The massive earthquake in Chile and its aftershocks won’t likely have much of an effect on kiwifruit exports, but cold weather earlier in the season and a new focus on quality will, importers said.

Fresno, Calif.-based Stellar Distributing Inc. and other importers received their first container shipments the week of March 15, said Kurt Cappelluti, Stellar’s sales manager. Volume shipments aren’t likely until about April 1.

That’s a week to 10 days later than normal, Cappelluti said, thanks to the creation of an association in Chile that is committed to waiting to pick until kiwifruit has enough dry matter, a strong indicator of quality, he said.

The first shipment of the season for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Giumarra of Wenatchee was on the water the week of March 15, and expected to arrive about 10 days to two weeks later than normal, said Tom Richardson, general manager.

While early season shipments won’t likely be affected by the earthquake, later shipments could be if cold storage facilities were damaged, Cappelluti said.

“They don’t know how the CA rooms are going to seal,” he said.

Nevertheless, Cappelluti described growers as very optimistic, and said volumes could be up 10% over last year.

It was a cold Chilean spring, not the earthquake, that set the deal back, Richardson said.

“There were some individuals who lost some of their farms, but the impact on the overall deal is not significant,” he said. “The highways are still a bit tricky — more difficult than anyone wants — but they’re manageable.”

Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, also was optimistic about a quick recovery in Chile, though he said messages from shippers the week of March 15 had been mixed.

“On the one hand they’re saying there aren’t a lot of people picking and packing, on the other that they should be in full swing by next week,” he said March 17. “There will be an impact. We’re still trying to figure out exactly what it will be.”

Markets should be strong whenever Chile enters the deal in a significant way, Woodyear-Smith said. He said he wouldn’t mind a slightly later entry — it would give prices a chance to come down so ads can get set. A late-season push from Italy could help perform that task, he said.

“There’s some very high pricing due to California running out, especially on the West Coast,” he said. “It’s killing any opportunity for ads.”

On March 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $20-22 for 19.8-pound containers of loose hayward 23-25s from Italy. On March 31, 2009, the first date prices were available, Chilean haywards 23-25s sold for $16.

Reports on early shipments indicated good volumes, quality and size profile, Richardson said.

Cappelluti said early-season quality was very good, with fruit sizing slightly smaller than normal. Fruit was peaking on 33s and 36s instead of 27s and 30s, he said.

Chilean kiwifruit deal a week to two weeks late