“I would say it fills a nice niche here,” said Eric Patrick, Yakima, Wash.-based marketing director for the Grant J. Hunt Co., Oakland, Calif.
“With kiwifruit, they’ve developed a strong following over the years,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition with California and Chile, but New Zealand fills a nice niche. The product has consistently good quality, which customers like.”
New Zealand’s apple program also is showing signs of growth, he said.
“It’s developing,” he said.
However, others have a less optimistic view of U.S. apple imports from New Zealand.
Apple and pear shipments have seen no growth, said Tom Richardson, manager of The Giumarra Cos., Wenatchee, Wash.
“It’s actually declining,” he said. “The pipfruit industry has a significantly slower than normal crop this year. The volumes that are coming to North America are also significantly reduced compared to last year and to most previous years.”
Even so, New Zealand’s apples continue to be the import apple of choice from the Southern Hemisphere, he said.
The greater focus is on kiwifruit.
New Zealand has built a strong reputation in North America, said Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group.
“Zespri kiwifruit is eagerly anticipated by retailers throughout North America for its premium quality and excellent flavor,” he said. “Kiwifruit growers in New Zealand are committed to harvesting at the right brix level for the fruit to ripen and taste sweet.”
New Zealand-based kiwifruit marketer Zespri International Ltd. markets product in North America through Oppenheimer.
“While our volumes are roughly the same as 2010, Zespri remains highly committed to this market,” Woodyear-Smith said. “We will have a fruit in a full range of sizes and pack-styles for our customers.”
Oppenheimer and Zespri recently hosted a number of North American retailers in New Zealand, which provided the retailers some valuable insights into the crops and production practices, Woodyear-Smith said.
“It is always a valuable experience, which helps growers understand the realities of our market, and our customers can build their knowledge about what differentiates New Zealand-grown fruit from the competition,” he said.