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From trade tool to well-known consumer brand in 20 years

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2017-05-09  Views: 6
Core Tip: In the evening of 2 May, the first boat with Zespri kiwifruit arrived at the port of Zeebrugge.
In the evening of 2 May, the first boat with Zespri kiwifruit arrived at the port of Zeebrugge. “The first shipment was SunGold, Green will follow in about two weeks. The first kiwifruit will therefore be on the shelves soon.”

Last year’s estimate was 80 million boxes for Green. “This year we’ll have a bit less. The past two seasons were exceptional for Green. The yield per hectare was very high compared to previous years, around 2,000 additional boxes per hectare. This year, Green will be back to its regular level.” SunGold is still rising. “Mostly due to the fact that more orchards are gradually getting into full production. Compared to last season, SunGold grew by ten million boxes. For SunGold, this means a total production of about 55 million boxes. Of these, approximately 11 million boxes are meant for Europe,” says Nele Moorthamers from Zespri. “Sizes are larger than last year. This is due to many factors that positively influenced sizing, including the weather.”

New reefer boat
Besides supply in traditional reefer boats, the kiwifruit will also be shipped in a new reefer boat; a reefer that will transport containers for the first time. On a ‘regular’ container boat, the containers are always on deck, but with this new method, they’ll be below deck. In the past, containers couldn’t be cooled properly below deck, but a solution has been found for that now.


Zespri thinks it’s the company’s responsibility to make consumers aware that a healthy diet is important. “We promote a balanced and healthy lifestyle. It doesn’t always have to be the same, variation is good. People shouldn’t just eat kiwifruit the entire day. They are tasty and very healthy, and we present the fruit as one of the tastiest, and, moreover, healthiest options, but people shouldn’t feel forced to eat them. We want people to eat kiwifruit because they like them!”

Twenty years of Zespri

“In 1997 the situation was completely different from 2017. We only grew Green then, there was no Gold or SunGold at the time. We launched Gold in Asia in 1999, and in Europe in 2000. By now, we have become much more professional in many fields, such as cultivation techniques, market approach and branding. Green’s flavour has also evolved. A green kiwifruit naturally still has that slightly sour flavour, but over the years, our growers have worked hard on offering that flavour consistently.”


The introduction of Gold was a game changer for Zespri. “In apples, we have many varieties, but that was unheard of in kiwifruit. In the past five years, many new varieties have entered the market. In kiwifruit, the green Hayward was the only one for a long time.” This also means competition has increased. “Especially in the northern hemisphere, such as Italy and France.” Nele thinks consistency in quality is an important distinction with other kiwifruit. “We make extremely high demands on our growers and they ensure that the fruit is as tasty as possible. We want to be at the top regarding quality. Where and by whom they’re grown: Zespri kiwifruit is always the same.” She indicates this is an enormous challenge at the end of the season. “The Green on the shelves during the first months of the year is less new than the one soon arriving. That’s true for all fresh products, there’s more loss towards the end of the season. That means we also have more work around that time to guarantee that consistency. We have to repack, inspect and inspect again more often before supplying. It’s up to us to also ensure supplying the best fruit to trade and consumers at that time.”

Gold nearly completely gone

One of the biggest lows was the disease PSA affecting the Gold kiwifruit. “We came out stronger, and growers can now better protect themselves against PSA. Individual growers had major losses at that time, but the industry has also proven cooperation is an important weapon in similar situations. Growers have found a way to handle the disease, and are now dedicated to prevention. The disease won’t disappear, but it can be controlled.” From 2012 to 2015, Zespri had a few very difficult years. “There was an enormous slump in supply of Gold because of PSA. Fortunately, we gradually started growing again. In 2012 in particular we nearly lost all Gold. We only had a fraction of what we’re now selling. On the other hand, we also had a few rays of hope. It was the time of the launch of SunGold as well, and that variety is now an important pillar for the future.”

Brand recognition
The Zespri brand has also developed in the past 20 years. “From a regular trade tool we have grown into a well-known consumer brand. We have built a good name and recognition for ourselves in many countries. For the Benelux we are between 76 and 79 per cent regarding brand recognition. In a number of other European countries we are at the same level. Unfortunately, the spontaneous brand recognition is still very low. This year, we will work very hard to increase that spontaneous brand recognition. We’ll spare no expense, with an effective TV campaign, and a longer presence than last year. Besides, we’ll also do an event tour in Belgium and the Netherlands. By means of this Summer Tour, we want as many people as possible to taste the kiwifruit. Our focus for that is on experience. Using VR glasses, people can ‘visit’ kiwifruit orchards, and find out how the fruit is grown. The countries in which Zespri has already been traditionally expanded, are Spain, Germany and the Benelux. Besides, we want to develop Italy and France more to get these countries to the same level.”

Besides New Zealand, the kiwifruit is grown in Italy, France, Greece and Spain. Production in New Zealand currently amounts to 13,000 hectares. Of that, 60 per cent is Green and 40 per cent is SunGold. After New Zealand, the area in Italy is the largest, and that is still growing considerably. “We started the cultivation there in 2001, and decided to expand the SunGold area by 800 hectares per year for the next three years. That will also have an enormous impact on volume.” Green kiwifruit is available year-round. “SunGold from New Zealand is available from September/October. After that, we have supply from Italy until Christmas. These seasons practically seamlessly follow each other, and we are also working towards that this year.”

No new varieties yet

There are currently no new commercial varieties. “In our development programmes, new varieties are repeatedly tested, and right now we still have a number of interesting things, but it’s still too early to make a decision about that. We have also done a few trials with red varieties, but these were also very susceptible to PSA. With plant & food in New Zealand, we have the largest kiwifruit development programme in the world, and we invest a lot into that, and a broad range of kiwifruit varieties are researched by it. We even have kiwi berry in our cultivation programme, but these also come with many challenges. Especially shelf life is a tricky point. We only want to market something when it’s truly distinctive regarding flavour, colour and prevention, and we haven’t found that yet. We definitely have varieties in the pipeline, but they’re still far from commercial development.”

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