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Kiwifruit, Italy’s ambassador to the world

Kiwifruit are one of the biggest Italian fruit exports and 70% of the crop is grown for foreign markets.

No Italian fruit better embodies the role of Italy’s ambassador to the world than kiwifruit: “Kiwifruit are exported to practically every continent and the export volumes are constantly growing,” said Paolo Bruni, chairman of CSO (Centro Servizi Ortofrutticoli) of Ferrara. Italy plays a decisive part in the world kiwifruit industry. The key factors for this success are optimising volume management, excellent quality and the ability of the companies involved to become international players. The top place is occupied by yellow kiwifruit, in which Italy can boast the primacy in production and also constitutively, with the setting up of the Jingold consortium, and recently also for red kiwifruit, distributed exclusively by the new Origine Group. According to CSO data, Italy as a whole had nearly 24,450 hectares of kiwifruit orchards in production in 2015. The main growing areas are, in this order: Lazio (30%), Piedmont (19%), Emilia-Romagna (15%) and Veneto (14%), though surface areas in the South are expanding.

High quality season

The 2015/16 season will stand out for the extremely high quality of all types of kiwifruit, thanks to the optimum weather conditions this year. The total crop is higher than last year but the markets are also growing, so the greater supplies should not be a cause for concern. After the moderate volumes of 2013/14, growth is being seen in the Middle East, which is returning to similar levels to those of previous years. The decrease in North Africa compared to previous years is moderate (6%). The proportion of Italian kiwifruit earmarked for Australia is also seeing good growth.

Main destinations

EU countries are still the main destination (67%), but the proportion has fallen as exports to more distant areas such as North America (10%), the Far East (7%) and Central and South America (6%) have risen. During the last marketing season Italian kiwifruit exports reached 323,000 tons, a 2% rise on the previous year. The value of these exports exceeded €410 million overall, up by 7% on 2013/14. Almost all the main destinations showed growth (Germany +1%, France +30%, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom +12%), while the volumes shipped to Spain remained constant. Growth in North American sales was again confirmed last season, as this market took almost 32,000 tonnes. The Far East also grew by 11% to nearly 23,000 tons. South American sales rose as well, confirmed at almost 20,000 tons. However, non-EU European countries as a whole saw a sharp fall because of the Russian embargo, which cut overall export volumes by half. 

The Italian ambassador

One of the strong points of this product has surely been supply-side concentration, both worldwide and in Italy. In Italy, where a fragmented supply side has often been one of the main causes of crises in the produce sector, the situation in kiwifruit appears to be much better precisely because the producers of this crop are more united than others. The CSO chairman, Paolo Bruni, spoke of precisely this aspect: “We should not forget that home consumption was rising strongly until a few years ago and is now stable at over 100,000 tons of kiwifruit a year. Nor should we forget the effort that CSO has made over the years, together with governments, regional services and our members, to open up new markets that could become important outlets for our product.” At the moment, the Italian efforts are targeting Japan, a country with decreasing home supplies and a great need for foreign kiwifruit.


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Salvi develops new yellow kiwifruit


Salvi Uniacoa, together with Zespri, has decided to develop a new variety of yellow kiwifruit called G3, which has the advantage of being more resistant to the fearsome PSA bacteria than its predecessors and will be planted in quarantine-free areas of Italy such as the Latina area. Marco Salvi, the managing director of Salvi and chairman of Fruitimpresse, believes that the worst is over: “In Italy, it seems to us that the kiwifruit bacterium has already gone through its most virulent stage and as growers, we are now more confident that we are learning to control it. Yellow varieties continue to be very popular both in Russia and Europe and in Asia and we think that G3 has good prospects there”. The Fruitimpresse chairman considers that the season will also be very positive for Italian green kiwifruit growers, as this year’s season kicked off with very high quality fruit (higher Brix and dry matter) and at earlier dates. Italy entered the international markets at the beginning of November 2013, as the New Zealand season ended early (by nearly a month) and Chile’s freezes left it very short of fruit (down by 60%).  This has been very positive for the profitability of the 400,000-tonne Italian kiwifruit crop this season, only slightly lower than last year’s (down by 5%), especially in the North, in Piedmont, Verona and Romagna.  Other European suppliers have also been short of fruit: Greece is down by 5% and France by 10%. Given this situation, “Italian kiwifruit will be the main supply during the European spring, as they can offer both quality and quantity over a longer timescale”, Marco Salvi stated.

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Chilean Committee monitors frost and climate change impact

According to export forecasts delivered to the Kiwi Committee, the losses suffered in Kiwi volumes due to the September frosts affected almost 60% of the fruit, so the export figures for 2014 are estimated at around 86 thousand tons, compared to more than 216 thousand tons exported in 2013. The Chilean Kiwi Committee is now monitoring the farms affected by the frosts. The aim is to generate technical information to be able to formulate recommendations against potential weather events such as those experienced this spring and to ensure wood for the next season.
This task forms part of the project: “Development of a Systematic Model of Response Actions to Frosts, Based on Productive Management Alternatives in Kiwis”, financed by the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation. The project seeks to establish a model for systematisation of actions taken in response to frosts, based on production management alternatives to recover fields and orchards and regain production capacity. To this end, the project scrutinises fields and orchards with different levels of frost damage, some of them coinciding with the follow-up fields that the Kiwi Committee has been monitoring since last year. The different levels of damage caused by the intense frosts have changed the typical phenology of the plants, making it especially necessary to reconsider the tasks of handling the vegetation. The 12-month project was started up in October 2013. Activities to be carried out will include an assessment of the outcomes of all the actions taken.
The proposal, as described by Elizabeth Köhler, the Kiwi Committee’s General Coordinator, is to follow up the normal development of the crop and its ripeness parameters, to gather background information on the crops, in addition to the behaviour of orchards with different levels of frost damage. A total of eight orchards are currently being monitored. One is located in the Metropolitan Region (Aculeo), two in the Sixth Region (Peumo and Tinguiririca) and four in the Seventh Region (Curicó, Rauco, Lontué and Linares).


