After a brief dip, kiwifruit prices are on the upswing again and should stay high through the summer.

Importers have known for some time that the Chilean kiwifruit crop would be 60-70% lighter than last year, thanks to severe September freezes, said Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager for Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing.

Less predictable was the fact that the Chilean deal was going to be “front-loaded,” Kragie said, with unexpectedly large volumes coming in early in the season.

“Prices dipped by two or three dollars” a box as a result, Kragie said.

By early May, however, they were starting to come back up, he said.

On May 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $21-24 for 19.8-pound containers of haywards 25-27s from Chile, up from $18-20 last year at the same time.

Brian Lapin, salesman for Madera-based Stellar Distributing Inc., said the kiwifruit deal is as hot as it’s been in the past decade.

“We had always thought it was going to be this way after we heard about the freeze, but we never expected it to be like this,” Lapin said. “For the beginning of this Chilean season, we’re selling more kiwi than we ever have at prices higher than we ever have.”

The U.S. will be lucky to get half of the fruit it got last year from Chile, he said — and the amount of controlled-atmosphere fruit is just 20% of last year’s total.

As a result, Stellar is trying to buy as much fruit as it can now and put it into CA for later shipments.

“June projections look like f.o.b. prices will be $25-$27, but the demand could certainly drive that price even higher, maybe even to prices comparable to New Zealand kiwi during the same time,” Lapin said.

Prices on Chilean fruit heading into summer will likely be in the $23-26 range, Kragie said. New Zealand fruit, which should begin shipping in the U.S. by late May, will likely be $30 and up, he said.

Chilean markets will likely be strongest in August and September, when there’s very little product in the marketplace, Kragie said.

Fruit will continue to be on the small side as spring yields to summer, Kragie said.

“There’s an abundance of 39s and smaller, and very few 33s and larger.”

Fortunately, Kragie said, Costco has made it easier for shippers by lowering its minimum-size requirement from 33s to 36s.