Consumption of oranges is in a three-year decline as busy consumers switch to smaller varieties that are easier to peel.

The number of orange eating occasions fell 2% to 598 million in the year to February 29 [TNS], the latest available data. It is the third year in a row that orange consumption has fallen.

However the drop has been countered by growth in the "easy peeler" market. Satsuma consumption has risen 35% to 459 million occasions and tangerines are up an impressive 60% to 62 million.

Today's consumers were looking to switch away from the time-consuming process of peeling a traditional orange, said Prag Mistry, managing director of importer and distributor Fruitmann. "People find it easier to eat easy peelers as they have so little time," he said. "A recent study showed we only spend 15 minutes eating lunch in the UK on average."

The trend for switching towards easy peelers had been replicated Europe-wide, said Marius du Plessis, general manager at importers Mehadrin Tnuport Marketing UK.

While consumption of oranges was in decline, the popularity of clementine varieties such as Or and Mor and tangerine varieties such as Suntina was soaring, he added. This was partly explained by time considerations, but fruit size was also a factor as easy peelers fitted more comfortably within lunchboxes and handbags.

"I think the reason for the change is to do with the size and weight of oranges," said du Plessis. "You can pick up an 800g bag of clementines and it's enough to last you a few days, whereas oranges are more bulky."

There had been few developments in the breeding of oranges, while growers were putting a great deal of time into developing new easy peelers, he said.

Another reason for the decline in orange consumption was that fewer were eaten at traditional mealtimes, said TNS analyst Eddy Coates.