New Zealand needs to pick up its game

Amid accusations of poor quality fruit and a lack of trade awareness, the New Zealand top-fruit industry needs to pick up its game, its chief executive told the Journal.

Peter Beaven, of Pipfruit New Zealand, said the industry is addressing the criticism on quality, but needs to do a better job of promotion and forge stronger trade links with customers.

And pressure is now also coming from the government for the post-deregulation industry to pull together.

Beaven was responding to comments made by export marketing strategist Roger Manning at the recent Pipfruit NZ conference in Nelson.

Manning said the industry had “three to five years” to establish better relationships in its European export markets, or risk losing market share.

He told delegates: “You need to raise the profile of New Zealand. You lead the world in good cultural practice, but where are you?”

The industry also needs to consolidate further, he added, with a reduction of up to 50 per cent in exporter numbers.

Beaven said the industry was still in the process of consolidating: “There’s an argument that 90 exporters are too many, but since deregulation, we’ve seen the growers go from 1,400 to 900 and packhouses from 135 to 85, and that’s going to continue over the next two to three years.”

In response to quality criticisms, he said PNZ has introduced new best practice guidelines covering the entire sector, from grower to packhouse.

“We take any criticism very seriously. Basically there was too much marginal fruit going through the packhouses, so we have to make sure we are always sending the best fruit,” said Beaven.

He said PNZ had created the Integrated Fruit Production programme, at a cost of several million, covering traceability and the use of controlled spraying. “But, we’ve got to raise the profile of what we do,” he admitted.

“We’ve done a really bad job of describing our systems to the market. We’ve got one of the safest growing systems in the world, yet we’ve not been talking about it.”

The industry also needs to get to know supermarket buyers better. “We’ve built good relationships with importers, but we’ve not done a good enough job getting the buyers out here and showing them what we can do,” said Beaven.

While he agreed with Manning that southern Europe presents an opportunity for New Zealand, he said exporters need to focus more on the Asian market. “Both India and China have more millionaires than we have people, so there’s a significant opportunity there.”

The NZ government has pledged it is willing to assist in the pursuit of a branding strategy for fruit through established channels, such as Trade and Enterprise New Zealand.

However, this is on the premise that the industry works collectively and collaboratively first.

The changes to Pipfruit NZ may well be a step in the right direction, with the organisation recently widening its remit to include post-harvest as well as production. A new board of directors has now been appointed, with Ian Palmer re-elected as chairman.