Suppliers expect to import a wide range of tree fruit from Chile this year, including new varieties in a more competitive marketplace, though spring frosts affected fruit in some areas.

“The crop has been affected by weather conditions in the early and some of the earlier sections of the Aconcagua Valley,” said Peter Kopke, president of William H. Kopke Jr., Lake Success, N.Y., which imports Chilean grapes, stone fruit, apples, pears and some kiwifruit.

Apples and pears

Apples and pears are showing steady increases while diversifying in varieties to keep up with outside competition for the U.S. marketplace.

Chris Kragie, sales manager at Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif., said the pressure from South Korean pears coming in “very big and very cheap” is leading to a downward trend in Asian pears.

“The market has got to a point where growers have pulled a lot of Asian pears out of Chile and California, based on the cost of production and the amount of return they were getting” he said.

Nonetheless, Western Fresh expects a resurgence of Asian pears based on their short supply. Kragie said the company has strategically aligned itself with the three largest Asian pear growers in Chile and expects the trend for chain store purchases to continue rising.

“This coming California season is probably one of the best pricewise in five or 10 years,” he said. “Demand will probably be better than supply even with the Korean pears.

In January and February, Western Fresh plans to bring in about 50,000 bosc pears.

Kiwifruit increase

Kragie said the economic crisis has led to depressed kiwifruit prices, making the specialty fruit more affordable and mainstream just as Chile gears up for a big export season.

Western Fresh imported 300,000 boxes of kiwi from Chile last year and the company brings in a more than 2.5 million tray equivalence of kiwifruit year-round from Chile, California and Italy.

“So far, kiwi has been an increase every year with chain stores,” he said, adding that next year should see a rise of about 10%. “Kiwi wasn’t the affordable fruit, but with the economy the way it is and the amount of product being grown in all the countries, it has put a downward pressure on all the prices.”

Kragie said the more competitive pricing has helped to increase kiwi consumption in households.

“People who used to get apples and bananas are seeing the price, and it has attracted consumers to take them,” he said.

“They are now seeing kiwi and finding they are high in nutritional categories. they are now a main item in their fruit bowls.”

Western Fresh handles about 70% of the chain stores in the U.S., and Kragie has noticed kiwifruit movement is increasing every month.

“Even the small, independent stores are really grabbing onto the kiwi deal,” he said.

Kragie said Chile planted a lot of kiwifruit to meet U.S. demand, and that the vine grows well in the country, which provides it with the 365 chill hours between 34-42 degrees that it needs to achieve maximum potential.