Don't freak out, but there's a mandarin orange shortage this holiday season

The sweet smell of a peeled mandarin orange is something many Manitobans look forward to over the holidays. But those orange-filled bowls at festive occasions and citrus stocking stuffers are in low supply this year.

Extreme weather events in Japan, China hurt mandarin orange harvest in lead-up to holidays

Hot and wet conditions in August and September in Japan stunted mandarin orange growth and have contributed to a shortage in North America. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

The sweet smell of a peeled mandarin orange is something many Manitobans look forward to over the holidays. But those orange-filled bowls at festive occasions and citrus stocking stuffers are in relatively low supply this year.

"It's unfortunate, for sure," said Walt Breeden, vice-president of sales for North American produce distributor the Oppenheimer Group.

"It's been such a tradition, I remember even when I was a kid on Christmas Eve you'd run down and look at your stocking and there at the bottom was your first gift, already wrapped, and it used to be a nice little mandarin orange."

Breeden's company has been in the mandarin sales game since 1896 and is feeling the brunt of extreme weather events in Japan that led to a shortage of the oranges there this year.

He said they usually also ship mandarin oranges in from China, Morocco and Spain, but all of those places have also seen stunted orange growth.

"It's been quite a double whammy," he said.

Mandarin oranges need warm temperatures to develop that signature sweet taste, Breeden said, and then they need cooler temperatures near the end of the growth cycle to turn bright orange.

"But the problem is rain is very difficult for fruit — especially oranges if it rains just before the harvest — because it makes the skin very, very susceptible to decay," he said, adding shipping soggy oranges from Japan to Vancouver causes "nothing but nightmares."

California is currently churning out some varieties of mandarin oranges but they're just not the same, Breeden said.

Apart from his job as VP of sales, Breeden happens to be a mandarin (or satsuma) orange guru.

"I love them," he said.

He said the key to picking a great orange is to find a smaller one with a firmly-attached peel "that's not too puffy." Keeping them in a fridge is another no-no.

"Room temperature is the best," he said.

Breeden said though this year has been disappointing, he predicts Japan's mandarin orange will rise again in time for the holidays next year.

With files from Information Radio