Zespri CEO: A promising future for the global kiwifruit industry

From Fresh Fruit Portal | 30 October 2023

Overview of kiwifruit in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on October 26, 2023.

After two challenging years for the New Zealand kiwifruit industry, Zespri will be closing 2023 with positive numbers, led by their northern hemisphere crop.

FreshFruitPortal.com spoke with Dan Mathieson, CEO of Zespri, and Steven Martina, president of the Europe & North America divisions at the Global Produce & Floral Show 2023 (GPFS), about the current season and future plans for the world’s largest kiwifruit grower.

“We’re coming to the end of a really good year for us in terms of ongoing demand around the world after two challenging years where we had much lower volumes than we expected to get,” says Mathieson.

Zespri observed a strong demand from all of their markets, which includes more than 50 countries. Growth has been led by the Sun Gold variety, which the company’s CEO says is the “fastest-growing fruit in the fruit basket.”

“Our green and our organics have been doing pretty well too, so really, all kiwifruit items seem to be liked by more and more Americans,” adds Mathieson.

Looking ahead

Zespri has expanded its Sun Gold variety plantings in New Zealand and growing regions in the northern hemisphere including Italy, which Zespri showcased at GPFS in late October.

“We are expecting more volumes of the variety to come in the next two to three years, volumes that were meant to come in 2022 and 2023, will now come in 2024, 2025, and 2026. We are very excited about that because the signals we are getting back from all of our major markets are that they want more fruit, with more and more retailers wanting to stock with Zespri,” says Mathieson.

Steven Martina, who joined Zespri in late June says GPFS  was a great opportunity for him to connect with the team and see opportunities in the American market.

“We want to translate all this energy to action and try to ramp up the volumes that we are selling here in order to increase the value of the fruit and the return to our growers,” he says.

Martina recognizes the U.S. market potential. With growing demand, he is “really excited for the massive year ahead which should be very good for us in this market.”

kiwifruit volumes by ori 2

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Sun Gold variety

As its name suggests, Zespri’s SunGold variety has become its golden product, with an increase of more than $6 million in sales for the 2022-23 U.S. campaign compared to the previous season, generating over $20 million. The recent increase is attributed to in-store displays.

Globally, the category saw total retail sales grow to over $90 million in 2022-23, up $23 million from the previous year.

“With SunGold it’s a combination of a few things, first it’s the slightly sweeter flavor, the wider ready-to-eat window, and the convenience in the eating experience. It’s also packed with Vitamin C, giving consumers all the health benefits with a piece of fruit that tastes great,” says Mathieson.

Growing challenges and weather impact response

Zespri’s struggles impacting kiwifruit volumes over the past two years especially came in New Zealand with harsh weather conditions including hail, frosts, cyclones, and flooding leading up to harvest.

Mathieson says they are certainly concerned about this issue in the future, and that there are likely to be more significant weather events that will impact production.

“What we are looking at is how we respond to that, and it’s very much about building a greater, wider diversity of growing locations. We are also looking for new varieties that can grow in a warming climate and also under greater rainfall, as well as varieties that can grow in more protected growing systems,” he says.

Knowing that these changes take time, Zespri has already started investing in the future to address challenges that may come five, ten or fifteen years down the road.

For this purpose, SunGold has proven to be ideal as it has a wide opportunity for high productivity. This has allowed the expansion of crops within New Zealand from Zespri’s traditional growing location in the Bay of Plenty to other regions in the South and North Islands.

In the northern hemisphere, Zespri is also testing out new growing locations in Greece.

Zespri at the Global Produce & Floral Show 2023

In the words of Martina, Zespri’s participation at GPFS 2023 was a great opportunity to connect with customers and discuss topics like sustainable packaging, a priority for the company. Discussing supply chain efficiency with business partners was also a priority for this event.

“It’s great to be back here in the U.S. and feel the energy, which is fantastic because we are going to need it to keep growing our business,” adds CEO Mathieson.

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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