Pre-ripened kiwifruit are so popular, sales on some accounts for Ripe & Easy kiwifruit over a two-year period are up 2,000%, says Sun Pacific Marketing, which says it is the country’s largest kiwifruit grower.

“We have seen significant increases in sales and consumption with our Ripe & Easy program, said Bob DiPiazza, president of Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific.

DiPiazza calls the value-added program an “underdeveloped sleeping giant.”

Increased demand for Ripe & Easy kiwis forced Sun Pacific to import Italian fruit during last year’s California season, DiPiazza said, and the grower-shipper plans to bring in Italian fruit again this season to supplement domestic supplies.

The pre-conditioned fruit is packed in 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-pound clamshells, supported by marketing programs and custom display materials.

“Look for us on social media and digital advertising this season,” DiPiazza said.

While Sun Pacific has made a Ripe & Easy splash, other growers have been quietly pre-conditioning kiwis for years.

“We do a little pre-conditioning — exposing the fruit to some ethylene — on the front end of the season,” said Doug Phillips, owner and president of Visalia, Calif.-based Phillips Farms.

“We don’t advertise it. It’s more on a customer-by-customer basis, and we don’t do it on fruit that’s been in storage,” Phillips said.

He said ethylene helps the early fruit ripen more evenly while still offering good storage at retail.

Los Angeles-based Giumarra Cos. has offered pre-conditioned kiwifruit for nearly a decade, said Jason Bushong, division manager of Wenatchee, Wash.-based Giumarra Wenatchee.

“In the last five years there’s been more demand for pre-conditioning and for brix levels,” Bushong said.

“It’s becoming more of an issue, especially on the front end of a new season where fruit maturity might not be quite there yet and the kiwis take longer to ripen,” he said.

He said Giumarra has learned a lot from its New Zealand growers and applied that knowledge to kiwifruit in other growing areas to produce consistent fruit year-round.