(Nov. 18, 4:35 p.m.) Volumes of California gold kiwifruit are expected to be lower than last year, and early fruit is on the small side.

Fruit began shipping the week of Nov. 10, said Karen Brux, North American marketing representative for Zespri International, Tauranga, New Zealand, the exclusive marketer of California gold kiwifruit.

Although supplies and fruit size are lacking, quality is good and demand was strong the second week of November, she said, thanks especially to one demographic group.

North American consumers — particularly those with roots in Asia — love the golden kiwifruit, but goldens aren’t as easy to grow in the California as they are in New Zealand.

“We’ve already had strong sales this week, particularly to Asian markets,” she said Nov. 11. “Asians in the U.S. just can’t get enough gold kiwifruit.”

That’s true also in Canada, Brux said. Zespri is targeting Asian markets in Vancouver and Toronto in particular, she said.

With the New Zealand gold crop selling out faster than it ever has before, demand at the beginning of the California gold deal was very strong, said Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, the exclusive distributor of California golds in North America.

In addition, consumer demand for golds is increasing, he said.

“We expect prices to remain quite strong,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more interest in it. I talk to a lot of consumers who say, ‘I don’t like kiwi, but I like the golds.’”

On Nov. 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $19-21 for 19.8-pound containers of size 27 green haywards from California, up from $16-17 last year at the same time.

Oppenheimer expects to ship about 50,000-60,000 trays this year, Woodyear-Smith said.

Gold kiwifruit is expected to ship through January, Brux said.

Acreage plummeting

Gold volumes aren’t down because of weak demand, Brux said. Instead, it’s the difficulty of growing them that’s to blame.

“There are a number of challenges to growing golds in California, and it’s something our growers continue to tackle,” she said. “It’s more challenging growing them here than in New Zealand.”

Nevertheless, Brux said, California growers are committed to the variety, and quality continues to improve year by year.

California-grown gold kiwifruit was first marketed by Zespri in 2004.

The number of bearing acres of California gold kiwifruit is expected to plummet from 388 in 2007-2008 to 100 in 2008-2009, said Alex Ott, president of the California Kiwifruit Commission, Fresno.

“I don’t think it’s performed so well in the state,” he said. “Some growers have had success, but it’s been very isolated.”

Based on limited conversations Ott has had with growers, he said climactic conditions in many California growing areas are different enough from New Zealand to limit gold growers’ success in the Golden State.

The Delta region in Northern California has been one area where golds have grown well, Ott said, thanks to the region’s similarity to New Zealand’s warm days, cool nights and relatively high humidity.

California gold kiwifruit seeing strong demand
Record sales of the New Zealand crop of gold kiwifruit led to strong demand at the beginning of the California gold deal, says Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

Courtesy The Oppenheimer Group