A UK supermarket giant is launching a range of new hybrid easy-peeler citrus fruit, as it reported that satsuma production is in decline because the European market traditionally prefers seeded clementines.
Growers in Spain and Morocco have been reducing their production of satsumas, which are unseeded and preferred by the UK market but not by those on the continent, according to Tesco. In response, the superstore has been working with mainly Spanish growers on a breeding programme to produce so-called mandarin hybrids which have fewer pips.
It said the popularity of mandarin hybrids is growing each year in the UK, and that last year Tesco shoppers bought roughly twice as many as they did in 2017. Tesco said that the varieties of mandarin it is now launching – Meiravit, Havva, Orit and Sigal – have fewer pips, are less susceptible to early season greening and have a longer shelf life, as well as having a vibrant colour and being more aromatic.
It suggested that the hybrids could take over from clementines completely in the next decade.
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 long-standing 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.”
Supplier AMT Fresh, based in Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, is one of the UK’s biggest importers of citrus fruit and has been working with Tesco.
Bennie Smidt, head of agronomy at AMT Fresh, said, “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.”
He said that it could “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,” he said.
“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.”
He said that the reduced number of satsumas being produced had led to some changes in UK tastes, leading to work to make “improvements” to mandarins.
“When availability of the satsumas fell in the 00s the UK imported more clementines,” said Mr Smidt.
“As a result of their stronger taste, consumer preference switched over from satsumas – when they were available – to clementines. But there was still the matter of seeds. Mandarins also had seeds but were overall the better quality easy peeler to select for varietal improvements.”