The final contents of primary and secondary metabolites of the ripe fruit depend on metabolic processes that are tightly regulated during fruit ontogeny. Carbohydrate supply during fruit development is known to influence these processes but, with respect to secondary metabolites, we do not really know whether this influence is direct or indirect. Here, we hypothesized that the sensitivity of clementine fruit metabolism to carbohydrate supply was conditional on fruit developmental stage. We applied treatments increasing fruit load reversibly or irreversibly at three key stages of clementine (Citrus clementina Hort. ex Tan.) fruit development: early after cell division, at the onset of fruit coloration (color break) and near maturity. The highest fruit load obtained by early defoliation (irreversible) had the highest impact on fruit growth, maturity and metabolism, followed by the highest fruit load obtained by early shading (reversible). Final fruit size decreased by 21 and 18% in these early irreversible and reversible treatments, respectively. Soluble sugars decreased by 18% in the early irreversible treatment, whereas organic acids increased by 46 and 29% in these early irreversible and reversible treatments, respectively. Interestingly, total carotenoids increased by 50 and 18%, respectively. Changes in leaf starch content and photosynthesis supported that these early treatments triggered a carbon starvation in the young fruits, with irreversible effects. Furthermore, our observations on the early treatments challenge the common view that carbohydrate supply influences positively carotenoid accumulation in fruits. We propose that early carbon starvation irreversibly promotes carotenoid accumulation.