Kiwifruit marketers look to increase consumption in U.S.

10/11/2010 02:23:53 PM
Jim Offner

As far as kiwifruit is concerned, the U.S. market has plenty of room for growth, marketing agents say.

But reaching that goal will take extra effort and cooperation across the entire industry, said Karen Brux, general manager of Redwood City-based Zespri North America, the U.S. branch of Mt. Maunganui, New Zealand-based Zespri International Ltd.

“I’d say one of the major stumbling blocks we have to increasing consumption in North America is the inconsistent eating quality of kiwifruit that is available to consumers outside of Zespri’s season,” she said. “Zespri can guarantee that when consumers eat our fruit they’ll have a great eating experience. But we’re here only half the year. If we could lift the bar for everybody, consumption would go up.”

Nothing turns off consumers more than an inconsistent experience, Brux said.

“If the fruit doesn’t taste great, there are a lot of other options out there with other fruit in the market,” she said. “It’s a challenge and also an opportunity. If we can lift the bar for taste, consumption will grow for everybody.”

Retail customers note that problem regularly, Brux said.

“Consumers and retailers are demanding better-tasting fruit,” she said. “I’ve had retailers tell me they know they have kiwifruit that tastes terrible certain months of the year but they can’t do anything about it.”

There is a relatively easy solution that would address that problem in a significant way, and retailers can play a role, Brux said.

“I know very few retailers in North America who have brix as part of their specs,” she said. “They have firmness. They test for how hard it is but not for how it tastes.

“I’m happy the market is starting to focus more on taste, but retailers need to include that as part of their receiving specs.”

Teaching consumers about ripeness is a mission of the California Kiwifruit Commission, said Chris Zanobini, president of the Sacramento-based organization.

“We’re looking at educating people on knowing when it’s ripe and ready to eat and the nutrient richness of California kiwifruit,” he said.

The fruit is easy to sell to consumers who have tried it, said Mike Hatcher, salesman with Dinuba, Calif.-based Fruit Patch Sales LLC.

Getting them to try it, though, is another matter altogether, he said.

“It’s one of those items that people that like kiwi buy it,” he said.

Shippers might be well-served to offer consumers various options, Hatcher said.

“They’re obviously looking to expand consumption for pack styles,” he said. “Kiwis are placed in fruit bowls and fresh-cut stuff.”

Eric Patrick, marketing director with the Oakland, Calif.-based Grant J. Hunt Co., said store demonstrations often prove successful.

“It’s really seen as one of those superfruits, and it’s gotten a lot of publicity and it’s marketed in stores,” he said. “They go on ad and the more shelf space always improves sales. We’ve had a couple of years with a pretty aggressive demo program. Last year, they had the Zespri kiwifruit cars covered with kiwifruit logos and that worked well.”

Patrick noted “there’s definitely room for growth” in the U.S. market.

Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager for Madera, Calif.-based Stellar Distributing, said kiwifruit consumption has lagged in the U.S., compared to other countries, but at least it hasn’t dropped.

It hasn’t changed at all in the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “You have your top 10 fruits — we’re probably between 45 and 60. We haven’t gotten any higher, but we haven’t fallen. It’s been stable. It’s just not a higher priority for buyers.”

Chris Kragie of Madera-based Western Fresh Marketing, agreed retailers who are aggressive in displays and offer different pack sizes can sell more fruit.

He also said the product still has plenty of growth potential.

“Although I believe the volume of sales increase yearly, I’m not sure of the numbers,” he said. “I do know that the USA is way down on the list of countries by per-capita consumption.”

Consumption also may be a seasonal matter, as well, said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America with the Sonoma, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

“We haven’t seen the indices of consumption, but I suspect consumption is far greater in the summer,” he said, adding that about 15% of Chile’s kiwifruit harvest goes to the U.S. “The American consumer is faced with a vast array of choices, and it’s pretty easy to be forgotten if you don’t keep your name out there in front of the consuming public.”



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