Kia ora, Ni hao, Bonjour, Konnichiwa
At Zespri, we’re incredibly proud of the delicious fruit we
produce and the collaborative industry we work in. We’re delighted to share
some of the historical foundations of our industry with you.
The world has changed considerably as we continue to respond
to the ongoing challenges presented by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many businesses, we’re embracing digital channels to be
able to connect with our friends across the world.
So, while we’re looking forward to seeing you in person again soon, we’re excited to share some of our industry’s key milestones via this e-history timeline. Here, you’ll discover the story of how, from humble beginnings, we’ve grown to become the world’s leading producer of premium quality, great-tasting kiwifruit. You’ll also learn about the progression of our industry to where we sit today.
So, step back in time with us for a moment, as we peak behind the kiwifruit vines.
birth of New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry actually stems back to the early 20th century.
Kiwifruit seeds were first introduced to New Zealand in 1904 by Isabel Fraser, a teacher from Whanganui in the North Island. She had seen the fruit while visiting her sister in China.
It is believed British naturalist Ernest Henry Wilson, who travelled to China to source new plant species, gave the seeds to Isabel. Kiwifruit seeds were then planted in our healthy, fertile soils in 1905 by Alexander Allison, a Whanganui farmer who had a keen interest in unusual plants.
It’s likely only a small number of seeds were brought back to New Zealand but, most fortuitously, Isabel’s seeds gave rise to male and female plants – which are both needed to produce fruit. By 1910, unique vines began to grow. These would become New Zealand’s first kiwifruit cultivars, descended from Isabel’s seeds.
By the 1920s, sales for plantings were recorded in Auckland, Tauranga, Fielding and Whanganui.
In 1928, New Zealand horticulturalist Hayward Wright
selected the Hayward variety from around 20-40 plants. Today it’s known as
Zespri Green Kiwifruit.
The Hayward variety is the foundation of our industry, characterised by its distinct oval shape and fuzzy skin. Full of flavour but with palate-cleansing acidity, it remains a firm favourite in fruit bowls worldwide.
Even though it was a little trickier to grow in comparison to other early green varieties due to its lower yield, Hayward’s good storage life, colour and delicious taste would become critical factors for early kiwifruit exporters.
Today, Zespri’s largest markets for Green Kiwifruit are Europe, Japan and China. In 2020/21, 80.5 million trays of Green were sold across the world.
After planting kiwifruit on his own orchard in Te Puke
in the 1930s, Bay of Plenty grower Jim MacLoughlin decided to ship 20 wooden crates of
kiwifruit to England, along with a load of lemons and tamarillos in 1952.
Jim became known as the father of the New Zealand kiwifruit industry. His fruit arrived in excellent condition. This was the very first export of New Zealand-grown kiwifruit.
The great-tasting fruit ended up flying off the shelves, and it was so popular, a whopping 1500 wooden crates were ordered for the following season! Jim’s fruit was also sent to the Queen.
And so began our kiwifruit success story.
Between the 1960s and 1970s, the New Zealand kiwifruit
industry took off.
More and more growers started to grow larger developments of
this well-loved fruit.
The first large-scale development of Hayward kiwifruit was planted in Te Puna in the Bay of Plenty in 1959. With more fruit produced for export, the first innovation in kiwifruit machinery was created for use in the 1965 season: the Orbit kiwifruit grader. For nearly 20 years, this key piece of equipment was in use. During this decade, New Zealand kiwifruit began making a big international impact.
Exports began to new markets in earnest including to Japan and Germany, and in 1974, Turners & Growers chartered a plane to take Hayward to Europe for the first time.
The first fruit was also exported to Japan and Germany.
Our first Gold Kiwifruit variety – Hort16A – was
developed in partnership with Plant & Food Research, our Crown research
partner, and it was released to growers in 1995.
Hort16A’s gold flesh and sweet taste provided a significant change from Hayward.
It was exported for the first time in 1998, quickly becoming an international hit thanks to its sweet, tropical taste, and nutritional benefits
In 1997, the New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board was
renamed, and Zespri International Limited was founded.
Two key industry organisations were also established in the 1990s, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers (NZKGI) and industry regulator Kiwifruit New Zealand (KNZ).
NZKGI was launched in 1994 and continues to provide practical support to growers and advocates for the industry with government.
Shortly after Zespri’s formation, our industry regulator, Kiwifruit New Zealand, was established in 2000. KNZ’s role is to ensure Zespri is compliant with industry regulations.
We launched Zespri’s Global Supply strategy in 2001.
ZGS is designed to ensure our Zespri Kiwifruit remains on retail shelves all year-round, the world over.
To help achieve this, we work in partnership with growers in Italy, France, South Korea, Japan and Greece so that we can supply premium Zespri Kiwifruit during New Zealand’s shoulder season. All of our Non-New Zealand Grown fruit must meet Zespri standards and help maintain our premium brand promise.
The global supply strategy means we can hold our shelf space, and reduce our marketing spend to ‘open’ markets for New Zealand fruit. It also allows us to leverage our promotional spend and the improved learnings we get from shared research and development activities.
Today we have more than 4,000 hectares of planted SunGold Kiwifruit in the Northern Hemisphere and the partnerships we have with growers and suppliers in Europe are creating sustainable value.
In 2010, after many years of development with Plant
& Food Research, our Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit was licenced with a small
number of our New Zealand growers.
But in November of that year, crisis struck. The vine bacterial disease Psa-V, which had been sweeping kiwifruit producing regions around the world, was found right here on home soil. This had a devastating impact on our original gold kiwifruit – Hort 16A.
It led to the establishment of biosecurity organisation Kiwifruit Vine Health, and together, we work with kiwifruit growers, NZKGI, post-harvest, associated industries, and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to ensure our much-loved fruit is carefully managed and protected.
Zespri and Plant & Food Research’s new varieties development programme had been exploring potential new varieties for a number of years and we were fortunate that we had Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit. Now, over 10 years later, Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit has played an important role in the recovery of our industry and it has become a multi-billion-dollar product that's continuing to grow in popularity in Zespri's global markets. We're proud to provide our premium and Vitamin C-rich Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit with an increasing number of consumers every season.
more than 10 years of development, we were excited to announce the
commercialisation of our first red kiwifruit variety, Zespri RubyRed™ in 2019.
This fresh new variety was received with an incredibly enthusiastic response during its sales trials around New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, and China prior to its commercial launch in 2022. It’s a real favourite among customers and consumers thanks to its vibrant red flesh, temptingly sweet berry-like flavour and nutritional benefits.
Today, we work with around 2,800 New Zealand growers,
1,500 international growers and a number of post-harvest companies to ensure
we’re always sourcing the best-quality Zespri Kiwifruit for you.
100 years on since the first kiwifruit seed was planted on New Zealand soil, we’re really proud to be the world’s largest marketer of great-tasting kiwifruit, in more than 50 countries.
And we’re committed to providing even more fresh, healthy and tasty kiwifruit to our customers in the years ahead!