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The Situation and Outlook of Citrus Processing Industry in China

Wu Houjiu
Vice-Director of the Citrus Research Institute
Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences Professor
Vice-General Secretary of the Chinese Society of Citriculture


Current Situation


Development Vistas


Over the past twenty years, citrus production in China increased at an annual rate of 16%, amounting to 11 million tons in 1998. However, the citrus processing industry did not record parallel growth. On the contrary, output of canned mandarin segments, the traditional dominating product went down. At present, annual processing of citrus fruits is annually around 500,000 T, that accounts for only 5% of total citrus production in China. The main finished products include 250,000 T of canned mandarin segments, 10,000 T of citrus juice (based on single strength juice), 3,000 T of gel and jam, 1,000 T of wine and 800 T of fruit candy. It is worth mentioning that export of the canned mandarin segments has seen a substantial growth in recent years, in particular, Zhejiang has become China's largest exporter whose annual output of canned mandarin segments has exceeded 200,000 T in 1999 of which 180,000 T was exported. With constant growth of the national economy and unceasing rise of the people's living standard, the demand for high quality citrus juice has been increasing remarkably. Domestic production of both natural citrus single strength juice and concentrate lags far behind the domestic market demands that have had to rely upon imports. The import of citrus juice has exceeded by a factor of 10 the domestic output. This situation has attracted domestic and foreign investor's attention, who have started to build the large-scale production bases of citrus juice in Chongqing and Sichuan. Over next 5-10 years it is projected that China will set up 2 production bases of orange juice, one in east Chongqing and south Sichuan, and another in south Jiangxi and south Fujian, 1 lemon processing base in central Sichuan and 2 production bases of canned mandarin segments, with one in east Zhejiang and another in south Hunan. Production of citrus juice and canned mandarin segments will reach more than 100,000 T and 300,000 T respectively in 2005 and 500,000 T and 400,000 T in 2010 respectively.


Citrus fruits, with excellent colour, flavour, taste and nutrient, are particularly suitable for making juice. Annual global production of citrus fruits has exceeded 100 million tons, of which more than one third has been processed. Citrus juice has become one of the major beverages in the developed countries. The main reason why citrus has been the fruit of the largest production in the world is its superior suitability for processing.

Over the past 20 years, citrus production in China had increased 19 times at an average annual growth rate of 16%, from 550,000 tons in 1977 to 11 million tons in 1998. However, the Chinese citrus processing industry experienced a fluctuation with a fast development in 1980s and a drop in 1990s. China imported more than 20 citrus juice lines which were distributed in citrus planting provinces, such as Sichuan, Chongqing, Guangdong, Guangxi, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan and Hubei etc. These juice lines have a processing capacity of 150 tons of fruits per hour. When adding the capacity of the great number of canned citrus segments plants, the total annual capacity of the processing industry reaches 800,000 tons of fruit in 100 operational days which accounted for 50% of the average annual citrus production during the 1980s. However, actual output of the processing lines is less than half of capacity and citrus juice production never exceeded 10% of the capacity. In the 1990s, the citrus processing industry did not develop, but instead declined. There is now an increasing demand on the domestic markets for citrus products, which may activate the growth of the processing industry. In 2000 China processed 500,000 tons of citrus fruits that accounted for 5% of the total citrus production. The main products included: 250,000 tons of canned mandarin segments, 10,000 tons of citrus juices (on ssj), 3,000 tons of gel and jam, 1,000 tons of wine and 800 tons of fruit candy. The canned segments production was concentrated in Zhejiang and Hunan. Zhejiang has become the largest producer and exporter of canned mandarin segments in China. Zhejiang has 270 citrus processing factories, 30 of them produce mainly the segments for export. In 1999 Zhejiang produced more than 200,000 tons of canned mandarin segments, 185,000 tons of which were exported, accounting for 90% of China's total export of the segment products, or 60% of the world trade on the segments. Hunan has more than 10 citrus processing factories, which produce around 20,000 tons of canned mandarin segments annually and half of the products was exported. There are a few citrus processing plants which are producing citrus juice at present. These plants are located in Chongqing, Sichuan, Jiangxi and Fujian and produce 1,500 tons of 65_ Brix concentrated juices annually. The Chongqing Three Gorges Fruit Juice Company processed 10,000 tons of citrus fruits and 700 tons of concentrates in the 2000/2001 processing season. The citrus gel products are concentrated in Zhejiang. The new gel product made of whole piece mandarin segments has become very popular in Asian markets. Chongqing and Quxian in Sichuan once produced orange wine and tangerine wine which were sweet types and the production was stopped due to their market disappearing. However, there are some new products such as Ponkan dry wine developed in Yongchuan, Fujian and a Satsuma brandy wine developed in Shaoyang, Hunan which have been well received by local consumers.


