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The Circle of Produce

The Circle of Produce

As writers, we are trained to look for recurring themes. We sometimes read with the intent of getting a look inside the author’s mind—mining for stylistic gold that unlocks a new level of human understanding.

In life and in literature, a recurring theme I often run into is this: Every ending is a new beginning. This is especially true in the fresh produce industry, a community of people who start anew multiple times each year. The calendar follows the sun, as do the millions of acres of farmland that cover the United States.

As does Bee Sweet Citrus.

“We begin our domestic season with Satsuma Mandarins in October, followed by Clementine Mandarins in November, Page Mandarins in late November, and W. Murcott/Tangos during January and February,” Monique Bienvenue, Director of Communications and Compliance, told me at the tail-end of the California summer. “Our season usually runs until the end of May.”

With Mandarin programs continuing to grow at retail, this eight-month-long domestic season is key to Bee Sweet’s partnerships. Of course, one ending is simply a new beginning, and Bee Sweet offers up its summer program with domestic grapefruit, lemons, Meyer lemons, Valencia oranges, and Chilean Mandarins, Navel oranges, and lemons.

“Over the last few years, Mandarins have become a household staple for many families, which is why we’ve made it a priority to provide our customers with a 12-month citrus program,” Monique continued. “In addition to supplying domestic Mandarin varieties, we also work closely with two growers in Chile that allow us to provide Mandarins, lemons, and oranges year-round.”

Now, as we make our way through September, the supplier is ready to begin its domestic Mandarin season once again, and Monique relayed it should be an improvement over last season.

“California’s citrus industry had a historically small Mandarin crop during the 2021–2022 season. The season ended earlier than usual, but we expect the crop will be back to average for the 2022–2023 season. Quality of the fruit will also be excellent,” she explained.

Bee Sweet harvests most of its domestic Mandarins on the east side of California’s Central Valley, specifically Kern, Tulare, and Fresno counties. These areas see hot summers and cold winters, which is perfect for bringing out the fruit’s Brix levels when they’re in season.

While the growing season may last eight months in these growing regions, Mandarins are in demand year-round, making them a recurring theme in consumer shopping carts as well.

“Over the last few years, Mandarins have become a household staple for many families, which is why we’ve made it a priority to provide our customers with a 12-month citrus program.”

Monique Bienvenue, Director of Communications and Compliance, Bee Sweet Citrus

“No matter what holiday or event a shopper may be preparing for, they can always count on Mandarins to deliver. In addition to being an amazing snack for work or school, they can also be used for parties, holidays, and gatherings,” Monique told me. “It's important to note that as consumer curiosity about produce and the ways they can incorporate it into their diet increase, so, too, do the ways Mandarin usage grows. Gone are the days that limit Mandarins to just a snack; now, they’re often used for cocktails, desserts, and more.”

As you tear back the layers, the sweet smell of citrus bursts out of a Mandarin peel—a sure sign of a simple snacking occasion without the prep. Instead of spending time washing, chopping, and preparing snacks for children to eat, parents can simply toss a Mandarin in a lunchbox and be done. Because they’re seedless, easy-to-peel, and sweet, they’re a hit with children, and they save parents time in the kitchen.

“Mandarins are also incredibly nutritious. With health top of mind for many families, incorporating foods that are an excellent source of vitamin C into their diets is extremely important,” Monique noted. “Fortunately, one medium-sized Mandarin can provide you with approximately 45 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.”

Shoppers’ year-round affinity for the fruit has not been developed without the conscious efforts of marketing aces like Monique. Bee Sweet deploys multiple strategies that have helped elevate this produce item to retail fame.

“We believe the best way to market Mandarins is to appeal to the unique needs of the shopper. Mandarins are great for families on-the-go because of their portability and excellent health attributes, but they’re also great for foodies looking for new ingredients to include in their winter salads, or bakers looking for a sweet ingredient to include in their desserts,” Monique stated. “Bee Sweet has honed in on the power of social media to supplement our marketing strategies for all of our commodities. We know different platforms serve different audiences, which is why we tailor our messaging on each platform.”

Before we even get to the marketing stages, another familiar theme is played out: the behind-the-scenes farmworker that uplifts thousands of pounds of fruit. California’s citrus industry is set to collectively harvest approximately 57,000 acres of Mandarins throughout the 2022–2023 citrus season. With demand continuing to rise, Bee Sweet decided to implement a new Mandarin packing line in Fowler, California, that allows the company to upgrade and leverage some of its existing space to run certain varieties more efficiently.

“Simply put, the diversity of our program allows us to meet consumer demand year-round. Shoppers can conveniently pick up any one of our varieties at one central location, and can rely on our brand regardless of the occasion.”

“With state-of-the-art weighers, graders, baggers, and automatic palletization, this line will decrease our overall production costs, which will in turn increase returns to our growers,” Monique divulged. “In addition to making the line as efficient as possible, we’ve also made it a point to keep environmental and social sustainability at the forefront of this project. Not only is the line being engineered to reduce water consumption, but it will also be adorned with solar panels, and we plan to include lithium-ion charging stations in the facility for our forklifts. The new line will also eliminate our need for a night shift, which will allow for our employees to work during the day, and possibly explore new opportunities in different positions.”

Monique explained that Bee Sweet has the horsepower to grow, pack, and ship Mandarins at a low cost. Since the company opened its doors in 1987, the team has made it a point to not only meet, but exceed, its customers’ needs, and the new Mandarin line solidifies that commitment.

In addition to household staples like oranges, Mandarins, and lemons, Bee Sweet also harvests specialty citrus varieties such as Cara Cara Navel oranges, Blood oranges, Meyer lemons, Minneola Tangelos, Star Ruby grapefruit, Pummelos, and Melo Gold grapefruit.

“Over the past few years, we’ve completely revamped the Bee Sweet Citrus brand to strategically represent all of our varieties,” Monique outlined. “If you place the packaging of our varieties right next to each other, you’ll notice they all share one cohesive look. This was done intentionally to remind customers that we have the ability to grow, pack, and ship approximately 10 different varieties throughout the year.”

This vast program allows Bee Sweet to maintain its position as a leading citrus supplier in the United States—akin to what many would call an industry titan in literature.

“Simply put, the diversity of our program allows us to meet consumer demand year-round. Shoppers can conveniently pick up any one of our varieties at one central location, and can rely on our brand regardless of the occasion,” Monique concluded. “As consumer trends continue to evolve and shift, our varieties will be there to supplement their needs.”

We end this story upon a new beginning. Domestic-grown Mandarins will soon be coming off of the trees for Bee Sweet Citrus, ready to meet the increasing consumer demand that we see across this category.

Some might say year-round beginnings are a disruption, but for Bee Sweet, they are what keep the company in motion. Monique and her team continue turning straight lines into circles, wielding the cyclical nature of fresh produce to ensure the consistency never ends.