As the ‘single desk marketer’, Zespri owns the rights to SunGold, which means all growers must sell their fruit to the company for marketing and export. The SunGold variety is now being sold in more than 54 countries.
However, rogue Chinese growers are already producing around $1 billion worth of SunGold fruits without permission. Some sources say this means that Zespri has not only lost the intellectual property, but it has also lost control of the variety in China, with the growth in the illicit fruit threatening Zespri's stake in its largest market.
Zespri lost the IP after a couple stole the plant material in New Zealand and took it back to China. The High Court here awarded almost $15 million in damages to Zespri, but the decision is being appealed. Meanwhile, at least 5,500 hectares of SunGold is now planted illegally in China, just short of the 6,500 hectares planted in New Zealand.
Zespri's solution is to put its sticker on the counterfeit fruit in a controlled commercial trial, giving technology and advice to the Chinese growers who are producing the illicit fruit. SunGold growers in New Zealand will vote on the plan in June and some aren't happy about it.
Zespri's chief growing officer Carol Ward says the strategy is aimed at managing the spread of the variety. Working with the Chinese industry and the government is the best approach and gives Zespri the best chance of success, she says.