UPDATED: Kiwifruit markets headed for ‘uncharted territoryKiwifruit prices could be headed into record territory as Chile, hit hard by September freezes, takes over the deal.

As of March 24, Chilean kiwifruit shipments were just 15-20% of what they were at the same time the past two seasons, said Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager for Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing.

Those percentages will increase, he said early-season fruit was hit hardest by the fall freezes. Still, Kragie is expecting the Chilean kiwifruit crop to be down about 70% this season.

That will yield very strong markets, said Steve Woodyear-Smith, tropicals category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

"We"re really in uncharted territory as far as pricing," Woodyear-Smith said. "‘Shipping in volume from Chile" might be a misnomer this year."

No one benefits, Woodyear-Smith said, when supplies are so limited. There will likely be very few or even no promotions on Chilean fruit this season, and retail shelf space could shrink, he said.

"Consumers might say that they"re unwilling to pay 99 cents for a piece of kiwifruit," Woodyear-Smith said.

The first shipments of Zespri kiwifruit from New Zealand should arrive in mid-May, said Michele Hoard, marketing manager of Zespri North America, a division of Mount Maunganui, New Zealand-based Zespri International Ltd., the exclusive exporter of the country"s kiwifruit.

With high global demand for green kiwifruit, green shipments to the U.S. will be down this year, Hoard said.

Zespri also will ship the SunGold gold variety and organic green kiwifruit.

"We"re expecting demand to be high for both of these great varieties," Hoard said of the SunGold and organic green. "SunGold is going to revolutionize the kiwifruit category. And organic green volume into North America continues to grow with the demand."

The SunGold is larger than other varieties and doesn"t have a crown, she said. It was introduced in 2012 to replace gold varieties devastated by the vine disease pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae, or PSA.

Zespri will rely on marketing programs this season touting its health and new variety research, Hoard said.

"We"re excited about the upcoming season."

Western Fresh expected to ship California kiwifruit into early April, when Chile will take over the deal.

Italian kiwifruit shipments, meanwhile, also are far below typical years, Kragie said. Italian volumes are 10-20% lower than last season, but because of huge demand from Europe, Italian volumes to the U.S. in late winter and early were only about 20% of what they are in a typical year, Kragie said.

On March 24, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $20-23 for 19.8-pound containers of haywards 23-27s from Italy, up from $16-18 last year at the same time.

Oppy expects to begin bringing in New Zealand kiwifruit in early to mid-May, Woodyear-Smith said. Green volumes will be similar to last year for the company, but gold and organic shipments should be up, he said.

Even with New Zealand entering the deal, however, Woodyear-Smith said kiwifruit prices would be higher throughout the summer.