First per­sim­mon ex­ports reach chi­nese con­sumers

A fledg­ling ship­ment of New Zealand persimmons to China offers the prospect of a new ex­port in­dus­try to this lu­cra­tive mar­ket.

The Orchardist - - Persimmons - By Rose Man­ner­ing

New Zealand’s first ex­port of persimmons reached mar­ket shelves in China af­ter a 12-year ef­fort to gain mar­ket ac­cess con­cluded suc­cess­fully in mid-Au­gust.

Gis­borne-based ex­porter First Fresh sent the trial ship­ment of Gis­borne per­sim­mon fol­low­ing ap­proval from China’s quar­an­tine author­ity AQSIQ. Ne­go­ti­a­tions for mar­ket ac­cess be­gan in 2005 and per­sim­mon will be the first new fruit to gain ac­cess to the Chi­nese mar­ket since the 2008 Free Trade Agree­ment was ne­go­ti­ated be­tween New Zealand and China.

First Fresh man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ian Al­bers says his China strat­egy is to start small and gain a clear un­der­stand­ing of con­sumers be­fore tak­ing the next step. “We’ve had in­ter­est from China in New Zealand per­sim­mon for years, and the grow­ers are ex­cited to see they’ve fi­nally gained ac­cess to a mar­ket with po­ten­tial at such a scale.”

“China could fuel decades of growth for the New Zealand per­sim­mon in­dus­try, but only if we get our ap­proach right. That’s why we’re only ex­port­ing a small test ship­ment into Shang­hai in the first year,” he says.

Mar­ket­ing of the persimmons in China was un­der­taken by mar­ket­ing company Food­view. Food­view’s brand strate­gist John Miller says that while the process of mar­ket ac­cess ne­go­ti­a­tion has taken many years, con­clud­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions demon­strates a high level of trust by the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment in New Zealand’s food prod­ucts.The next step is reach­ing the con­sumers.

Get­ting the persimmons into the hands of con­sumers met de­lays both on the New Zealand and Chi­nese end, but John says they are thrilled to have landed the fruit in the mar­ket. The first ship­ment will be used to gain ex­ten­sive cus­tomer feed­back through 250 re­tail stores as well as China’s hugely pop­u­lar WeChat so­cial me­dia plat­form.

“It’s crit­i­cal we un­der­stand how Chi­nese con­sumers re­act to New Zealand per­sim­mon. We grow a firmer va­ri­ety than the na­tive Chi­nese per­sim­mon, which is typ­i­cally eaten when it’s softer and juicier.We need to un­der­stand what Chi­nese con­sumers think of the dif­fer­ence and learn how to ed­u­cate them to ap­pre­ci­ate New Zealand prod­uct,” he says.

John be­lieves New Zealand is ex­cel­lent at grow­ing qual­ity prod­uct, but mar­keters have not been so suc­cess­ful at telling the good story of the taste and flavour im­parted by the unique grow­ing con­di­tions. WeChat en­abled his mar­ket­ing team to in­ter­face directly with the Chi­nese cus­tomer to start a con­ver­sa­tion about New Zealand persimmons.

Persimmons are a tra­di­tional part of the Chi­nese diet, but they grow a dif­fer­ent type of soft-fleshed fruit. New Zealand-grown fruit are the Ja­panese-style crunchy fruit.

“We have used WeChat to in­form con­sumers about the dif­fer­ent style of our prod­uct, how it is crunchy in na­ture; WeChat is a so­cial me­dia plat­form with 900 mil­lion users. We can have a con­ver­sa­tion with many peo­ple right across China,” he says.

Food­view ex­ports a whole range of New Zealand fresh fruit to China, start­ing with cher­ries and plums, then pears, gold ki­wifruit, or­anges, lemons and now persimmons. John says Chi­nese con­sumers have a strong in­ter­est in where and how the fruit is grown. “WeChat en­ables us to have true en­gage­ment with con­sumers; this par­tic­u­lar chan­nel is very unique.”

He cites an­other ex­am­ple where ap­proach­ing the Chi­nese con­sumers through WeChat has paid div­i­dends for New Zealand fruit ex­ports. Aus­tralian orange ex­ports to China have been com­mon­place for a num­ber of years; cus­tomers there were used to the thin-skinned sweet flavour of these or­anges.

Food­view looked at ex­port­ing New Zealand naval or­anges to China, but the prod­uct was markedly dif­fer­ent to what they were used to. “We could ex­plain on WeChat that New Zealand or­anges were not as sweet, but had a deeper orange flavour. We could tell Chi­nese cus­tomers that they grow near the coast in Gis­borne, and that coastal breezes led to a greater level of wind rub, lead­ing to skin im­per­fec­tions.”

A unique abil­ity to tell the story al­lowed the suc­cess­ful ex­port of eight con­tain­ers of or­anges to this mar­ket. For the fledg­ling per­sim­mon in­dus­try, it was a case of start­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, and care­fully mon­i­tor­ing feed­back from Chi­nese con­sumers on taste and price.

Food­view will be pro­fil­ing persimmons at Asia Fruit Lo­gis­tica on Septem­ber 6.

New Zealand’s 50 per­sim­mon grow­ers have 154ha un­der cul­ti­va­tion, 70% of which is in the Gis­borne area. New Zealand’s to­tal per­sim­mon ex­ports are around $8 mil­lion, mainly to Aus­tralia, Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia and Thai­land.

New plant­ings of persimmons in Gis­borne will mean there will be in­creas­ing on-go­ing sup­ply in the fu­ture. Ian says per­sim­mon plant­ings fell seven or eight years ago, as trees grow­ing in the Auck­land south ar­eas were re­moved. Good re­turns per hectare in re­cent years have prompted Gis­borne grow­ers to take a sec­ond look at the crop, which is well suited to grow­ing in the East Coast cli­mate.

Fruit in the mar­ket­place in China, and meet­ing the NZ High Com­mis­sioner in China.

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