Sumo Citrus doubles harvest and expands distribution in 2023 season

by Kristin Leigh Lore, Jan 23, 2023

Seedless, easy to peel and offering citrus segments bursting with a sweet tang balanced perfectly with acidity — it’s easy to swoon over the hybrid mandarin variety known as Sumo Citrus. In season from January to April, it’s simple to spot in a citrus lineup because of its distinctive topknot that rests atop the large, bumpy orange fruit like a messy bun.

Originally cultivated in Japan in the 1970s by a single grower who set out to develop the platonic ideal of citrus, the fruit made its way to California’s San Joaquin Valley where it’s now grown under a varietal brand, Sumo Citrus, that boasts 13 seasons under its belt and counting. This year’s Sumo harvest is set to harvest the largest crop to date, doubling output from the previous year, according to a news release from Sumo Citrus, despite the region’s weather challenges in recent months.

“While the rain is welcome and necessary to continue California the farming industry, it can lead to some hurdles when it comes to planning harvests,” Emma Koehler, assistant brand manager at AC Foods, told The Packer. “In order to harvest citrus, the rind needs to be dry, otherwise there is risk of future breakdown of the fruit. Because of this, harvest is not possible during rain, so our team monitors weather closely to determine when and where harvest is possible throughout the last few weeks of storms.”

Even with recent precipitation and flooding, the Sumo Citrus brand is optimistic.

Related news: Rain brings long-term gain but short-term harvest delays for California citrus

“We’re extremely excited about this year’s crop, not only in terms of its enormous volume but also its exceptional quality,” Ron Steele, vice president of sales for Sumo Citrus, said in the release. “We’re so thankful to our incredible growers who have so much pride in what they do. They work tirelessly year round ensuring that, at harvest time, every single individual piece of fruit meets our unusually high standards of sweetness, taste and texture. We’re extremely pleased to bring this incredible product to more customers than ever.” 

Box of sumo citrus

New packaging and additional distribution locations also will support the burgeoning Sumo harvest.  

“We are looking forward to expanded distribution and introducing our [2-pound] Sumo Citrus bag into even more locations to give shoppers options on how they want to stock up on Sumo Citrus,” Koehler said. “This incredibly sweet mandarin stands out in the aisle, from its bumpy skin to eye-catching purple branding.”

Sumo gets social

“We have developed a network of ‘super fans’ through our Instagram and Facebook pages, and this year we are to diving into the world of TikTok after going viral on the platform last year,” Koehler said.

Digital media continues to present opportunities for the brand to grow awareness online and inspire in store purchase, she said.

While Sumo Citrus will continue to partner with retailers to create in-store shopping marketing programs, the company is looking for more opportunities to “meet our shoppers where they are learning about new products to show them what all the hype is about,” Koehler added.  

Related news: Clearing up those mandarin misconceptions

Not only did Sumo Citrus gain the attention of followers during the 2022 season, but it also garnered several industry awards, including Good Housekeeping’s 2022 Best Citrus Award and winning The Kitchn’s produce category in the 2022 Kitchn Essentials Awards.

In 2021, Sumo Citrus won the Best Promotion of 2021 in PMG magazine, a product of The Packer, for its extravagant, whimsical in-store displays nationwide.

“The real showstoppers every year are the big, beautiful displays we see built in stores,” Koehler said. “With the bright purple branding and even some team members dressed in Sumo Citrus costumes, we always love to see the creativity from the retailers who activate display contests.”

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