New Zealand's kiwifruit heading home to China

Thu Dec 3, 2015 4:18pm EST
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By Rebecca Howard

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - More than a century after the kiwifruit arrived in New Zealand, the fuzzy-skinned food is heading back to its roots in Asia.

The world's largest kiwifruit exporter, New Zealand's Zespri International Ltd, already sells around 20 percent of its output to China and is now preparing the ground to start producing there, looking to cut costs at a time when it expects its overall exports to hit record highs.

It also wants to tailor production to a market booming as an expanding middle class shifts to more healthy eating, consuming more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Starting commercial production in China would mark the first such step from New Zealand's kiwifruit sector, a key part of a fruit industry which overall churns out the country's sixth most valuable export. Although Zespri is cautious about moving too fast as it wants to ensure the varieties of kiwifruit it has developed are not leaked to other growers in China.

"There's an obvious strategic advantage for us at sometime in the future to be producing Zespri quality kiwifruit out of China and selling it locally," Chief Operating Officer Simon Limmer said by telephone.

Kiwifruit, which used to be known as Chinese gooseberries as they were originally from that country, were brought to New Zealand in the early 1900s and renamed after the nation's round flightless bird. The food now generates around NZ$1 billion ($660 million) in export revenue for New Zealand each year, more than double the amount from fresh apples.

China is already the world's largest producer and consumer of kiwifruit, growing between 1.3 and 1.5 million tonnes a year, versus Zespri's output of nearly 400,000 tonnes.

The Asian giant is the Tauranga-based co-operative's fastest growing market, with exports to the country expected to soar 40 percent in the year to March 31.   Continued...

A fruit seller adjusts a price tag in a market in downtown Rome, in this November 14, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/Files