Sustainability, innovation and supply chain systems are three big focus areas for Zespri coming into 2019, according to chief executive Dan Mathieson.
“We see a huge opportunity to create a much more sustainable system than what we have today – one that will resonate more with our people at Zespri, the whole New Zealand industry, but also with our consumers who buy the fruit,” Mathieson told Fruitnet. “Consumers are looking to buy fruit that is fantastic quality, healthy and nutritious, but they also want to know it comes from a company that cares about how the product is grown and packed and its environmental impact.”
As part of this mission, Zespri is on a drive to reduce, reuse or replace packaging. “We’ve got to find ways of eliminating plastic and waste, and move to more sustainable packaging, whether it’s the plastic in our transport packs or the plastic punnets we use on shelf,” he said. “We’re already looking for alternatives to use, and at how we can support the principles of a circular economy and shift to fibre solutions wherever possible. Our marketing team is driving this project, and we’ll start to see some trials this year.”
Innovation is another key focus, with the potential for Zespri to launch a red kiwifruit by the end of this year. “SunGold is a great product, but customers are telling us they want more variety. So we’re looking at a new green with sweeter taste, and we’re looking at a new red,” Mathieson told Fruitnet. “We’ve been looking at them for a while and haven’t delivered, but it is important for us that we get a really good-quality product before we put the investment foot down. We hope to have some positive outcomes by the end of 2019.”
Decisions on whether to commercialise the new red and green varieties will be made at the end of 2019. “If it’s a ‘yes’, they would be licensed to growers next year,” he said. “We’re going through a detailed criteria and the varieties must tick all the boxes – if they don’t, it will be back to the R&D table to look at how we can improve them.”
Digitisation of the supply chain is the other major project for Zespri and the industry. “We’ve reviewed our operating model, and we want to enhance our whole supply chain, including the way we track and trace our fruit from grower to consumer,” he says. “We’re also looking at modernising our finance system so we’ve got better data, all the way through the value chain, available to all our partners in that chain. It’s a big piece of work.”
Looking to the 2019 campaign, initial forecasts point to another big crop, Mathieson noted.
“It’s looking like there’ll be another 10m-tray increase in SunGold, while Green will be slightly down on last year, although it’s early days. We’re in-line for another big crop, probably larger than 2018, which was a record year.”
The 2018 crop came in at around 150m trays, a substantial increase on the 120m-tray haul the previous year and the biggest ever year-on-year increase. “It was a challenge, as we had a lot of fruit to get through, but we got there in the end with the strong support of our distribution partners, retailers and terrific teams around the world at Zespri,” he said. “Although our per-tray green returns will be down on 2017, at a per-hectare level they’re up, driven by higher yields.”
Mathieson described the 2018 campaign as “challenging but positive”. “It’s given us more confidence in our future demand position. SunGold demand stayed well ahead of supply, and with prospects of a 75m-carton crop in 2019, we feel we can manage that through the markets and provide good growth opportunities to our customers around the world."
This article appears in the March issue of Asiafruit. The edition also includes a feature interview with Peter McBride, who recently retired as chairman of Zespri. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to order a copy.