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China: The Citrus Revolution

By: Hugo Bovill, Zhian Liang and Daemmon Reeve, Treatt
Posted: March 17, 2009, from the March 2009 issue of P&F magazine.

It is widely believed that over the next few years China’s processing of citrus will continue to increase. Meanwhile, fresh fruit consumption is likely to continue to rise and evolve as domestic demand for US-style sweet oranges grows. In a parallel development, essential oil production will increase proportionally with juice production. However, added value uses for citrus (such as freeze-dried lemon slices) could impact essential oil production. Yet it is important to note that this sort of supply fluctuation is normal in an emerging market. Overall, the next five to 10 years should be very interesting.

Citrus’ Potential

China’s “citriculture” traces back some 4,000 years. Based on the region’s ancient literature, it is clear that commercial citrus production began at least 2,500 years ago. Chinese historian Sima Qian, for example, recorded in his book Shi Ji that farmers who grew 1,000 orange trees were as rich as those who governed 1,000 families. Citrus production developed primarily in Hubei and Hunan provinces. While China hasn’t yet become a global citrus power, there is ample evidence that growth is possible. For example, just a few years ago China exported just one full container load of apple juice each year. Today, it is the primary supplier to the US market.

Inside the Citrus Belt

World production of citrus fruit stands at around 100 million tons per year, of which China contributes 18 million tons. (To use an industry measure, 100 million tons yields China: The Citrus Revolution The state of mandarin, navel orange, pumelo, tangerine and orange Hugo Bovill, Zhian Liang and Daemmon Reeve, Treatt approximately 561 million boxes.) Just over half of this is consumed as fresh fruit. China, the world’s third largest producer of oranges, produces about 134 million boxes, of which just 6.6 million boxes are processed. The remainder are destined for the fresh fruit market. This ratio is indicative of the challenges facing the Chinese citrus essential oil industry’s future.

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