According to Chief executive Dan Mathieson, fruit quality in the past season is the worst he's seen in a couple of decades. That is why Zespri is now in the midst of a major and hastily convened review to find out about the sudden drop in the quality of SunGold kiwifruit during the past season.
Meanwhile, Zespri has heard comments from customers of fruit being soft and in some cases damaged. Mathieson says there are a number of contributing factors to the decline in fruit quality. At the core of this is the drastic lack of skilled people caused by the pandemic. Mathieson says the industry has struggled to get workers - both RSEs and backpackers - because of the border closures. There were no backpackers in NZ in 2022.
Mathieson also stated that the problem is not only having enough people to pick the crop; the problems started when the growers were setting up the crop because they lacked the staff to prune the vines and do all the other preparatory work, then not having the staff to get the crop of the vines in good condition. In the past season, there has been a lot of picking damage with scuffs and nicks on the fruit as well as during post-harvest and cool storage and then in transit.
Aside from all the problems with harvesting kiwifruit in the past season, Mathieson believes there's been a gradual decline in fruit quality over the last few years, mainly due to it getting softer. He says, Chile - which also grows kiwifruit - has been experiencing the same problem and climate change or weather events are also likely factors.