The affordable, easy-to-eat little, fuzzy fruit continues on an upward trajectory.
Kiwifruit originated in China centuries ago, but did not catch on in popularity in the United States until 1962, when it was first imported to California, according to the California Kiwifruit Commission, Sacremento, CA. It didn’t take long for demand to skyrocket and by the late 1960s, California began growing its own kiwifruit.
Deliciousness, high nutritional content and easy eating are three reasons why kiwifruit is popular among consumers.
“Kiwifruit has an excellent nutritional story to tell,” says Gary Caloroso, regional business development director at The Giumarra Companies, Los Angeles. “It is high in vitamins C and K, and is a good source of fiber. Its nutritional benefits, coupled with its unique, tropical flavor, make it an attractive item in the produce department.”
Chris Kragie, vice president and sales manager for Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, CA, agrees. “The great health benefits and the more affordable per piece pricing compared to most other fruit make kiwifruit an attractive addition to any produce department.”
Another plus is kiwifruit is available to consumers year-round.
“There is no off season for kiwifruit,” says Steve Woodyear-Smith, vice president of categories at The Oppenheimer Group (also known as Oppy), Seattle. “With fruit grown in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres cycling though the year, retailers can promote kiwifruit anytime. Not to be missed is the opportunity to promote vitamin C-rich kiwifruit during winter cold season.”
“Zespri is beginning to offer kiwifruit year-round due to increased consumer demand,” says Susan Deaton, marketing manager/North America for Zespri, Newport Beach, CA.
Placement of kiwifruit is key if retailers want to tap into the growing desire by customers to consume a healthier diet. Despite demand, kiwifruit can be easily overlooked by consumers if it is not strategically positioned in the produce department.
“The best places to display kiwifruit are with either tropical fruits or citrus fruits,” says Jeff Tomassetti, director of produce and floral for Buehler’s Fresh Foods, located in Wooster OH.
“The key to selling more kiwifruit is to bring it out of hiding,” says Woodyear-Smith. “While we often see it placed among tropical items, higher visibility leads to more impulse sales. Large displays in high-traffic areas, like the front of the produce section, will draw more shoppers and drive sales.”
Nick Pacia, president and chief executive of A. J. Trucco in Bronx, NY, agrees. “There is a tendency to place kiwifruit toward the back of the produce section,” he says. “Optimal locations are toward the front of the store, next to other vibrant-colored fruits. Large visible displays also help to drive sales.”
Deaton suggests placing the fruit near other summer fruit, such as stone fruit, berries and melons. Caloroso agrees. “We find displaying kiwifruit in the tropical or berry section works well,” he says. “Most people purchase kiwifruit as a snack, so promoting them alongside other snackable produce items is another idea.”
Affordable, Easy to Eat
One reason why kiwifruit is increasing in popularity is that it is easy to eat on-the-go, which appeals to today’s busy consumer, particularly Millennials who are both health-conscious and adventurous when it comes to food.
“As our packaging explains, kiwifruit is easy to eat — you just cut, scoop and eat!,” says Deaton. “Plus, a ripe kiwifruit can be eaten immediately or stored in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days, which makes buying in bulk an affordable and practical solution.”
“The ‘cut and scoop’ method is a popular way to eat kiwifruit,” agrees Caloroso. “Produce departments can demonstrate this way of eating kiwifruit on a point-of-sale piece, or even as a video on social media channels.”
Oppy’s Woodyear-Smith says along with promoting the ease of eating the fruit, effective promotional themes should also include its powerful nutrition profile. “Placing a utensil in a kiwifruit pack can make the eating enjoyment more convenient and remind or educate people how easy it is to eat kiwifruit,” he says.
“The key to selling more kiwifruit is to bring it out of hiding. While we often see it placed among tropical items, higher visibility leads to more impulse sales.”
— Steve Woodyear-Smith, The Oppenheimer Group
A.J. Trucco’s Pacia agrees. “To create an on-the-go pack, two kiwis can be packaged in a clamshell or in a pouch with a utensil or spife (spoon plus knife tool), which can be used to eat the fruit on-the-go.”
Zespri recently partnered with the national campaign, Power Your Lunchbox Pledge by Produce for Kids. The program was created to empower families with ideas, tips, recipes and more that help them pack nutritious lunches. “The sweeter tropical taste and the cut, scoop and eat on-the-go packages of our product, SunGold, created a perfect opportunity to promote kiwifruit to moms for their kids and to health-conscious Millennials,” says Deaton.
Retailers and kiwifruit marketers are also using social media to reach a wide range of demographics, including Millennials, who tend to prefer healthier options to serve their young families.
“Young people are some of kiwifruit’s biggest fans,” says Giumarra’s Caloroso. “Younger consumers are open and are willing to try ‘new-to-them’ produce items, especially those they can share on social media.”
Pacia agrees. “To target Millennials, kiwifruit needs to be promoted in the channels where they get their information. This means it is not only important to offer information at the store level, but also to advertise these messages digitally and on social media.”
The affordability of kiwifruit compared to other fruits can also increase sales, particularly if produce executives place kiwifruit next to or near similarly priced fruit. Packaging also can play a key role, especially since kiwifruit is now available in a wide range of packing choices — from family size to on-the-go smaller packaging — so retailers can meet individual consumer needs.
“A combination of bulk and packaged kiwifruit offers the most sales opportunities for a variety of consumers. Packaged fruit encourages high-volume purchasing, and packaging creates eye appeal and provides a merchandising platform to educate the consumer. Grab-and-go packaging, in fact, has helped streamline the kiwifruit business,” says Caloroso. “We can offer our customers a value-added Nature’s Partner-branded kiwifruit ‘spife’ to include in our bagged or clam shelled fruit at no extra cost, to further promote kiwifruit as an easy, healthy snack.”
