(Oct. 20, 5:19 p.m.) In July, the U.S. gave the green light for dragon fruit imports from Vietnam.

But with domestic product shipping at the same time and the economic slump curbing many consumers’ spending habits, how much winds up on retail shelves remains to be seen.

A pest risk analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service cleared irradiated Vietnamese dragon fruit for U.S. markets, and the first shipments should be arriving soon, APHIS spokeswoman Melissa O’Dell said Oct. 14.

Three California-based specialty importers won’t be among those bringing them in.

“We’re always interested, it’s just a matter of market conditions — is it the only product around?” said Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Los Alamitos-based Frieda’s Inc. “Vietnam shipments come at the same time as everything else in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Dean Simon, president of Pro*Act Specialties, Los Angeles, agreed.

“We’re taking California product first,” he said. “We definitely work with import product, but when we’re local, we’re local. The California product quality this year is stunning.”

Vietnamese dragon fruit has to compete not only with California fruit, but with product from Hawaii, said Robert Schueller, public relations director for World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles.

World Variety, which markets produce under the Melissa’s label, brought in Hawaiian dragon fruit for the first time in September, Schueller said.

In addition to Vietnam being at a competitive disadvantage, Caplan said, demand for California-grown dragon fruit is down this year because of the high cost — even though the price is actually lower than last year at this time.

“There are still certain clients who are buying. Others are taking it easy,” she said.

Vietnamese fruit, Caplan said, is not cost-competitive with California-grown product, which began shipping in mid-September this year, a little later than usual, and should wrap up in November or December, whenever the first frost is.

Pro*Act began shipping in volume about Oct. 1, Simon said.

Schueller, who expects to taste Vietnamese dragon fruit for the first time later this fall, said it faces a tough road unless it can differentiate itself from California and Hawaiian product — or if it ships past December, when the domestic deals wind down.

Frieda’s is seeing stronger demand for less expensive “middle-of-the-road specialties” like meyer lemons and passion fruit than for dragon fruit and other items that are “pretty out there,” Caplan said.

There could be roadblocks to shipments on the Vietnamese end, as well.

According to an Oct. 13 story in the Vietnamese newspaper Thanh Nien Daily, Vietnamese exporters are worried high irradiation costs could make imported dragon fruit a hard sell in the U.S.

In addition to dragon fruit, Vietnam has requested to export rambutan, longan and lychee fruit to the U.S., O’Dell said.

APHIS and Vietnamese officials are currently working on a pest list, she said. Once a list has been reviewed by APHIS’ Center for Plant Heath Science and Technology, the formal rulemaking process can begin.

“We're really only in the beginning stages,” O’Dell said. “The rulemaking process takes time.”