The popularity of kiwifruit in the United States has seen tremendous growth in the past few years. Sarah Deaton, Shopping Marketing Manager, NAM, of New Zealand-based grower Zespri says: “China, Europe and Japan are our largest markets, but we are seeing strong growth in places like the U.S. and the overall demand for kiwifruit has been growing globally. In the U.S. specifically, our dollar sales have seen an increase of over 28% compared with a year ago. On the other hand, kiwifruit consumption still only makes up around 1.5% of total international fruit consumption so there is plenty of room for growth.”
Year-round supply is the goal
Zespri grow their kiwifruit all over the world, with the majority of the supply being grown in New Zealand: “We have around 2,500 growers across New Zealand and a further 1,200 in our international growing locations. In New Zealand, there are around 14,000 planted hectares while there are around 3,000 in our offshore growing locations including Italy, France, Japan and Korea. Around 90 percent of Zespri’s kiwifruit is currently grown in New Zealand.”
Deaton continues: “We partner with growers in the Northern Hemisphere countries to complement the New Zealand growing season. In North America, we rely on fruit from New Zealand from May through November, and then from November through February we supply the market with the Italian-grown product. We are currently building towards ensuring a year-round supply in North America. We are conducting growing trials there to complement the Italian and New Zealand supply, although these remain in their very early stages.”
Focus on quality over quantity
The New Zealand crop this year is expected to be slightly smaller than it was last year, but Deaton says that this means that the crop’s quality will be excellent. “We had a hot, dry summer this year, which reduced our volumes a bit but made for a great-tasting crop. Our New Zealand harvest is expected to supply more SunGold than Green kiwifruit this year for the first time ever. In 2018/19 we sold 76 million trays of the green kiwifruit and we expect to supply around 69 million trays this season. For the SunGold, we supplied 65 million trays in the 2018/19 season, and expect the number to rise to 73 million this season.”
Complementary varieties and increasing demand for organic
The company’s kiwifruit varieties are SunGold, Green, Organic SunGold and Organic Green, and Sweet Green kiwifruit. The SunGold is Zespri’s proprietary variety and has a tropically-sweet flavor, while the Green kiwi has a more tangy-sweet flavor. Deaton says: “We are finding that these varieties actually complement each other rather than be mutually exclusive with regard to consumer preference – we see that many consumers are purchasing both varieties, not just one or the other.”
She adds: “Both of these varieties are also grown organically, and we have been experiencing an increase in demand for organic products in North America. We supply the North American consumers with Organic SunGold and Organic Green kiwi. We will continue to provide this option to consumers in our 2020 New Zealand season.”
Potential commercialization of Zespri red kiwifruit in U.S.
The company is assessing introducing a red kiwi variety soon – the Zespri board will make a decision on its potential commercialization this December. “The fruit has been in commercial trials recently and the feedback from consumers on the taste – similar to the SunGold with a berry twist – has been very positive. Zespri is committed to providing high-quality product so we need to consider whether the fruit performs on orchards, ensuring it is economic for growers, as well as through the supply chain so that it ends up in fruit bowls around the world in premium condition,” Deaton concludes.
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