According to Western Fresh’s Kragie, there is growing use of clamshells for kiwifruit, originally a Big Box store technique now being utilized by more and more retailers. “I still believe bulk sales exceed packaged,” he says. “However, clamshells do offer the ability to include a helpful utensil designed to cut and scoop.”
“Kiwifruit sells best when it is sold in bulk,” says Tomassetti of Buehlers Fresh Foods “But packaging works best for in-store promotions.”
Oppy’s Woodyear-Smith points out the rise of packaged kiwifruit in the past few years has changed the landscape of the category. “The majority of kiwifruit is now sold in fixed-weight packaging — about 50 percent of green kiwifruit and more than 90 percent of gold kiwifruit. Packaging enables greater education about nutrition, easy differentiation between green and gold varieties, and the opportunity to enclose a spife utensil to make convenient eating intuitive,” he says. “Bright, eye-catching packaging tends to create larger displays that attract more attention than bulk and leads to a higher ring, so it’s a winner for retailers, too. SunGold, Zespri’s proprietary yellow-fleshed variety, is sold almost entirely in fixed-weight packaging instead of bulk. This strategy has been very effective in introducing a new kiwifruit type.”
Shining the Light
Promoting kiwifruit is often left up to individual retailers.
“The kiwifruit industry as a whole does not offer promotional funds to retailers. Shippers, growers, and marketers are the sole source of promotional funds,” says Kragie.
Zespri’s Deaton advises retailers to contact their regional market development managers to help them build customized category programs developed for the specific shopping patterns of their customers.
According to Woodyear-Smith, Oppy and its grower partners offer a wide range of promotional tools to drive kiwifruit sales at retail. “Our business development team customizes promotions that entail ads, signage, sampling and more, working with our customers to support sales. With increasing volumes of packaged kiwifruit moving through the supply chain, store-level personnel — as well as their shoppers — have a better chance of understanding kiwifruit’s characteristics and usage ideas.”
“I still believe bulk sales exceed packaged. However, clamshells do offer the ability to include a helpful utensil designed to cut and scoop.”
— Chris Kragie, Western Fresh Market
A.J. Trucco’s Pacia says the company supports retailers with in-store events for its KiwiStar kiwifruit. “Retail personnel, for the most part, are educated enough, but this varies retailer to retailer. We always provide guidance to demo personnel when conducting in-store events,” says Pacia.
Eye-catching displays are one way to draw attention to kiwifruit in a crowded produce section.
“Big displays certainly drive sales, especially when coupled with demos, which give retailers the opportunity to share key messages around ripening and enjoying kiwifruit with their shoppers,” says Woodyear-Smith.
“The bigger the display, the better,” agrees Pacia. “Plus, retailers can educate consumers in various ways. First, they can do demos and offer POS materials that educate consumers about kiwifruit. Retailers can also display signage or tear-offs directly at the point-of-sale, as well as offer sample tastings, which can snag customers not familiar with kiwifruit.”
“We’ve seen retailers have great success with displays that are 4 to 5 feet long, as it creates a destination for consumers and it really helps the product get noticed,” says Zespri’s Deaton. “Cross-merchandising promotions are also a win-win. Our SunGold Kiwifruit’s bright gold color is a great complement to many different varieties of berries, especially strawberries and raspberries. Retailers can cut kiwifruit next to the berries with a delicious fruit salad recipe. Also, displaying kiwifruit near the yogurt section helps promote a protein-filled breakfast versus traditional cereals. Greek yogurt pairs perfectly with kiwifruit,” she adds.
Caloroso suggests utilizing big display and end caps — “anything to stimulate the impulse buy for kiwifruit,” he says. He also says signage helps educate consumers on how to select and handle the fruit.
Promoting recipes and usage ideas can also generate excitement. Caloroso says an example of a unique recipe is an avocado and kiwifruit salsa.
“Some industry members are currently trying to cultivate red varieties, but we are a few years out from seeing any significant volumes of red varieties in the U.S. marketplace.”
— Nick Pacia, A.J. Trucco
“While there are no specific cuisines that feature kiwifruit, cross-merchandising is a great idea, especially with smoothie or salad ingredients,” says Woodyear-Smith. “It is also highly popular in stores that serve Asian neighborhoods, which tend to have higher fruit consumption, a good understanding of kiwifruit’s excellent nutrition profile and a culture that serves fruit after most meals and gives fruit as gifts. Understanding this demographic can drive sales.”
“Sampling is a great way to turn customers on to the great taste of kiwifruit,” adds Tomassetti of Buehler’s Fresh Foods. “Also, add kiwifruit as a line item in promotional ads.”
As kiwifruit continues to grow in popularity, it opens the door to more varieties. According to both Deaton and Woodyear-Smith, Zespri’s SunGold variety has attracted new consumers to the category.
Organic kiwifruit is also attracting new consumers. Although the volume share of organics is small, organic’s volume growth rate outpaced the conventional trend by +5 points, according to Deaton. In fact, the growing organic trend has helped sell all varieties of organic kiwifruit.
“Consumption of organic kiwifruit is definitely on the rise, as is consumption of gold-fleshed varieties,” says A.J. Trucco’s Pacia. “Some industry members are currently trying to cultivate red varieties, but we are a few years out from seeing any significant volumes of red varieties in the U.S. marketplace.”
Retailers offering a selection of current varieties, as well as kiwifruit in different ripening stages and in choices in packaging sizes, can expect a bump in sales in the produce department. This fruit’s popularity as a powerful healthy food shows no sign of slowing down.