Most produce marketers have good things to say about the flavor of their commodities as each new season begins, but this year Zespri has some hard numbers to back up its use of the word “vintage” to describe the New Zealand kiwifruit crop.
On-orchard sampling of kiwifruit shows the highest dry matter numbers on record for New Zealand’s signature fruit, said Michele Hoard, senior marketing manager for Zespri North America.
Zespri’s general marketing manager Carol Ward said she is confident the record numbers will translate into happy consumers and high demand.
The highest levels of sunshine in the growing regions since 1992, coupled with a dry winter, created perfect conditions, Ward said.
Dry matter corresponds to the sweetness of ripe fruit.
“Dry matter is up substantially in all our varieties,” Ward said. “The record levels are consistent across the industry, which means the overwhelming majority of Zespri kiwifruit fall into the highest taste category.”
Ward and Hoard said offshore marketing teams are reporting very strong repeat purchasing by consumers.
The downside of the New Zealand kiwifruit deal this year is the impact the Psa disease has had on volumes.
Psa is a bacterial disease that kills kiwifruit vines. It was found in New Zealand in 2010.
Steve Woodyear-Smith, category director for tropicals at The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said flavor is the silver lining for what will be a strategically challenging season.
He said rain delayed harvest by a week or more and resulted in the cancellation of one vessel destined for distribution in North America.
“Overall the volume is down for green and gold,” Woodyear-Smith said. “Promotional opportunities on the greens will be limited this season.”
Woodyear-Smith said there is a shortage of larger kiwifruit this year for gold and greens, mostly because of microclimate events in growing areas.
Jason Bushong, sales manager for Giumarra Wenatchee, a division of Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. that also imports kiwifruit from New Zealand, agreed with the prediction of limited volumes.
He said the Psa disease had “devastated” the gold variety, but he still expects shipments in by late June.
Organic volumes, however, are up and will provide retailers with promotion opportunities, Woodyear-Smith said.
He said acreage has not increased, but yields in the organic orchards were better this year than usual.
Strong price points
Woodyear-Smith and Bushong said the limited supplies and strong consumer demand are keeping prices high.
Bushong said he doubts consumers will mind the pricing or the slightly smaller fruit size because of the incredible flavor profile the New Zealand kiwifruit has this year.
Woodyear-Smith said there simply isn’t enough of the fruit to go around, which means strong prices across the board. He said demand from other export markets around the world could have further reduced availability in the U.S., had it not been for Zepsri’s commitment.
“Zespri has always been willing to invest in North America,” Woodyear-Smith said. “Their continued commitment to North America is commendable, especially with markets around the world seeking their fruit.”
He said limited supplies should not deter retailers from promoting kiwifruit from the New Zealand deal.
“Above all, we urge retailers to bring kiwifruit out of hiding this summer,” he said. “Whether that means bigger displays, better positioning in the store or creating a seasonal showcase piece with other summer fruits, we have seen amazing results by stores who follow this advice.”
One West Coast retailer saw a 209% increase in sales without changing their original price point, Woodyear-Smith said.