Daniel Mathieson - CEO Zespri "A clearer understanding of what the consumer wants from a kiwifruit, from taste to convenience"
Last September Zespri appointed new CEO, Dan Mathieson, who has been at Zespri for 15 years. His most recent role was President of Global Sales & Marketing. FreshPlaza caught up with him at Fruit Logistica in Berlin last week.
"Becoming the new CEO is in many ways a continuation of what we were doing before, we have a very good strategy and a great team of people in place around the world and a great product with positive customer and consumer feedback especially for the SunGold kiwifruit," explains Mathieson. "There will be a few changes in the structure of the company, but basically the strategy will remain the same as we have been making very good progress, it is more about fine tuning than making huge changes."
Dan will split his time between the Singapore office and the headquarters in New Zealand. He will spend around ten days a month in Singapore and the rest of the time in New Zealand and Zespriís international markets.
"We have around 30 people in our hub in Singapore, and we want to ensure we have a good balance between the supply side and the demand side of the business. It is important that our organisation continues to go down the path of being demand led, really understanding our consumers and building relationships with our customers. This is where a lot of our investment has been in the last few years."
Zespri export to over 50 countries and have 21 offices and 600 people around the world.
New kiwifruit season The New Zealand kiwi season will start in mid-March and according to Dan is looking good, growing conditions have been good and some warm weather in January made for good sizes and earlier maturity.
"SunGold should be up 8-10 million trays on last year, a lot of this is from plantings coming into commercial volumes, the green will also see quite a bit of an increase on last year, but it is a bit early to tell yet. We are expecting a good increase over the 2017 season, we will be closer to the volumes we saw in 2016."
Zespri's goal of increasing gold volumes to equal and then surpass the greens to meet consumer demand is getting closer, last year there were 65 million trays of green, and 52 million of gold. "In 2020 we expect to have more gold than green kiwifruit grown in New Zealand. This also the aim for our overseas production, but it may take a little longer."
Dan goes on to say that there has been very strong consumer demand for the SunGold variety, which is driven largely by the sweeter taste and ready to eat aspect. "This is very much what the consumer wants these days, we are seeing the whole kiwifruit category growing, although green is not growing quite as fast as gold." Overseas production Outside New Zealand the biggest production is in Italy, then in France and there are some smaller trials happening in Spain, Portugal and Greece. In Asia there are established orchards in Japan and Korea. We also have started trials in North America and in China.
"What we have seen in the US as we have built better relationships with our key customers there, offering the premium quality SunGold, is also an increase in the sales of the green kiwifruit. We now have a team of ten in California which will continue to grow as the North American market grows."
The trials in China have been running for a while now and like many other products in China when you have a popular brand it tends to get copied, this has also been the case for Zespri. "We are seeing a significant copying of the Zespri brand in China and we continue to take action with the authorities to minimise this. This also counts for the trials we are doing, where there is also a danger that the plant material can be stolen and copied, but we deal with this in the same way, by informing the authorities locally and in New Zealand and we are investing more resources in this area and having some success."
Do the Chinese want domestically grown fruit? "We want to hear back from our consumers on that one, they certainly enjoy imported fruit but also enjoy well grown domestic fruit as well. We just have to make sure that we can get the quality to meet the needs of those consumers. We want to make sure that our fruit grown in China is following the same strict growing standards as our New Zealand and northern hemisphere fruit does. There will be a strategy to supply out of China as well as New Zealand so that we can have premium quality kiwifruit on the shelves twelve months of the year," said Dan.
These days there a lot of good Chinese kiwifruit brands on the markets, but Dan said that is good for the kiwifruit category. "We also want to grow the kiwifruit category, at the moment it is a relativity small part of the fruit basket, so we see a lot of room for growth. If we can have more good quality kiwifruit brands on the market that will only help to raise awareness of kiwifruit."
One of the challenges which the kiwifruit industry faces is the huge difference in quality of kiwifruit which reaches the markets, some are picked immature and when the consumer gets a bad experience it can takes weeks or even longer for them to come back and try one again. Red kiwifruit There are a lot of red kiwifruit varieties out there and Zespri are looking at a few possible red varieties. "We have some red varieties starting to come out of the pipeline but there hasn't yet been a variety that we have felt confident enough about to commercialise, but we are looking at another red variety this season and will be looking to see if it is ticking all the boxes for size, taste, Psa resistance, etc. as soon as we find one which meets those criteria we want to commercialise it as quickly as possible. We do see a good response to the red kiwifruits, for the sweetness and for the colours."
Prototype peeler machine from PND
Zespri is also looking at new varieties with edible skins as well a machine to peel and cut kiwifruit which will be placed in the supermarkets, juice bars and possibly even fast food shops. This will bring kiwifruit to those consumers who like the fruit but don't want the hassle of peeling it and getting sticky hands.
The next five years "We want to become one of the most popular brands in the health food space, we will have a different weighting in the portfolios with gold and green, there will be more gold than green and we will have a much clearer understanding of what the consumer wants from a kiwifruit, from taste through to the convenience of eating it.
"Better relationships with our distributors and our retailers and better integration with these partners and our marketplace so we can offer better kiwifruit for longer and move towards our goal of 12 month supply."
Dan said they are closer to this goal in some markets, in Europe Zespri can supply many of their major retail partners with green kiwifruit for 12 months of the year but in parts of Asia where they don't have the same good quality supply then they can only offer for a much shorter time. Volumes of gold are increasing each season but closing the gap between the hemispheres is a few years away yet.