Zespri drives for bigger share of the global fruit basket
Increasing the volumes of Zespri SunGold Organic kiwifruit will help the company meet its target of NZ$4.5bn in international sales by 2025, says new chief executive Dan Mathieson.
“Because of its high yields, Zespri SunGold is financially attractive to orchardists who want to grow the fruit organically, and we see a great opportunity to increase the Zespri Organic category for both green and gold fruit,” said Mathieson.
In October the Zespri board approved the additional release of 50 hectares a year of licence for Organic SunGold, specifically for greenfield plantings. It intends to release a total of 250 hectares over the next five years, subject to annual review.
The board has also announced the allocation of 700 hectares of SunGold licence in 2018, via a Closed Tender Bid.
Zespri chairman Peter McBride said Zespri also intends to extend the release of SunGold licence out to 2022, meaning a total of 3,500 hectares to be released over the next five years.
“It is clear from performance in the markets in recent seasons and from our assessment of future demand that we need to accelerate supply growth of SunGold. The gap to fill between the strong demand outlook and our current trajectory of supply growth presents a significant strategic opportunity.
“Demand forecasts support the release of 700 hectares per year. However, this is subject to an annual review that would consider any potential new risks to our current demand outlook.”
This, says Mathieson, makes the goal of doubling returns very achievable. “Kiwifruit makes up just 0.22% of the global fruit basket so there is obviously a huge opportunity for growth across all Zespri categories.”
An increasing consumer preference for safe nutritious fresh food will help fuel that growth in existing markets as well as in emerging markets including North America, South East Asia and India.
Key, said Mathieson, is the Zespri brand name which is underpinned by; “an unrelenting focus on quality. Our strong supplier and customer partnerships provide us with an outstanding opportunity to rapidly increase demand, increase supply and innovate to sustain and grow returns to growers and shareholders.”
Zespri is a truly global brand and among the most recognised in the international fruit business. Its success is due to the New Zealand industry’s commitment to quality and high standards, a formula which is now applied to fruit grown under licence to Zespri in France, Italy, Korea and Japan, with trial plantings in China and North America too.
Growing off-shore ensures 12 month’s supply of Zespri kiwifruit with Northern Hemisphere fruit entering the market to fill the gap left when the New Zealand crop is sold.
“Supplying premium quality fruit all-year round helps us grow kiwifruit consumption around the world and meet the needs of our consumers who want Zespri-quality kiwifruit 12 months of the year. We want to ensure Zespri is the account manager of choice in the international kiwifruit category and with a year-round supply of consistently high quality fruit, we can achieve that.”
“Kiwifruit makes up just 0.22% of the global fruit basket so there is obviously a huge opportunity for growth across all Zespri categories.”
Mathieson acknowledges that Zespri enjoys a privileged position as the sole exporter and marketer of New Zealand kiwifruit to the world (with the exception of Australia). With that privilege comes an obligation to perform for growers.
With no on-shore competition to compare against, Mathieson said Zespri looks to other highly successful international companies such as Nestle and Unilever as performance bench marks.
Zespri’s HQ at Mount Maunganui is the heart of the growing and post-harvest industry and Mathieson said the Singapore office is the heart of international marketing. It’s in the Singapore “centre of excellence” that sales and marketing strategies are formulated for implementation by the other 20 Zespri offices worldwide.
Mathieson will spend time between the head office at Mount Maunganui and the sales and marketing hub in Singapore. “I realise the huge importance of working closely with New Zealand growers and industry leaders and I will spend substantial time at Zespri’s head office in Mount Maunganui. A strong and empowered New Zealand executive will also play a key role in maintaining these key industry relationships.”
Mathieson took over from former chief executive Lain Jager who stepped down in September after nearly 10 years in the role. Jager led the industry through one of its most challenging times – the outbreak in New Zealand of the vine disease Psa-V.
Mathieson, who paid tribute to Jager’s leadership skills, said that the recovery from the initial impacts of Psa was quick due to the industry’s united nature, the strong support of the government and financial institutions which supported growers and the post-harvest industry through the tough time.
“Psa is still with us and we can’t ignore that. There will also be other challenges ahead but that’s one of the things about horticulture – there’s never a dull moment,” said Mathieson who is clearly a confirmed advocate of kiwifruit.
In fact, as a child he loved green kiwifruit so much he’d eat it with the skin on. Zespri Hayward Green remains his favourite, although, along with wife Reina and their three children Keanu (12), Sean (8) and Lanah (6) he also enjoys Zespri SunGold for its sweeter taste and the fact it’s always ready to eat.
Mathieson can talk at length about the dietary benefits of Zespri kiwifruit; “eating one piece of Zespri kiwifruit a day provides a significant proportion of your daily nutritional requirements”. Added to that, both green and gold fruit taste great too, thanks to Zespri’s high quality standards.
Mathieson said Zespri, together with the scientists at Plant & Food Research, are getting closer to producing a commercial red fleshed kiwifruit. “We are growing vines in both hemispheres which gives breeders the advantage of two seasons in one year.”
The market is hungry for a great-tasting red, he said. “We held taste tests of a red kiwifruit in Singapore and the social media reaction was phenomenal so we know the consumer wants a red fruit, but it has to be a great red, in terms of taste, appearance, storage qualities, and tolerance to Psa-V.” And like all Zespri products, has to be produced using conventional, not GM breeding techniques.
Both Jager and Mathieson have been appointed to the chief executive role from within the ranks of Zespri, which means both have a firm understanding of the industry.
Mathieson, who had a boyhood dream of being a vet, discovered a talent and love for the Japanese language at college and after graduating from AUT, worked in Tokyo for Omron and NEC in corporate communications, international marketing and project management roles.
In 2003 he joined Zespri Japan as a member of its operations team and in January 2013 was appointed president of global sales and marketing in Tokyo, before moving to Singapore in 2015 to head up Zespri’s global sales and marketing hub.
In the 15 years since he joined Zespri Mathieson has helped lead the development of Zespri’s business in Asia, serving as the marketing manager for South Korea and later Southeast Asia, among other roles.
Now his task is to develop the business even further – significantly increasing Zespri’s share of “the global fruit basket”.
“Psa is still with us and we can’t ignore that. There will also be other challenges ahead but that’s one of the things about horticulture – there’s never a dull moment.”