covid restrictions after almost halving since the onset of the pandemic.

The story is similar for exports, which are expected to increase by around 7,000 tonnes after a sharp decline in recent years. Major orange exporters to China include South Africa, Egypt, Australia, United States, and Spain. South Africa managed remains the leading orange supplier, increasing its 2021/2022 market share by nearly 20 per cent.

For tangerines and mandarins the report forecasts China’s domestic production to drop from 2.7m tonnes in 2021/2022 to around 2.65m tonnes. Slight increases are expected for both imports and exports.

“This forecast reflects reduced production volumes from unfavorable weather, as well as the reduced planting areas due to the greening disease that is spreading across Guangxi province,” the report said. 

In 2022 Iran gained access to the Chinese market for its fresh citrus products including oranges, mandarins, and sweet lemons as did Laos for its oranges, pomelos, and lemons, both of which are expected to service the lower end of the market.

Competition is also increasing at the premium end of the market with more suppliers targeting China and domestic production improving in quality.

“Themed, public-facing events are also playing an important role in citrus sales. During the harvest season, major Chinese orchards often organize special, open-to-the-public events to celebrate the harvest. Media, traders, and key opinion leaders are present, and social media awareness of these events is growing,” the report said.

“Strong brands with consistently superior quality are the key to customer loyalty, creating the demand that supports the higher selling price. Chinese consumers prefer juicy and sweet oranges as well as easy to peel tangerines and mandarins.

“Smaller family size and higher single household wealth are increasing demand for citrus products in smaller packaging Community or group purchases remain strong and are often facilitated online. WeChat mini programs and other online shopping programs are growing fast. The speed and ease of home delivery allows Chinese consumers to consume the varieties of citrus fruits they prefer with a simple click of a button.”