(Oct. 27, 12:22 p.m.) The New Zealand kiwifruit import deal is wrapping up its best year ever.

And next summer, retailers can expect similarly large volumes — though the breakneck pace at which they’re growing probably won’t be duplicated.

Still, demand will continue to be robust — despite recent media reports about decreasing green kiwifruit production.

It is true that some New Zealand growers are pulling acreage because soaring production has rendered greens not profitable enough.

Kiwifruit growers in the Nelson region of New Zealand pulled green vines that would have produced about 200,000 trays of fruit in 2009, according to stories in New Zealand newspapers.

Last year, some growers in the region barely broke even on production of the hayward variety, the most common green marketed by Zespri, according to the reports.

But Karen Brux, North American marketing representative for Zespri International, Tauranga, New Zealand, the exclusive marketer of New Zealand kiwifruit exported to North America, points out that 200,000 trays accounts for about a quarter of one percent of total kiwifruit shipments from the country.

Overall acreage and yields are up industry-wide, she said.

And in 2008, green kiwifruit from New Zealand have been a rousing success in the U.S., Brux said.

“This year has been our best ever for volumes and pricing, so go figure,” Brux said. “We’re getting double-digit premiums over the competition (on pricing).”

Kiwifruit shipments up

Year-to-date worldwide kiwifruit shipments are up 17% over the year before, Brux said Oct. 13.

Similarly enthused was Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, which has seen an 11-12% bump in kiwifruit sales this year.

“This season has been fantastic,” he said. “We continue to sell out and get good support from retailers.”

New Zealand will ship in North America through about the end of November, Woodyear-Smith predicted. All of that product is already sold, Woodyear-Smith said; in fact, Oppenheimer sold out a month earlier than last year, he said.

In mid-October Woodyear-Smith said there was nothing suggesting prices would weaken at all through the remainder of the deal.

Gold kiwifruit shipments to North America are down, but they are up worldwide, said Karen Brux, marketing representative for North America for Zespri International, Tauranga, New Zealand, the exclusive marketer of New Zealand kiwifruit exported to North America.

Green shipments worldwide are up 21%, Brux added.

This year, U.S. retailers have been delighted, Brux said, that they’ve been able to move so much product so fast, and enjoy big margins at the same time.

Looking ahead to next year, however, Zespri is expecting a slower rate of growth in its green program, Brux said.

“We expect further volume growth for green kiwifruit, but more in the nature of single digits, rather than the high growth we’ve seen over the past few years,” she said.

Category growth is anticipated to be higher in North America than in the world as a whole, Brux said. Woodyear-Smith also was bullish on category growth in North America.

(Web Editor’s note on clarification: When posted on Oct. 27, this article did not specify which export market received less New Zealand-grown gold kiwifruit in 2008. An edit and clarification was made to the article on Oct. 31).