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Eurobanan, successful campaign with Kiwiberico


The latest campaign for Eurobanan was highly positive, confirms Director General Joaquin Rey: “We have a product that is gaining wide acceptance by consumers and having a brand that makes reference to its source helps position it.” In 2013 they traded around 10,000 tons of Kiwiberico, of which some 400 t was organic, and they expect to repeat similar volumes in the 2013/2014 campaign. 
Switzerland, Holland, Ireland and the UK are still the main markets. Most progress and growth has taken place in the “ready-to-eat” or “5th range” sector, since the end client appreciates it when products with great flavour reach them at their optimum stage of ripeness.  
In the Northern Hemisphere, France used to be the only reference for flavour and sweetness, and now, thanks to their star kiwi product, Kiwiberico, they have managed to increase this supply and even improve on it. With Kiwiberico they have made a strong commitment to the most innovating market strategies to achieve their final objective, i.e. to bring the customer a healthy and beneficial product with an unmistakable flavour, while encouraging a heart-healthy life by eating fruit and vegetables, along with regular physical exercise. 
The Eurobanan Director reveals: “The secrets of our kiwi’s success are very basic: we intervene technically in production, conservation and marketing. The fruit is harvested at 7 to 10 degrees Brix (sweetness) and 16 to 18% dry matter (flavour), an improvement of more than two points over kiwis harvested in the same hemisphere in other countries, achieving a product with great flavour, which is what the customer is looking for.” 
Their distribution strategy, as Joaquin Rey explains, is also quite simple: “We aim to reach the highest possible number of consumers. We do it through the means at our disposal to make the end consumer aware of the brand, appreciate the taste and, most of all, repeat their purchase. We have even carried out crossover promotions, for example one we did with Coplaca, where if you buy 1 kg of bananas, you also get a free mesh bag of 4 kiwis. Our brand has also featured in several promotional activities alongside the 5-a-day Association, which specialises in this type of action.” 
KIWIBERICO has a section called KIWIBERICO BIO given over to organic produce. This produce meets all the necessary guidelines to be considered organic, including the absence of chemical fertilisers or pesticides, improved watering treatment for the trees or the purity of the seeds, which have not been genetically treated. All of this gives rise to a kiwi fruit that is 100% natural, with an unmistakable flavour that is also environmentally responsible. 

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Gullino – High quality Italian kiwifruit


Gullino Import Export S.r.l. is an Italian company that only exports Italian-grown products. Its core business is kiwifruit, with seasonal export volumes of around 30,000 tonnes (35,000 in 2012/13, 32,600 in 2011/12 and 30,000 tonnes the season before that). Its next-biggest export products are peaches and nectarines (5000 tonnes in 2012/13, 5200 tonnes the year before and 6000 in 2010/11). The third product by volume is plums, at 2000 tonnes last season and 1500 tonnes in each of the previous two.  “We are continuing to run trials, both in the field and in the packhouse, to develop our know-how on the yellow kiwifruit variety Soreli in order to improve the product’s quality and shelf life during both refrigerated storage and transport (particularly by sea)”, commented the commercial manager, Giovanni Gullino. 
Gullino Import Export S.r.l exported around 41,000 tonnes, almost all grown in Piedmont, during the 2013 season. This year the firm expects to export 28,000 tonnes of kiwifruit. Crop volumes have been hit by a bacterial disease in Piedmont and above all by lower yields in the Venetian crop caused by root suffocation. The United States and Canada are showing good resilience this season, although the profitability of these markets has been affected by particularly unfavourable exchange rates. In the 2013/14 season, North America is taking about 18% of the firm’s exports. North Africa and the Middle East account for around 8% of turnover, followed by Eastern Europe at 5-6%. The main export market is still western Europe, however, which takes 40% of the firm’s shipments. “Most of our business has focused on closer destinations, at the start of the season at least, though we have kept up the programs we have underway with loyal clients that involve long journey times”, said Giovanni Gullino. Chile’s product shortage for the coming season hopefully promises a very active European market during the second part of the year.
A suitable grader has been acquired for in-line packing of delicate fruit in order to improve the quality of some presentations. Both the packhouse and storage company and most of the growers are certified to international standards such as BRC, IFS, TN, Globalgap and Grasp.
Gullino Import Export S.r.l. is very conscious of sustainability and has been working for some years now on a project called Save the Planet that aims to lead, in a few years’ time, to using only electricity generated from renewable sources throughout the production process. Currently the company can boast that 40% of the electricity it uses comes from renewable sources.