New Zealand fruit supplies on track despite earthquake

06/16/2011 02:58:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Consumers across North America can expect good volumes of top-grade apples, pears, kiwifruit and other items from New Zealand this year, shippers and marketing agents say.

“It has been a quality season thus far,” said Eric Patrick, Yakima, Wash.-based marketing director for Grant J. Hunt Co., Oakland, Calif.

Growers and shippers say the industry was virtually untouched by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck the Canterbury region in New Zealand’s South island on Feb. 22.

The earthquake was centered near Christchurch, the country’s second-largest city, and damage estimates were in the range of $16 billion New Zealand dollars ($12 billion).

“While our friends and family members in the Christchurch area continue to rebuild and recover, we are relieved to report that our grower partners and logistics have not been affected,” said Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director with the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group.

“The earthquake was on the South Island and most of the kiwifruit growing area is on the North Island, in the Bay of Plenty,” said Michele Hoard, senior marketing manager with New Zealand kiwifruit marketer Zespri International Ltd.

“There wasn’t an impact on the orchards or harvest in the Bay of Plenty, but there are Zespri employees that have relatives affected by the earthquake,” she said.

Hoard said the Zespri office in Tauranga had a fundraiser to support the affected area.

Shipments of kiwifruit started to pick up in May and should continue into November, Patrick said.

“It’s been pretty steady,” said Patrick, whose company imports apples and kiwifruit from New Zealand.

The apple deal gets tougher each year, Patrick noted.

“It’s good, but it’s a window that keeps getting smaller and smaller as Washington’s season goes longer,” he said.

Supplies of kiwifruit should match up well with last year, Woodyear-Smith said.

“We’ll have consistent supplies of Zespri green, green organic and gold kiwifruit this season in roughly the same volumes as 2010,” he said.

The premium gold kiwifruit is getting particular attention this year, Woodyear-Smith added.

“While gold kiwifruit has become quite mainstream over the years, we are giving it particular focus this season, with strategic promotions occurring in each geographic region of North America,” he said.

The gold is in high demand worldwide, Patrick said.

“It’s a sweeter fruit and does well particularly in some of the Asian markets,” he said.

Other varieties are in various stages of development, said Michele Hoard, senior marketing manager with New Zealand-based Zespri International Ltd.

“Zespri, as the world’s largest marketer of kiwifruit, continues to research and develop new cultivars,” she said. “We have some great new varieties in the pipeline and are in the process of selecting test areas around the globe.”

Tom Richardson, manager of Wenatchee, Wash.-based The Giumarra Cos., said some items out of New Zealand have seen declining volumes, but gold kiwifruit seems to be moving up.

“Production in New Zealand has grown a bit, particularly in the gold varieties,” he said. “The green varieties are like last year’s crop, but, like apples and pears, you’re going to see less of that fruit come to the United States compared to last year.”

Apple and pear shipments have seen no growth, Richardson said.

“It’s actually declining,” he said. “The pipfruit industry has a significantly slower than normal crop this year. The volumes that are coming to North America are also significantly reduced compared to last year and to most previous years.”

Shipments of meyer lemons, tamarillos and oca — a potato-like tuber — from New Zealand were scheduled to start June 1, said Hazel Kelly, spokeswoman for Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc.

Kelly said the company also has a pipeline of other specialty items out of New Zealand, including feijoas, from April through June; kiwano (horned melon), from February to June; passion fruit, from January to June; apricots, in February and March; greengage plums, in February; and figs, from February through April.



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