Chilean kiwifruit should begin arriving in the U.S. the week of March 21 with good quality and sizing.

Chilean kiwifruit deal scheduled for March 21 start

Madera, Calif.-based Stellar Distributing expects to begin receiving the first loads of Chilean kiwifruit on the East Coast the week of March 21, with substantial volumes expected on both coasts the following two weeks, said Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager.

With Stellar sitting on 20 to 25 loads of Italian kiwifruit still to still the week of March 14, Cappelluti said some Chilean exporters could be surprised by movement early in the Chilean deal.

“They’re expecting a very strong market, and they may not be very thrilled with the results,” he said.

One problem, Cappelluti said, was that kiwifruit markets in the U.S. were stronger in mid-February, with prices topping $20 per box in some markets.

By mid-March they were more in the $15-18 range. And with Italy not likely to clean up until mid- to late April, the addition of Chile to the mix could lead to a glut.

It didn’t help that the Chilean crop was coming in 10 days to two weeks earlier than last season, Cappelluti said.

Italy’s exit from the deal is no guarantee of stronger kiwifruit markets, Cappelluti said. By May 5-10, kiwifruit from New Zealand will begin entering the pipeline.

Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, was more optimistic.

“The transition should be pretty smooth,” he said. “I think the market will be ready for Chilean fruit.”

By mid-March, California’s season was mostly finished, and Italy’s volumes were lower than in previous years, Woodyear-Smith said.

“There’s nothing there that scares me,” he said. “(Italy) didn’t pump a lot into the market.”

Oppenheimer’s first arrivals were expected on both coasts early the week of March 21, Woodyear-Smith said.

On March 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $16 for 19.8-pound containers of haywards 25-27 from Italy, down from $18-22 last year at the same time.

Woodyear-Smith said Oppenheimer would work closely with retailers on ensuring prices didn’t get too high on Chilean fruit for promotions.

Cappelluti, who visited Chile in late February, reported good growing weather and quality on the 2011 crop.

Woodyear-Smith said volumes could be lighter at the beginning of the Chilean deal because of the work of the Chilean Kiwifruit Committee, a voluntary organization that seeks to ensure minimum quality standards before fruit is shipped.