Development of the citrus processing industry in China saw big fluctuations in the past twenty years. The main constraints to its development are as follows:

I. Irregular consumption market for citrus products

Canned mandarin segments used to be the dominating traditional product in China for a long time, which was very popular when the fresh fruit supply was short in the off season. As the citrus production grew rapidly together with apple, pear, and grape etc, in the 1990s, abundant fresh fruits were supplied to the market and, inevitably, the canned segments lost its attraction. It even turned worse when the export was challenged by the Japanese and Spanish canned industry because of limited raw materials of suitable quality, poor technology and quality control. Meanwhile, Russia and East European countries, the previous major importers, had no money to buy canned products due to their economic and political crisis, so the exportation of China's canned fruits was almost halted. The juice market in China fell into chaos in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s when cheap but fake and inferior products assaulted expensive high quality single strength citrus juice, making the later almost disappear from market. With China's economy developing fast and people's living standard rising continuously, the market for natural citrus juice has ushered in a great growth in recent years, but the domestic juice product could still hardly meet the demand of the domestic market because of insufficient raw materials, backward technology and quality control; therefore China has to rely on imports of citrus juice products, which has exceeded by a factor of 10 those of domestic products. This situation will continue for a certain time after China enters the WTO.

II. Wrong material for processing

The profitability of citrus processing depends on the quality, supply duration and price of raw fruits. Up to now China has not had any commercial scaled raw fruit production base for citrus juice making. Some cultivars such as Jingcheng orange has top quality for juice making in the world, but it is a medium maturing cultivar that can be available for three months only. There is no large plantation formed by early, medium and late maturing cultivars in China. That is why the citrus processing season is only 100 days in a year, and this will certainly lead to low utilization of facilities and human resources and high cost. With early, medium and late maturing varieties to provide raw fruit, the orange juice processing plants operate more than 200 days a season in the United States and Brazil. Citrus plantations in China are mostly very small and scattered, resulting in low yield and high cost, so the price of fruit is almost 1-2 times higher than that in Brazil. China's juice processing plants have to buy cheap off grade fruits with poor quality to reduce production cost. These poor quality fruits have low juice and sugar contents (around 35% and below 10% respectively), but high acidity (more than 1%), resulting in juice with a bitter taste and dark colour which is not suitable for making single strength juice, but could be only used for drink base at a low price. Such juice products cannot compete with high quality products from the United States and Brazil. Therefore, a shortage of suitable raw fruits has restricted the development of the citrus processing industry in China and prevented the processing facilities from full utilization. A few citrus juice plants which are trying their best to produce cheap and inferior products can hardly occupy the high quality juice market which is increasingly relying on imports. In this connection, construction of commercial production bases to produce high quality citrus juice to meet domestic market demand is immediately urgent in China.

III. Out of date equipment and technology and incomplete quality control systems

Although China imported more than twenty juice lines which were advanced at that time in the 1980s, most of them were not put into full production as mentioned above, and can not produce good enough products to meet the current market requirements. Moreover, the quality standards, test methodology and monitoring and control of citrus products in China have become out of date and need to be updated to catch up with the international standards.


China's coming accession to WTO is ushering in a more open domestic and international market for citrus products, which means more intensified competition in both domestic and foreign markets. In this regard, it is good news for the revived segments canning industry, that has occupied a dominant position in international trade permitting it to consolidate and even expand its market share. By comparison, it is disastrous to the orange juice industry. Nevertheless, it does not mean there is no way out. China has vast land base, suitable for growing juice purpose citrus and abundant low cost labour. As a large-scale production base for citrus of early, medium and late maturing varieties is established, China's juice industry still has the opportunity to participate in international competition, with the first step being to seize the domestic market share. With the development of China's economy and improvement of people's livelihoods, Chinese neat juice market will unexceptionally follow normal international development steps, and the annual per capita consumption is expected to rise in 10-20 years from 0.1 kg, dramatically up to the world average of about 2-3 kg, and the total annual consumption for orange juice will then reach 2-3 million tons. Annual production is expected to exceed 100,000 T (on ssj, the same below) for orange juice and 300,000 T for canned segments in 5 years, and 500,000 T and 400,000 T respectively in 10 years. The huge market potential for orange juice has attracted high attention of domestic and overseas investors. The former Seagram Co. Ltd, (which has merged with Vivendi Co. of France) started to set up a large juice processing base in cooperation with Chongqing Three Gorges Construction Ltd Group in Zhongxian County of Chongqing Municipality in 1997. An area of 45,000 mu of sweet orange with a combination of early, medium and late maturing varieties will be established, and the existing 20,000 mu of Jin orange will be rehabilitated, resulting in a total of 65,000 mu producing 150,000 T of sweet orange per annum for juice making. The project is now under smooth implementation. Seagram Co. established in 1998 a modern citrus technology centre and a virus-free seedlings nursery in Zhongxian County, which produced over 15,000 high-quality grafted seedlings for maternal scions planted in demonstration orchards in 2000. The nursery will produce another 300,000 high-quality seedlings to be planted in production orchards in 2001, and afterwards produce 400,000 virus-free seedlings annually for newly built orchards. All of the 45,000 mu of new orchards are expected to be established and begin bearing fruit by 2005, and the orange juice plant will be set up and put into operation in 2004 with the expected annual production of 75,000 T of quality orange juice. In addition, plans are under preparation for construction of large-scale juice-producing bases in Wanzhou of Chongqing municipality, Yibin and Luzhou of Sichuan province, Gannan of Jiangxi province and Quanzhou of Fujian province. Juice processing is also being considered in Zhejiang, apart from its canned segment industry which is to be further expanded. To sum up, China's orange juice production and market is bound to boom.

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