Citrus suppliers have a unique opportunity to build on the sales momentum generated by the coronavirus pandemic, and should develop joint strategies to increase global consumption based on established health claims, as the avocado sector has done to such powerful effect.

That was the take-home message from the first ever Global Citrus Congress Live, which took place on Thursday and drew more than 1,300 delegates from 59 countries.

Organised by Fruitnet Media International and the World Citrus Organisation with the support of CIRAD, the event brought together producers, exporters, importers, retailers and service providers from all over the world in search of new strategies to build a more sustainable future for the citrus sector.

The creation of the WCO last year has ushered in a more collaborative approach among the world’s leading citrus producers, who recognise the need to work together to claw back the market share lost to other produce categories in recent years.

Setting the scene during the opening session, Philippe Binard of the WCO presented the latest Northern Hemisphere production forecasts. He was followed by CIRAD’s Eric Imbert and Neil Murray from IHS Markit, who outlined the key consumption trends in the fresh and processed sectors.

The session highlighted the need to develop effective solutions to reactivate consumption in the face of significant production increases in some parts of the world and stagnant demand in key markets like Europe.

The congress then heard from Naomi Pendleton of AM Fresh, Limoneira’s John Chamberlain, Mustapha Zemzami of Les Domaines Agricoles about the extensive sustainability efforts these companies are undertaking and the need to communicate this more effectively to the consumer. A presentation from Hispatec’s Jose Luis Molina, meanwhile, underscored the important role of technology in making citrus more sustainable.

The congress then turned to marketing, with John MacGuigan from the Hass Avocado Board presenting a powerful case study on how a mandatory sales levy had been used to fund marketing programmes and nutritional research that helped make avocados the number one consumed fruit in the US.

MacGuigan suggested that a similar revenue model would give the citrus industry a consistent level of investment, allowing it to fund strategically driven health research and a marketing plan to convey the relevant findings to consumers.

Stephan Weist of German supermarket Rewe went on to say that being able to guarantee a homogenous, good quality product in each of the main categories would help retailers lift sales.

A panel discussion between Jose Antonio Garcia of Ailimpo, Zac Lafitte from Wonderful Citrus and Agustina Fabbio from San Miguel Global, reiterated the need to work together effectively as an industry to promote the category as a whole and raise consumption.

The theme was taken up by Justin Chadwick of South Africa’s Citrus Growers Association and co-founder of the WCO, who said that while the global citrus industry would continue to be fiercely competitive, it recognised the need to work together to defend and grow its market share.