Lower volumes of California and Italian kiwifruit are driving strong demand.

About 7.2 million trays of California kiwifruit are expected to ship this season, 2 million fewer than last season, said Nick Matteis, assistant manager of the Sacramento, Calif.-based Kiwifruit Administrative Committee.

Lighter supplies from both California and Italy — early projections of Italy’s crop being 22% lighter have mostly held true, Matteis said — have generated strong demand this season, which Matteis doesn’t see diminishing for the duration of the deal.

“The only thing remotely negative this season is that growers wish they had more fruit,” he said. “Demand is good, and prices are good.”

Hail damage last spring centered around Traver, Calif., put an early end to the California deal for Cal Harvest, the marketing arm of Fagundes Agribusiness, Hanford, Calif., said John Fagundes, president.

Cal Harvest finished at the end of January, two months earlier than usual, Fagundes said.

Supplies industry-wide, however, were right where they should be for the end of January, with about 45% still in storage as of Jan. 28, Fagundes said. Supplies should be plentiful, he said, until Chilean product begins arriving in April.

Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing expects to complement its California deal in February and March with Italian product, said Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager.

“Volumes are really down, and it’s driven up the price swiftly and sharply,” Kragie said.

Western Fresh expects to have California kiwifruit until it begins importing Chilean fruit, about March 18-22, he said.

Fagundes agreed with Matteis that demand should remain strong for the remainder of the California deal. The industry got a boost, he said, when TV host Dr. Oz talked about the energy, anti-oxidant and other benefits of kiwifruit on his show earlier in January, Fagundes said.

“From what I’ve heard, there’s been a pickup at the store level” because of the show, he said.

On Jan. 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16.25-16.50 for 19.8 pound cartons of hayward 27s from California, up from $11.10-12.10 last year at the same time.

While Italy’s volumes are lower than last season, the high prices in the U.S. were luring more Italian product into the U.S. in late January, Fagundes said.

Things got off to a good start at the beginning of the season, as Chile and New Zealand both wrapped up their deals in a timely manner, Matteis said.

“There wasn’t much in the way of lingering inventories,” he said.

Through Jan. 28, growers were reporting that quality was good and that storage supplies were holding up well, Matteis said.