Researchers set out options for fruit exporters

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013

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Fresh-fruit exports could double or even triple within the next 10 years if Kiwis fully harness the industry's potential, the author of a new export report suggests.

Tim Morris, director of research group Coriolis, said growing fruit was one of New Zealand's strengths.

"We've had huge success in apples - one in five apples grown on this planet, the genetics came from New Zealand. It's an unsung success story."

But in a competitive world, New Zealand could not afford to sit on its laurels.

In a report produced for the Government, Coriolis identifies five directions for growth in the fresh-fruit sector, including Asia, new varieties and value-added products.

Although New Zealand's major fruit exports were apples and kiwifruit, there was potential in furthering the avocado, cherry and blueberry markets.

Feijoas and kiwiberries, a type of cocktail kiwifruit, were also promising but faced storage and shelf-life barriers.

Avocado exports had the best outlook, with unrestricted access to the Australian market.

New Zealand avocado farmers had initially struggled with low yields and high production costs but were learning fast.

In general, however, New Zealand fruit exporters struggled with scale.

Italy, which had a similar land area, produced 24 times as much fruit, and Chile, which had a similar climate, was exporting four times our volumes.

The report, prepared following talks with the heads of New Zealand's top 20 fruit exporters, said Asia was their big hope, with lower shipping costs and more opportunities than their traditional markets.

Asians preferred sweeter varieties and fortunately New Zealand had been moving its plant genetics in that direction in the past decade.

However, tariffs and industry structures often got in the way.

Morris suggested the apple industry in particular would clearly benefit if it revived the best aspects of its former single-desk model and increased collaboration.

Another area of promise was in value-added products, such as juices and dried fruit, an area New Zealand had traditionally avoided.

Morris said New Zealand sometimes got into a "production mindset, because we're so often searching for scale" and did not pay attention to changing consumer preferences or building on its brands.

"Is there more money in a can of water with a little bit of fruit flavour in it than there is in fresh fruit? Yes, there is."

A good example was United States cranberry giant Ocean Spray, which had taken an unpalatable raw product and turned it into a range of juices and dried products.

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"I can't see any reason why you couldn't take Ocean Spray off a lot of those products and put Zespri there."

Coriolis' fresh-fruit report is part of a series for the Food & Beverage Information Project, an analysis of New Zealand's food industry.

Other reports focus on dairy, meat, seafood, produce, processed foods, nutraceuticals and beverages.

- Fairfax Media

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