Supplies of Chilean and New Zealand kiwifruit were tight as the import season was winding down, signaling a strong California deal, kiwifruit marketers say.
Supplies of Chilean and New Zealand kiwifruit were tight as the import season was winding down, signaling a strong California deal, kiwifruit marketers say.

With supplies tight as New Zealand and Chile seasons wind down, all signs point to a strong start to the California kiwifruit season in October.

“The market looks incredible for this time of year. I’ve never seen it this good,” said Doug Phillips, owner and president of Visalia, Calif.-based grower-shipper Phillips Farms.

“We think that New Zealand and Chile have finished sooner than normal, which means good opportunities on the front end that we hope will continue through most of the season,” Phillips said.

Global demand for kiwifruit continues to grow, said Steve Woodyear-Smith, tropicals category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, and less overlap than usual between the Southern and Northern Hemisphere supply should keep demand and prices strong.

But volumes have decreased as the Psa disease destroys gold kiwifruit and forces New Zealand, Chile and Italy to replant and develop disease-resistant varieties, Woodyear-Smith said.

New Zealand exported less than half of the gold kiwifruit it shipped in 2012, he said, while Chile was able to export about 4% more fruit than last year.

The quality of this year’s New Zealand crop has been excellent, said Michele Hoard, marketing manager of Zespri North America.

“The dry conditions in New Zealand this past growing season have delivered Zespri kiwifruit with high dry matter, giving consumers a great eating experience,” Hoard said.

Chile’s season was “up and down,” said Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager for Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing.

“We had one of the best starts in 10-15 years, then we had an oversupply, which lowered the market to some of the lowest prices I’ve seen, and today’s pricing ($20-25 on Sept. 17) is the highest I’ve seen in 18 years of selling kiwis,” Kragie said.

The Italian crop, which begins in November, is probably down 10% to 15% from its three-year average, said Woodyear-Smith, who plans to import green and gold fruit from Italy and ship the green hayward variety out of California.

“With Italy’s Psa and with Zespri down, there are going to be a lot of markets open to send kiwis to, so the Italians aren’t going to be in a rush to send their fruit here,” he said.

Jason Bushong, division manager for Giumarra Wenatchee, Wenatchee, Wash., expects a strong start for domestic and Italian fruit.

“We could see opening in the low 20s,” Bushong said. “That’s pretty high.”

The Sacramento, Calif.-based Kiwifruit Administrative Committee forecasts a California crop of 6.5 million 7-pound tray equivalents for the new season, which runs from October to May.

Last year’s crop exceeded 9 million tray equivalents.

Bob DiPiazza, president of Pasadena, Calif.-based grower-shipper Sun Pacific Marketing, said significant new acreage coming into production this year will increase volumes at Sun Pacific for the next few years.

Kragie, who expects the California crop to be down 10% to 15%, said new plantings and new acreage among his 8-10 growers should bring up volumes at Western Fresh to last year’s levels.

After several years of large sizes, he predicts the California crop will be down two or three sizes — in the 26-33 range compared to last year’s peaks of 20, 27 and 25.

Brian Lapin, salesman for Madera, Calif-based Stellar Distributing Inc., said his California growers planned to start harvesting in late September, about two weeks ahead of last year.

Phillips, who was also “ready to go,” said exports of California kiwis are holding their own in Mexico, Canada and Central America.

“We even have opportunities in Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand,” he said.