The contrast between the European and the New Zealand kiwi fruit season is large. New Zealand mostly harvested large sizes. The European kiwi fruit season is characterised by small sizes and a smaller volume. The harvest was particularly disappointing in Italy. Nele Moorthamers of Zespri talks about the challenges of this season, and the growth opportunities for the originally New Zealand company for kiwi fruit during the European season.
During the season, the Zespri kiwi fruit mostly comes from Italy and France. The distinction has to be made that green kiwi fruit is bought, and SunGold is grown under licence. Last year 1,800 hectares worth of additional licences were granted by Zespri for SunGold in Europe for the 2017 to 2020 period. “That means we can plant 600 hectares of SunGold every year for three years, that’s a serious investment that will result in the area being nearly 4,000 hectares in Europe by 2020,” Nele explains. About three quarters of the area can be found in Italy, the rest mostly in France.
More European kiwi fruit
“We’re busy conducting tests in other production regions, such as Portugal and Greece,” Nele continues. During this testing period, various risks are researched, and it should become apparent if the production in a certain region can meet Zespri’s quality requirements. Climatological circumstances also play their part in this. The differences in volume between the New Zealand and the European season are large. “For the production in the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, we see much potential. For consumers in many European countries, kiwi fruit is a winter fruit. In the past four to five years, much has been planted, but it takes about four years before the young plants are in full production. The volume will therefore definitely increase in coming years.”
Nele indicates that SunGold is a relative newcomer on the market. The variety has been available since 2012. “We see consumers can appreciate SunGold’s flavour, but we can also see many consumers who have never tried or even heard of SunGold. It differs per European country.” For example, Zespri’s yellow kiwi fruit has fully integrated in the Benelux, and German consumers are also becoming familiar with SunGold. Spain, on the other hand, is a growth market. Although Spaniards consume much kiwi fruit, these consumers associate kiwi fruit with the green ones. “In Spain, a kiwi fruit is synonymous with green kiwi fruit, so we invested heavily to promote yellow kiwi fruit there, and that is starting to bear fruit.”
Green kiwi fruit is the market’s backbone
Consumers don’t ignore green kiwi fruit in favour of SunGold. The growth of SunGold isn’t at the expense of the Green market, it’s mostly at the expense of other types of fruit, such as citrus. Besides, there are many new consumers who didn’t eat kiwi fruit in the past, and who increase the category. “Green kiwi fruit is still the back bone of the market,” Nele says. “We still see room to grow in winter with these, much kiwi fruit is consumed that isn’t necessarily Zespri.”
To keep supply level during the winter months, Zespri is looking for new suppliers. “We’re making a considerable effort to find more suppliers, but we work with a specific tender that also applies to New Zealand growers. It often takes about two years before a grower has switched to meet our conditions.” To that end, they also look further than the Italian market, for example, at growers in Greece, Spain or other European production countries. “It’s often not individual growers, but groups of growers or warehouses who market their supply.”
Kiwi fruit market more professional
However, this also means competition. More and more kiwi fruit suppliers market brands and make more of an effort to reach consumers and retailers. These different suppliers also offer yellow kiwi fruit more often. “The market has become more professional,” Nele says. “The kiwi fruit has evolved from exotic to a product that can be found in the top ten of most popular fruit, particularly in the Benelux.”
Due to the requirements Zespri places on kiwi fruit and production, it’s not possible to change to other countries during a difficult season. This season, the harvest in Italy is disappointing due to frost in spring and heat in summer. “The frost has influence on the amount of kiwi fruit, heat and rain have influence on sizes,” Nele explains. In Italy, this results in less and smaller kiwi fruit this season. “We can’t just switch to another country,” Nele says. After a New Zealand season with large sizes, the contrast is large. “It requires mutual understanding from all parties to meet the needs of customers as much as possible, and to coordinate available production, so that we work together to market an appealing product for consumers.”