(May 26) New Zealand’s kiwifruit production, hit by frost damage during the past two seasons, will see at least a 10% increase this year, and North American importer The Oppenheimer Group expects to see double-digit growth also.

“It’s safe to say there will be fruit available in the full range of sizes across both (green and gold) varieties,” said Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for Oppenheimer.

According to the Foreign Agricultural Service, the U.S. imported about 23.15 million pounds of kiwifruit from New Zealand in 2003.

Oppenheimer, Vancouver, British Columbia, markets 95% of the New Zealand kiwifruit in North America. Zespri International Ltd., Auckland, New Zealand, is the only exporter of the fruit to the U.S. market.

Woodyear-Smith said the New Zealand fruit reached Los Angeles on May 20 and Wilmington, Del., on May 24. The U.S. Department of Agriculture hadn’t reported prices as of May 26.

Chilean kiwifruit at Los Angeles was $14-15 for 10-kilogram containers of 27-30s, $13-15 for 33-36s and $10-12 for 42-45s, according to the USDA. East Coast arrivals were about a dollar lower for all sizes.

Movement of Chilean fruit is expected to decrease as fresh New Zealand supplies reach retailers.

“I think the trade is ready for a consistent piece of kiwifruit, with large sizes out of certain producing countries chasing the higher Euro dollars,” said Woodyear-Smith. “I think that differentiates New Zealand, the consistent sizing and taste.”

Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager at Chilean kiwifruit importer Stellar Distributing Inc., Fresno, Calif., said smaller sizes from that country are struggling on the East Coast.

Controlled-atmosphere Chilean kiwifruit will be available through September, and Woodyear-Smith said New Zealand fruit will arrive steadily throughout the season, which tapers off in October.

The Foreign Agricultural Service’s annual New Zealand kiwifruit report, released in February, estimates a 10% increase in production this year, including a 25% increase in the gold variety. Production of the green fruit is about seven times that of the gold variety.