Larger Chilean kiwifruit expected to receive steady spring demandImporters expect strong kiwifruit markets as Italy yields to Chile this spring.

The Wenatchee, Wash., office of Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. expects to bring in Italian kiwifruit through March, said Jason Bushong, salesman.

The first Chilean fruit should arrive in the first or second week of April, Bushong said. Chilean volumes could be similar or slightly down from last season, he said.

Very limited volumes of California kiwifruit should remain in the market through late March or early April, said Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager for Madera, Calif.-based Stellar Distributing Inc.

Stellar also expects to bring in 15 containers per week of Italian kiwifruit through April. The company will stick with Italy longer this season than in the past because of concern over early-season Chilean fruit not ripening quickly enough for consumers, Cappelluti said.

“Costco, Wal-Mart and other retailers don’t want fruit that’s too green.”

Stellar expects to begin receiving Chilean fruit the week of March 18, with peak volumes beginning to follow in early April. Sizes in March were peaking on 30s and 33s, a slightly bigger profile than last season, Cappelluti said.

Steve Woodyear-Smith, category director for tropicals at Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, also expects slightly larger sizes from Chile.

The crop, which should begin arriving the week of March 18, is reported to be up to 12% lighter than last year, Woodyear-Smith said.

Strong winter demand for kiwifruit should segue into strong spring demand, Bushong said.

“Italy’s been pretty solid all year, and things are tightening up a bit,” he said March 11. “It should lead into a strong Chilean market.”

On March 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-18 for 19.8-pound cartons of haywards 25-27 from Italy, up from $13-15 last year at the same time.

Cappelluti agrees markets should be very strong at the beginning of the Chilean deal. He hopes that Chilean shippers don’t respond by flooding the market with volume, as he says they’ve often done in the past.

Woodyear-Smith agrees.

“If I could say one thing to Chilean growers, it would be, ‘There’s no need to panic and overload the market,’” he said. “The market is very strong right now, and quite attractive, and that scares me.”

Bushong said Chilean kiwifruit was peaking on medium to large sizes, with good quality reported. Shippers have been tracking the dry matter of kiwifruit more closely than in the past, and sugar levels are high based on research this season, he said.

New Zealand fruit on tap for mid-May

The first containers of kiwifruit from New Zealand are set to reach the U.S. and Canada in mid-May, said Michele Hoard, senior marketing manager for Zespri Americas, a division of Mount Maunganui, New Zealand-based Zespri International Ltd., the exclusive exporter of the country’s kiwifruit.

The New Zealand crop is down this year, which will also mean lower volumes slated for North American markets, Hoard said. Gold kiwifruit vines continue to succumb to Psa, a bacterial disease first found in 2010.

Green and organic vines, however, have fared better, and a new gold variety, SunGold, has proved more resistant.

“We’re finding that most (SunGold) vines are able to push through the worst of Psa, similar to hayward,” Hoard said. “However, it will take two more years for these vines to mature and start producing marketable kiwifruit.”

Early reports indicate excellent quality out of New Zealand, but because of Psa, volumes will be down in 2013, Woodyear-Smith said.