Demand for New Zealand kiwifruit was strong at the beginning of the deal in late spring, and importers and industry officials looked forward to a similarly strong summer and fall, with several promotions expected to get and keep consumers’ attention.

“Fruit has been moving very smoothly,” said Karen Brux, North American marketing representative for Zespri International, Tauranga, New Zealand, the exclusive marketer of New Zealand kiwifruit exported to North America.

Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, also reported a good start to the 2010 season.

“Sales have been very strong,” he said. “A very good mix of customers has come on board.”

Woodyear-Smith cited conventional retailers, club stores, foodservice companies, organic and natural food stores and wholesalers among the channels in that mix.

Despite bigger differences on average between the price for New Zealand kiwifruit and Chilean kiwifruit thus far in 2010, volumes to date are actually up from last year as of June 8, Woodyear-Smith said.

“That’s very exciting,” he said.

Particularly encouraging, Brux said, has been the strong retail support New Zealand growers and marketers have gotten in the U.S. — even with ample supplies from competitor Chile on both coasts.

“Our top 20 accounts from last year are on board again this year,” she said.

That’s no easy feat, she said, when premium New Zealand fruit routinely sells for more than its Chilean counterpart.

As of June 7, pricing of New Zealand fruit was maintaining that separation from its competitors, Brux said.

“The retail price is typically pretty consistent from season to season, and at this point we haven’t seen any changes,” she said.

The week of June 7, the season was still in its beginning stages, but the promotional momentum was already starting to build, Brux said.

“So far, so good,” she said. “We’ve been working real hard on promotions right at the start of the season, and over the next week we’ll start to see more of them kick in.”

In its first two weeks, for example, Zespri’s Great Kiwi Adventure sweepstakes was generating good buzz, with more than 5,000 responses on the sweepstakes Web site.

Promotions, Brux is keen to remind retailers, almost always pay off when it comes to New Zealand kiwifruit.s

“We’ve seen time and time again that when retailers work with us, it generates more movement, and they make more money, even though they have to pay more for our product,” she said.

The key is to build attractive displays that get consumers’ attention, Brux said. After all, it’s more likely than not that New Zealand kiwifruit aren’t on there shopping lists.

“We know kiwifruit is an impulse purchase,” she said. “If they’re not immediately drawn to the display, they might move on and buy other things.”

Woodyear-Smith agreed.

“One of our key focuses is to bring kiwifruit out of hiding and build bigger displays,” he said.

Another encouraging sign in 2010, he said, was that retailers were promoting kiwifruit not only on their own in circulars and other ads but as part of multicommodity, tropical-themed ads.