Growers are looking forward to the California kiwifruit crop but say it’s important to be cautious about starting early.

“Western Fresh will carry Chilean kiwifruit into most of September and will only start California kiwi when the soluble solid contents are at a level that will insure proper ripening and eating quality,” said Chris Kragie, import and deciduous sales manager, Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif.

Despite a shortage of kiwi in the market leading up to California’s harvest, Kragie says the industry needs to hold off picking and packing until the fruit is ready with great flavor and storability.

Kragie says it’s about protecting the future of the industry.

“Yes, we want to maximize our growers’ returns, but we won’t jeopardize the commodity for a little more money on bad eating fruit that will turn the consumer off of this wonderful fruit,” Kragie said.

Others agree.

“Some are pushing the front end of those harvest dates, but we’re being diligent in tracking sugar levels and soluble solids to ensure we have a good eating experience,” said Jason Bushong, division manager, Giumarra Wenatchee, a division of Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos.

Bushong said the company expects to begin the third week in October, which is fairly normal.

Sue Quijano, marketing coordinator, Awe Sum Organics, Santa Cruz, Calif., also said it’s better to wait until the fruit is ready.

“In both Italy and California, we harvest our fruit a little later than other growers do. This is because we wait for a high level of dry matter, which converts to sugar as the fruit softens and becomes ready to eat,” Quijano said.

 

Sizing and volume

The California crop is just beginning but Michele Hoard, marketing manager of Zespri North America, said the company’s New Zealand season is nearing its end.

“We ship our kiwifruit from the Port of Tauranga, New Zealand, to several North American ports. Our season is May through October, so we’re in the final stretch of a great season,” Hoard said.

Awe Sum Organics expects a good supply of kiwifruit from Italy and California.

Bushong said the California crop looks to be larger in size than last year. He also expects a more normal yield.

“We’ll be up a little in volume because we lost some last year to hail,” he said.

Despite reservations about quality if picked too early, growers understand demand is high because of the growth of the category both in retail and foodservice, coupled with a limited supply from Chile.

“I’ve been working this deal for 18 years and it’s the earliest start I’ve seen with some guys shipping already. We just need to make sure the sugars are truly there and the fruit is really ready to eat,” Kragie said.

During the latest 52 weeks ending on July 26, kiwi has increased in terms of dollar and volume 1.6% and 11.3%, with a 14.6% increase in average retail price, according to information from Haley Hastings, marketing manager for Nielsen Perishables Group.

In addition, kiwifruit contributed 20.2% to specialty fruit category sales during the latest 52 weeks, second only to mangoes at 38.8%.

Some credit the growth to consumer interest in flavorful health foods.

“We’re seeing more press regarding the health benefits of kiwifruit, especially its high levels of potassium, vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants,” Quijano said.