Citrus in the spotlight — Health halo boosts sales amid COVID-19

Citrus in the spotlight — Health halo boosts sales amid COVID-19

This article appears in the May-June issue of PMG magazine. Keep an eye out for your copy in the coming weeks.

Summer citrus can be a hard sell as consumers emerge from a long winter partaking of oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and the like to suddenly find warm-weather options like berries and stone fruit vying for their attention.

But this year, with the onset of COVID-19, suppliers and nutritionists say there is good reason to encourage consumers not to break their winter habit of enjoying fresh, nutritious citrus.

It’s important to support one’s immune system, no matter the season, said Megan Roosevelt, founder of Healthy Grocery Girl and spokeswoman for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co.

Citrus fruits are “packed with immune-supporting vitamin C,” Roosevelt said.

However, no one is saying that citrus is a panacea for COVID-19. In fact, Jessica Bippen, a registered dietitian who has collaborated with Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers, said citrus should not be marketed as a way to cure or prevent coronavirus.

Health halo

Nonetheless, consumers seem to believe in the nutritional value of citrus, now more than ever.

“The latest IRI data shows that oranges are up 60% versus a year ago,” said Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing for Sunkist. “Health and wellness are on top of everyone’s minds, and consumers are extra focused on vitamin C and fresh foods that have some shelf stability.”

Oranges have the most vitamin C, folate and other nutrients, Bippen said, but all citrus items have unique nutritional profiles, especially when it comes to antioxidants, which help neutralize oxidative stress linked to certain chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Citrus can lower the risk of kidney stones, Bippen said, and many studies have linked citrus fruits to a reduced risk of certain cancers.

Some compounds in citrus, including soluble fiber and flavonoids, can benefit heart health.

Flavonoids also may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, Bippen said.

Even the peel is healthful, since it contains a beneficial compound known as D-limonene, Roosevelt added.

Many fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, but one of the reasons citrus fruits are so sought after is because of their versatility, she said.

All hail citrus

There are myriad ways for retailers to spread the word about the health benefits of summer citrus, Bippen said. In-store signs, fliers and advertising can be helpful, but she believes social media have the biggest impact.

“If suppliers and retailers don’t have a large following, partnering up with an influencer . . . goes a long way,” she said.

On average Americans check their phones 96 times per day, Roosevelt said. “Social media such as Instagram and YouTube are great methods to connect with consumers in an approachable and effective way.”

Suppliers themselves have come up with innovative ways to promote the healthfulness of citrus.

Sunkist has launched the #MySunkistTable campaign on social media to encourage healthy eating habits, Ward said. “Registered dietitians joined the #MySunkistTable conversation to educate consumers on the nutritious benefits of citrus and the different ways to bring fresh fruit to the table.”

Limoneira has been sharing messaging with customers and the public about the need to boost immune systems, said Alex Teague, chief operating officer.

“Vitamin C is the perfect way to do this,” he said.

Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Co., touts the company’s summer citrus as excellent sources of vitamin C and more.

“Summer citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons and limes, are naturally fat free, sodium free and cholesterol free,” said Maggie Moon, senior director of nutrition communications.      

Citrus is “a great swap for added sugar or salt,” she added.