(June 23) Wenatchee, Wash.-based Columbia Fruit Packers Inc. recently gained exclusive rights to grow and market Kiku apples in North America.

Wenatchee-based Columbia Marketing International Corp. plans to conduct U.S. sales operations.

By 2008, Columbia Fruit Packers hopes to begin shipping the variety, said Mike Wade, general manager. Wade said he hopes the initial volume will be more than 10,000 boxes.

Columbia Fruit Packers planted 5 acres for the spring and plans to have 50,000 trees for the spring of 2007, Wade said.

The Kiku variety originated in 1990 when Italian grower Luis Braun discovered a branch in a Japanese fuji apple orchard, according to a news release.

South Tyrol, Italy-based Kiku Ltd. is the parent company.

Kiku Ltd. also has partners in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. Kiku Ltd. also plans to announce partnerships with companies in Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.