Supermarket and supplier AMT Fresh believe new mandarin hybrids could replace clementines in the UK
Tesco is promising a revolution in the easy-peeler category with the launch of a series of new varieties.
The supermarket said the new, rich-tasting mandarin hybrids - Meiravit, Havva, Orit and Sigal - could ultimately take over from the clementine in the next 10 years, with satsuma production already in decline.
The new varieties are better-tasting, more vibratant in colour, more aromatic, have fewer pips, are less susceptible to early-season greening, and have a longer shelf life, according to Tesco.
The mandarin hybrids are the result of Tesco and its main citrus supplier, Peterborough-based AMT Fresh, working closely with mainly Spanish growers on a long-term breeding programme, with results improving each year.
Tesco citrus fruit technical manager James Cackett said: “What caused all this to happen is that traditionally the European market preferred clementines, which are seeded, while we in the UK prefer satsumas, which are unseeded.
“About 20 years ago Spanish and Moroccan growers decided that the European market was more important to them and so many began switching production from satsumas to clementines. Now far fewer satsumas are grown.
“So we needed to come up with a seedless alternative for the UK market and began a mandarin hybrid breeding programme which is now starting to really come to fruition.
“This has been a longstanding quality improvement programme and we’ve been working with our supplier and Spanish and Moroccan growers to make sure we get fruit that’s perfect for our customers.”
Mandarin hybrids growing in popularity
The popularity of the mandarin hybrids is growing each year in the UK, Tesco noted, with its shoppers last year buying roughly twice as many as they did in 2017.
Bennie Smidt, head of agronomy at AMT Fresh, explained: “A hybrid is a cross between two varieties, and in this case that could be other mandarins, clementines, satsumas, oranges or even grapefruit. A cross means taking pollen from a certain variety and pollinating a flower of a different variety.
“The resulting seeds within the fruits are the hybrids, which will need to be grown, selected, screened, and propagated if successful. This can take up to 20 years before it reaches the market in commercial volumes.
“With the latest varieties of the mandarin hybrid we are now starting to see the best-quality easy peelers that have ever been available in the UK - richer in taste, deeper in colour, far more aromatic and also easier to peel.
“The clementine gained popularity due to greater availability in Spain and Morocco when production of the UK’s old favourite, the satsuma, started to fall 20 years ago.
“With these annual varietal mandarin improvements and the fact that they are growing more popular with UK consumers every year, we can see a time, perhaps within the next decade, where we can reduce our reliance on the import of clementines.”