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Italian kiwi gets boost from European Flavors project

by Christina DiMartino | March 10, 2010
A.J. Trucco is having tremendous success marketing Italian kiwi with a little help from the European Flavors' project.

"The program is helping to make consumers aware of the great quality and flavor of the kiwi," Nick Pacia, co-owner of the Bronx, NY-based company, told The Produce News. "We would like the project to be extended to help push the commodity even further."

The European Flavors project is funded by the European Union, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Forestry, and Centro Servizi Ortofrutticoli, which is headquartered in Chiesuol del Fosso, Italy, and which was created to develop synergies between operators. Its goal is to increase competition in the fruit and vegetable sector from European Union countries.

Partners in the program include numerous major fruit and vegetable producers and processors. Among them is Made In Blu, a distributor of a wide range of fresh fruits, vegetables and dried fruit and nuts headquartered in the Province of Ravenna, Italy. Other partners are Afe, Apoconerpo Alegra, Apoconerpo Naturitalia, Apofruit, Cico, Conserve Italia, Europfruit, Granfrutta Zani, Op Kiwisole, Oranfrizer, Orogel and Terremerse, all headquartered in Italy.

"The conventional kiwi will run through the end of April, which is longer than usual," said Mr. Pacia. "The organic kiwi will run through May 15. This too is a longer run than normal. The quality of the fruit this year is outstanding. It's one of the best years we've seen for quality and taste."

Mr. Pacia explained that the nature of Italian kiwi is to have a longer shelf life, as it is on the water for 15 to 19 days. Harvesting is done in October and November, and under proper refrigeration, the fruit will last for six months or longer.

J.C. Barros, U.S. marketing director for European Flavors, told The Produce News that the promotional and marketing funding the organization provides has made it possible to get the word out to consumers in a strong way. Besides print ads, it is funding demos at major retailers.

"The European Flavors program is a three-year project that is now in its second year," said Mr. Barros. "A decision will be made by the group this summer as to whether it will be extended for another three years, and possibly even be expanded into Canada. We are hoping that the E.U. and the trade commission will agree that the results have been very positive so far. These efforts are generating more exposure every year."

The fact that the euro has dropped a little from the very high exchange levels of several months ago, when it jumped to around 1.50 euros against the U.S. dollar, has been an advantage this year, according to Mr. Barros. Today, it is holding around 1.36, which has taken some pressure off kiwi pricing in the United States.

"Because of the economy, U.S. consumers are very concerned about prices," Mr. Barros explained. "Given the great growing and harvesting season this year and the lower exchange rate, demand has been steady."

"Prices weren't great until about the first week of January," concurred Mr. Pacia. "But then the market started to pick up as the dollar leveled off somewhat. We now have the right combination, and we feel sure the season will wrap up very successfully. This makes everyone from the growers to the consumers happy."

Although Italian kiwi -- the majority of which is the Hayward variety -- is distributed predominantly in the Northeast, some is shipped to the Midwest. Mr. Barros said that the Northeast is a great market for Italian kiwi because of the strong third-generation Italian culture in the region. In western areas of the United States, kiwi produced in California is more predominant. A.J. Trucco is also handling some Italian Tarocco blood oranges, which are promoted by the program as well.

"The Tarocco has historically been an up-and-down commodity in the U.S.," said Mr. Pacia. "Interest has [piqued] considerably in the past couple of years. Consumers who taste the Tarocco usually become loyal customers. Our sales have doubled since we started handling the item several years ago, and we're now having good success nationwide."

Mr. Barros added that plums and pears are included in the European Flavors project, but due to import restrictions, these items are promoted in European countries.

"If protocol is established on these or other fresh produce items, we hope to import them in the future," he said. "If the project is extended for another three years, it would give us the opportunity to expose more people to European products and the elements of the Mediterranean diet."

Mr. Barros noted that American consumers generally don't eat as much fruit as their Italian counterparts, who typically consume fruit with every meal. "In my opinion, Italian kiwi is sweeter and juicier than what is produced in California," he said. "It has a unique flavor and is highly consistent. Italians produce kiwi that are great size and quality. The industry there is huge, and producers are very dedicated to the product. They also have highly sophisticated export operations."

"The European Flavors' project has definitely helped the Italian kiwi market in the U.S.," said Mr. Pacia. "The market continues to grow due to the great exposure the item is receiving."