Green, hayward kiwifruit is by far the most common variety in the U.S., and though some growers are open to planting new cultivars, it looks like the hayward will have the market almost to itself for the near future.
Growers for Tauranga, New Zealand-based Zespri offer gold kiwifruit as well as green, and they’re looking at still more varieties, but California growers say gold kiwifruit has not performed well in the state.
Some growers, in cooperation with New Zealand producers, planted the gold variety in a few orchards in the San Joaquin Valley a few years ago, “but they didn’t adapt well to our conditions,” said Doug Wilson, president and owner of Wil-Ker-Son Ranch and Packing Co., Gridley, Calif.
Phillips Farms Marketing, Visalia, Calif., experimented with gold kiwifruit, but owner and president Doug Phillips found that, “It’s just not the right climate here for that variety.”
The summers are a little too hot for gold kiwifruit, he said.
Gold kiwifruit, which fetches a higher price than green, has produced a bit of a marketing challenge in the U.S. for Zespri, said spokeswoman Liz Moody.
The variety has developed a following among U.S. Asians, but many other consumers don’t even know it exists, she said.
Zespri is trying to increase awareness of the nutritional content and good taste that gold kiwifruit brings to the table, Moody said.
Gold kiwifruit is more mellow and less tangy than green, and it has more of a mango or melon flavor, she said. And it’s not fuzzy.
“Once (consumers) try it they’re hooked,” she said. “It’s a matter of making them aware.”
The hayward variety is nothing to sneeze at, said Steve Riley, director of sales for Regatta Tropicals Ltd., Grover Beach, Calif.
It’s a variety that has been around for a long time. It eats well, stores well and people like it, he said.
Riley is aware of other varieties, but he has not yet seen them in California.
Wild River Marketing Inc., Marysville, Calif., will continue to focus on the hayward variety, said president Mike Noland.
“We believe in the hayward,” he said. “It has been an excellent variety.”
Stellar Distributing Inc., Madera, Calif., has had good luck with Chilean kiwifruit that has a higher brix level than early-season California haywards when growers pick them earlier than they should, said sales manager Kurt Cappelluti.
The Chilean fruit has a brix level of 7-7.5 compared with 6.2-6.4 for the early hayward.
“It makes a difference,” he said.
Although other countries grow other varieties, John Fagundes, president of Cal Harvest Marketing Inc., Hanford, Calif., said the U.S. has imposed a ban on importing new fruit wood from New Zealand or Italy because of the presence of bacterial canker in those countries.
“At this time, we have no indication that (bacterial canker) is in the U.S.,” he said.
Phillips said he travels internationally and is aware of other varieties and expects to see some with commercial merit turn up in California at some point. When they do, he’ll be ready.
“We’re certainly willing to try new varieties,” he said.