(March 27) Shippers who have enjoyed a strong market for kiwifruit this winter say they don’t expect it to last once Chilean imports start arriving.

Chilean kiwifruit exporters are loading up on the West Coast, said Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager for Stellar Distributing Inc., Fresno, Calif., a subsidiary of M.L. Catania Co. Ltd., Toronto.

“The number that we have compared to last year is unbelievable,” Cappelluti said March 21.

Cappelluti said as of March 19, about 117,000 boxes of kiwifruit were bound for the West Coast, compared with about 42,000 at the same time last year. Shipments to the East Coast also are up, Cappelluti said, from 44,000 last year to 61,000 this year.

Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit and mango category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said the 2006-2007 California kiwifruit crop was shorter than the previous year, which has kept prices elevated for the past 6 months.

On March 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported terminal market prices for 20-pound containers of kiwifruit at $19-22.

“There’s been a really strong market for kiwifruit in the past few months,” he said. “Everyone talks about a reduced crop out of California, but this year’s volume was back to normal so the fruit sold well and they finished early.”

Woodyear-Smith said the industry saw a similar situation in 2005.

Tom Tjerandsen, marketing director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sacramento, Calif., said he’s not too concerned about a glut of kiwifruit o the market.

“This year, California is virtually sold out, which has encouraged Chile to ship to the U.S. sooner than they have in the past,” he said. “I don’t foresee too much of an overlap.”

Roland Berndt, president of Sierra Produce Inc., Newport Beach, Calif., said he expects the market to return to normal by the middle of April.

“Pricing right now is a little bit above average with a high of $18-20 f.o.b.,” he said. “Chilean fruit will come in pretty heavy and for at least the first two weeks of the deal, prices will hang in there.”

The first shipments are expected to arrive around March 26, Woodyear-Smith and Cappelluti said.