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Despite some problems, A.J. Trucco Inc., located on the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Market in the Bronx, NY, is promoting its Italian kiwifruit. “This has been a challenging season for the import industry,” Nick Pacia, vice president of A.J. Trucco, told The Produce News in late February. “Fuel prices are high and so transportation costs are rising, and that also applies to ocean shipping lines. These costs are at a higher level than we expected, and it makes it more challenging to import produce.”

He added that the port-related clearance issues are more complex and intense than in years past. There are more inspections, for example, which also contribute to the higher cost of importing fresh produce. Companies such as A.J. Trucco must, in turn, ask higher prices for their products. In its case, this especially applies to Italian kiwifruit at this time of year.

And this year’s Italian kiwi crop has its own set of added issues.

“The overall crop in Italy is about 20 percent lower compared to last year due to severe weather conditions,” said Mr. Pacia. “The Piedmont region was the most badly affected.”

In early March 2012, Confagricoltura, an Italian growers’ association, reported that temperatures in the Piedmont region dropped by about 50 degrees to about -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) over the course of a few weeks. Numerous fruit crops were compromised, particularly kiwi. The crop in the region was, at that time, predicted to have about 90 percent loss or damage.

“The bloom in the Piedmont region was badly affected by the frost,” said Mr. Pacia. “Internally we have about a 20 percent reduction this year. At the beginning of the season we had very high expectations, as the market was very high. But lack of promotions as the season progressed contributed to a lower demand.”

He noted that there is no question that in-store demos and point-of-purchase materials help kiwi sales to pop. This season’s crop is expected to wind down about mid-April — about a month earlier than last year — but there is still time for stores to promote the nice quality Italian kiwi.

A.J. Trucco’s program in conjunction with European Flavors is not affected by this year’s reduced crop. The project is funded by the European Union, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Forestry, and Centro Servizi Ortofrutticoli. It was created to develop synergies between operators. Launched in the United States in 2010, and then in Canada in 2011, its goal is to increase competition in the fruit and vegetable sector from European Union countries.

“We always try to promote kiwi at the retail level with in-store promotions, demos and secondary displays where we feature our ready-to-eat kiwi,” said Mr. Pacia. “We try to work on conventional ripening rather than forced ripening. In other words, we don’t ripen the fruit by manipulating it with additional processing. We try to have the fruit in as great as possible condition when it arrives at our retail customers. We’ve been working on this process for several years, and it’s working out well.”