(March 6) A weight loss organization’s selecting kiwifruit as the company’s Pick of the Season for winter 2007 gave the fruit additional exposure. Whether it was a sales success seems to depend on which grower-shipper is doing the evaluating.

Allison Chapin, senior marketing manager for Weight Watchers International Inc., New York, said the feedback from members has been mostly positive.

“At first, some members weren’t quite sure how to eat kiwifruit,” Chapin said.

Chapin said Weight Watchers chooses a Pick of the Season fruit every quarter. She said the selection criteria are high nutritional value, strong appetite appeal, nationwide availability, affordability and versatility.

Chapin said among the methods Weight Watchers employed to encourage members to consume kiwifruit was the printing of 1 million recipe cards. Those recipes were for salads, main dishes and a desserts containing kiwifruit.

John Fagundes, owner of Fagundes Agribusiness and Cal Harvest Marketing Inc., Hanford, said it was difficult to measure sales increases because the crop was much smaller than the bumper crop of 2005-06.

Still, Fagundes said, “Sales have done quite well.”

Fagundes said the smaller crop, strong domestic demand and very strong demand from South Korea and Mexico has left California kiwifruit in short supply.

He said grower-shippers are being very conservative with their remaining holdings.

“We are just making certain our regular customers are supplied with kiwi until the arrival of the Chilean kiwi in mid-to-late March,” Fagundes said.

Vito Cangialosi, retail salesman for A.J. Trucco Inc., New York, said sales this winter showed a significant increase over year ago sales. He declined to provide actual figures. Cangialosi said A.J. Trucco sold mostly imported kiwifruit.

“It’s pretty tough to say whether Weight Watchers had an impact on sales,” said Roland Berndt, president, Sierra Kiwi Inc., Newport Beach, Calif.

Because of the bumper crop of last season, Berndt said a better measuring stick would be to compare this year’s sales with the average of the past five years.

“By that standard, sales have been above normal,” Berndt said.

Did Weight Watchers promo boost kiwifruit sales?
New York-based Weight Watchers International Inc.'s selection of kiwifruit as a recent Pick of the Season may or may not have led to a sales increase for the category. However, the company said the program was effective in introducing kiwifruit to some consumers and in promoting the fruit's health benefits.