While the First State may be small in size and population, there's nothing little about Delaware's contribution to filling the nation's grocery stores and dinner plates with fruit from around the world.

The 2012 clementine season is just getting underway at the Port of Wilmington, which means tons of the little orange fruits will be moving through the port.  Last season, from October 2011 through February 2012, nearly 23,000 tons of clementines came through the Port of Wilmington, an increase of 114% over the season before that.

The increase is attributed to a change in the way Fresh Fruit Maroc, a Moroccan company that ships the fruit to the U.S., packages the clementines.  Starting in 2011, the company switched from shipping the fruit in giant containers to the break bulk method of shipping, where boxes of clementines were loaded on individual pallets.  That allowed for quicker delivery times to U.S. distributors.  The change reduced the time of delivery from Morocco from one month to two weeks.

The Moroccan Ambassador to the U.S. Mohamed Rachad Bouhlal visited the Port of Wilmington to see the fruits of his country's labors.  "If we help create jobs [in Delaware], you also by buying our products help create jobs in Morocco."  Because of that mutual benefit, Bouhlal added, "I hope that clementines have a long life in Delaware." 

Governor Jack Markell says the importing deal with Fresh Fruit Maroc has created 100 jobs at the port since it started in the year 2000.  "We have the largest on-dock cold storage complex on the entire continent," Markell said.  He says that 800,000 square foot cold storage facility combined with relationships the state's been able to develop with business leaders in countries like Morocco, "Enable us to have a great bounty of fresh fruit during the winter."

Just last year, the port added rapid-cool chambers designed to slow the ripening process and extend the life of fruit being stored at the port.  The four chambers that are part of the cold storage facility reduce the temperature of fruit from 40 degrees to between 32 and 34 degrees within 3.5 hours.

Markells says his wife and children were big fans of clementines before he realized the Port of Wilmington was a major importer of the fruit.  "We will be even bigger consumers [now], and we're hoping that everybody...consumes lots of Moroccan clementines this winter, both to help our friends in Morroco and also to provide business here at the Port of Wilmington."

Markell says Ambassador Bouhlal's visit was arranged by Delaware State Housing Director Anas Ben Addi, who is from Morocco.  Markell says he is one of only two Moroccans serving at the state cabinet level in the nation.