Sicily’s leading citrus exporter Oranfrizer has garnered new retail business in the UK for its blood oranges and soft citrus mandarins on the back of a growing reputation for distinctive varieties, high quality and consistent supply. PBUK speaks with export manager Sara Grasso and marketing manager Salvo Laudani about Oranfrizer’s new varieties, the 2019 season, and future opportunities in the UK.
Having historically supplied Marks and Spencer (M&S) over the course of the last season, Oranfrizer has acquired additional supermarket customers in the UK with its new late-season cultivars of Tarocco blood oranges (also known as red-fleshed oranges).
Grasso says Oranfrizer has selected Lempso and Ippolito as the best new Tarocco blood orange cultivars to send to the UK, out of the six it has developed — Nocellare, Ippolito, Lempso, Sciara, Meli and Sant’Alfio.
“Lempso and Ippolito are proving very successful,” she explains. “We are supplying new supermarkets in the UK this year, as well as M&S, which continues to buy our fruit.”
The new Tarocco cultivars guarantee extended availability and a continuity in supply from December to late May (during a good season), adds Laudani. “This provides an important six-month window during which to position the product on the market,” he says.
Lempso and Ippolito offer high-quality characteristics too. “They are very well pigmented; not only in the flesh but also on the skin,” says Grasso. “Ippolito is delicious, with a very nice flavour. It’s very red both inside and outside.”
Together with M&S, Oranfrizer has developed a new line of blood orange offerings for UK consumers, launching a ‘Red Blush’ brand for the Tarocco Lempso cultivar to highlight its distinctive red colouring. It was this, and other innovative supply efforts, that led to Oranfrizer winning the Special & Different Award from M&S in 2018.
Oranfrizer export manager Sara Grasso
In the past year, Oranfrizer has also introduced to more UK supermarkets its seedless, red-fleshed mandarin variety called MandaRed that the firm has supplied to M&S for years.
“It’s a pigmented mandarin that is turning out to be very successful in the UK,” Grasso notes. “It’s the only pigmented mandarin in the world – there is not another mandarin like it! The sales are very good because the taste is very particular, and its presentation is really nice too. It’s available from the end of January until the middle of February.”
Additionally, this season Oranfrizer has supplied a new Sicilian seedless mandarin called Etna to one UK supermarket.
“We’ve never sold the Etna in the UK before, but this season we did something new and it has been very well appreciated by one UK supermarket chain in particular.”
The UK outlook
Established in 1962, Oranfrizer has supplied the UK retail market for the past two decades. During the past five to six years, however, the company’s presence has expanded, which Grasso attributes to the success of its Tarocco Ippolito and Tarocco Lempso blood orange clones, as well as its Tacle, MandaRed, Etna and Mandalate mandarin varieties.
“The market has been much better and we have acquired new clients because the quality we have delivered has been stable and quite high,” she explains. “Now we have a good reputation in the UK as a reliable supplier from Sicily.”
Added to that, Laudani says Oranfrizer is blazing a trail in terms of the varietal innovation of Sicilian citrus, which has caught the attention of UK buyers.
“From what I’ve seen, the UK perhaps is the main market for new citrus varieties,” he reveals. “UK buyers are very interested in offering something different to the final consumer.
“Oranfrizer is the leading company driving the revolution of the citrus sector in Sicily. The new cultivars of Tarocco are changing the face of our industry, and this is our goal.
“We’ve had visits of people from the UK to our pilot farm, and they are very interested in these important, new cultivars.”
Last year, Oranfrizer’s citrus exports to the UK rose by an impressive 55 percent. Grasso explains that the UK market was very good, while the Sicilian citrus season was highly positive from both a quality and volume perspective, which translated into solid prices. “This combination allowed us to increase sales and also to acquire new clients,” she notes.
As for the 2019 season, having reached the half-way point Grasso says the expectation was worse than the reality, taking into consideration the unknowns of Brexit and an off-season in Sicily, which was compounded by flooding last October.
“The bad weather affected the quality, the volume and the price of the fruit available for this season,” she states. “Nevertheless, supermarkets that we haven’t worked with before in the UK asked us to supply them.
“All in all, considering the situation in the field, with Brexit and the exchange rate, I have to say that sales are good. Probably this season will be shorter than the last one; ending in April compared with May. But luckily, so far, the volume we are supplying to the UK is more or less the same as last year.”
On the question of Brexit, Grasso says Oranfrizer is keen to continue supplying the UK, highlighting that within the European Union (EU) the UK is “one of the best” markets for the company.
“But when the UK leaves the EU, the only certainty will be the quality of our fruit,” she acknowledges. “There is a lot of uncertainty about the exchange rate and whether there will be duties on products.
“Everything depends on how the UK organises the market and how it coordinates its exit from the EU. If they manage it well, probably next season will be good. We have a good product that we can supply without a problem. The question is what will happen in the UK.”
Oranfrizer marketing manager Salvo Laudani
Blood orange appeal
Currently, blood orange is Oranfrizer’s best-selling citrus fruit in the UK. It’s also the firm’s leading export product overall and where Oranfrizer’s expertise lies.
In the UK and other European nations, appreciation and demand is growing for the distinctive fruit on account of its high nutritional value, flavour, versatility of use and Italian origin.
In particular, Laudani says scientific research indicates that Tarocco — which is the largest of the three main blood orange varieties (Tarocco, Moro and Sanguinello) — contains a higher of volume of Vitamin C than “all other varieties of oranges.”
Blood oranges are a natural source of anthocyanin, too, which gives the fruit its characteristic red colour and makes it a good source of antioxidants.
As for usage, Laudani suggests the fruit lends itself well to hot or cold, and sweet or sour dishes because of its balanced bitter-sweet taste. This delicate flavour also makes blood oranges the “perfect orange for eating,” rather than just squeezing.
“In the last five to six years, we’ve developed a lot of recipes through our Orankitchen concept to suggest using the whole blood orange in the preparation of many dishes, from appetisers to desserts and cocktails,” Laudani comments, explaining that the information is sent to customers and shared with end users via supermarket tastings.
“Untreated, you can use blood oranges in many, creative ways. The peel, which often goes to waste, can be used with chocolate or to add aroma to a dish of pasta.”
Grasso points out that this balanced sweet-and-sour flavour is what distinguishes all Italian citrus (blood oranges, blonde oranges and mandarins) from sweet citrus grown in other countries.
“Blood oranges and MandaRed mandarins also have a different look because they are pigmented, while Etna and Tacle mandarins have a different skin colour,” she adds.
The microclimate of the Catania plain in Sicily, where Oranfrizer produces the majority of its citrus, is the cause of these peculiarities.
“The presence of the [Etna] volcano affects the microclimate of the plain,” Grasso explains. “In winter, the daytime temperature is 20-22 degrees C, but at night the temperature goes down to 0-3 degrees C because of the volcano, which is 3,300 metres high.
“This incredible temperature range, combined with the volcanic soil, stimulates the main characteristics of our citrus — the balance of the sugar and acidity, and the colour of the fruit. It produces an amazing red colour in the flesh and skin.”
Oranfrizer grows and supplies PGI Sicilian blood oranges, PGI Syracuse lemons, Washington Navel oranges and Sicilian soft citrus cultivars Etna, Tacle, MandaRed and Mandalate.
Oranfrizer is exhibiting at The London Produce Show and Conference on 5-7 June.