Kiwifruit still is classified as a specialty item in a category that includes guava, mango, cactus leaves, papaya and other exotic fruits and vegetables.

The last year, though, showed some upward sales movement by kiwifruit that even mainstream items couldn’t manage.

In a period beginning July 1, 2011, and ending June 30, 2012, kiwifruit sales volume was up 11% and sales increased by 13%, according to the Nielsen Perishables Group.

That’s an unusual combination, since most produce items have been declining in volume as prices have gone up, said Steve Lutz, executive vice president.

“The past year has been good with kiwi. It’s momentum to grow on for the category,” Lutz said.

Quoting numbers based on retailers in the Nielsen Perishables Group’s database, Lutz said kiwifruit generated about $56 million at retail during that yearlong period.

The sales increases are a sign that kiwifruit marketing messages are hitting their marks, said Jean Ashby, marketing director and category manager for Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific Marketing.

“We feel strongly that consumer education is key to increasing sales,” she said, noting the information on nutritional content, directions on how to eat the product, and the fruit’s “ready-to-eat” status at retail as central messages.

The nutrition-focused message is important, said Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager with Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing.

The Nielsen Perishables Group data likely doesn’t capture the whole picture of kiwifruit’s sales success, said Steve Woodyear-Smith, category director for tropicals at the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group.

“If you consider club stores, which are not entailed in our research, the growth could be even higher,” he said.

Packaged fruit programs are particularly successful, so Oppenheimer is focusing on “delivering more kiwifruit in this format,” Woodyear-Smith said.

If nutrition is a key to sales, then kiwifruit revenues likely will continue to shoot upward, said Doug Phillips owner of Visalia, Calif.-based Phillips Farms Marketing.

“It has one of the highest concentrations of vitamins and natural antioxidants and it’s very concentrated,” he said.