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Kragie: Orderly marketing will ensure retail, consumer satisfaction with kiwifruit

Chris Kragie, vice president of Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc. in Madera, CA, is urging California kiwifruit growers to hold off on their harvests until the fruit reaches a soluble solids content of 7.0, thereby ensuring the best product quality for retailers and a good eating experience for consumers. Conditions, he went on to say, should be optimal for California kiwifruit toward the end of September.

Kragie urges retailers to continue moving imported fruit at this time from sources they trust. “To ensure fruit quality and consumer acceptance, we believe in orderly marketing as the best strategy,” he told The Produce News. “We feel you should stay with the fruit from any country that will give this commodity a great tasting fruit and, in turn, will ensure trust and repeat business from the consumer.

01-Kiwi-WesternFresh-Chris-Chris Kragie, vice president of Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc. in Madera, CA“When the industry is buying kiwi from any country, they should ask if this fruit was picked and packed under proper conditions and not forced to ripen by gas before the fruit has reached high enough sugar content to ensure consumer acceptance,” he continued. “If not, the fruit will never ripen, meet a level of sugars that will ensure good taste, and overall will shrivel. Our opinion on gassing fruit is the sugars aren’t high enough to gas until late September, but we feel it best to wait until mid-October.”

Global kiwifruit dynamics are complicated, and the industry is currently facing a host of supply-side challenges. “There is such a shortage of kiwi worldwide,” Kragie stated.

Western Fresh has a branch office in Santiago, Chile and imports kiwifruit from mid-March through mid-September. “We had a major freeze in Chile,” Kragie commented. Data, he stated, reveal that overall kiwi shipments from Chile to the United States are down 65 percent.

The quality of product being imported by Western Fresh from Chile is good and holding well in storage. According to Kragie, in normal production years, the rejection rate on arrival is typically 5 to 7 percent. “This year, it’s been 2 percent,” he noted.

In addition to the freeze, vines in Chile were also attacked by Psa, a pathogenic bacterium. While growers have replanted vines, Kragie said it will take two to three years of recovery for more normal production to begin. Typically, growers can harvest a minimal crop three years after new vines are planted. Normal production occurs in the fourth and fifth years.

Globally, production is also down in New Zealand.

Turning to California, Kragie said water shortages in and south of Sacramento are affecting kiwifruit production. “California is short on water,” he stated. “This is putting stress on the vines.”

He expects overall volume marketed this season will be down approximately 10 percent, tracking statewide trends.

Western Fresh is looking at Sept. 28 as the first pick and pack date. As for the first pack out of California, he said, “Ten percent of the crop will move to fill worldwide pipelines.” As dry as the global pipeline is, Kragie added, “We’ve got to make it last into April before Chile starts.”

The company will have year-round kiwifruit supplies available. “We will stay ahead of the curve to ensure a great eating fruit for our loyal customers and consumers,” Kragie said.