New Zealand can thank Isabel Fraser for its thriving kiwifruit industry. In 1904, the Wanganui teacher returned from a trip to China with some very special black seeds. Horticulturist, Alexander Allison sprouted those seeds and started the tradition of growing kiwifruit in New Zealand.
The person responsible for the start of ZESPRI® Kiwifruit however, is Hayward Wright and his exceptional green thumb. In 1928, with the Bay of Plenty’s rich volcanic soils and mild climate, Hayward Wright developed a new variety of kiwifruit and ever since, the “Hayward” variety has been grown and exported all over the world.
The first exports of kiwifruit from New Zealand were in 1952, to England. Though its original name was “Yang Tao” or the “Chinese Gooseberry,” proud Kiwis wanted to name the fruit in recognition of New Zealand’s national symbol – the special brown-feathered Kiwi; thus the origin of the name ‘Kiwifruit’.
In the years following, the industry expanded rapidly with entrepreneurial kiwifruit growers establishing orchards across the Bay of Plenty and in other growing regions of New Zealand. Growers banded together to pack and export their fruit overseas and competed against each other for markets. In the 1970's, the Kiwifruit Marketing Licensing Authority was formed to provide growers with control over their industry structure and regulate the activities of exporters. This structure enabled grade standards to be established and a coordinated approach to marketing undertaken.
In the mid to late 1980’s the New Zealand kiwifruit industry faced a crisis. The rapid expansion of orchards in New Zealand led to large crop volumes, above and beyond that of global demand. The New Zealand dollar was rising and interest rates were high. In the markets, the price of kiwifruit dipped to an all-time low. Growers faced financial hardship and the multiple exporters were competing against each other, driving prices, and grower returns down further.
The New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board was established by the New Zealand Government in 1988 as a single desk exporter under grower control. This gave the industry unity and strength, of which it needed plenty, because in 1992 the industry faced its biggest challenge. Legal action by Californian growers brought an anti-dumping case against New Zealand Kiwifruit and millions of dollars had to be paid to US Customs. This was followed by a price crash in the oversupplied European markets. The industry faced financial disaster. An estimated 18-20% of growers quit their land.
A complete review of the industry was undertaken in 1993. With visionary leadership and strategic partnerships, the New Zealand kiwifruit industry slowly recovered and started to rebuild. A marketing driven strategy was at the forefront of change – building on the reputation of delivering the world’s best kiwifruit. The continuity of a single export entity was endorsed by growers across New Zealand.
ZESPRI International Limited was formed in 1997 as a global marketing organisation, providing a single point of entry for the export of New Zealand grown kiwifruit.
The industry continued to evolve and ZESPRI Group Limited became a public company in which eligible kiwifruit producers were issued shares. Kiwifruit Regulations established a statutory framework for the governance and regulatory oversight by Kiwifruit New Zealand of ZESPRI's operations ensures the New Zealand kiwifruit industry continues to lead the world in kiwifruit innovation, production and supply.
It was also at this time that the ZESPRI® Kiwifruit brand was born - with a commitment to grow and sell the best kiwifruit, which remains unchanged today.