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.
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.