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Zespri Chairman: China Market Delighted About RubyRed, Volumes To Continue Growing

April 06, 2023

The arrival of Zespri’s first consignment of kiwifruit in March marked the beginning of the 2023 Zespri New Zealand kiwifruit season in China. Meanwhile, the Kowhai vessel carrying more fruit to China is currently en route and expected to berth on April 7.

“Consumers in China are very excited and delighted about RubyRed,” Zespri chairman Bruce Cameron told Produce Report during the 2023 Zespri Season Launch Conference in Shanghai on March 31. He added that last season was extremely successful for the new variety, which was introduced to the Chinese market two years ago. China’s first imports of red-fleshed kiwifruit amounted to 12,000 trays in 2021 and doubled to 24,000 trays in 2022. “We are seeing growth in volumes exported again this year. The potential and opportunities of RubyRed are growing significantly in China,” stated Cameron, adding that although volumes of this niche product remain relatively light, its extraordinary taste means that Chinese consumers are ready to pay a premium.

According to Zespri’s data, exports to China in 2022 shrank by about 8% to 30.65 million trays, compared with the record 33.38 million trays exported in 2021. This decline is mainly attributable to pandemic-related challenges, including lockdowns, logistical disruptions and a “cautious consumption” trend resulting from the economic uncertainty. It is important to note that despite the overall decrease in exports last year, a slightly higher volume was also observed for SunGold, which reached 26.02 million trays compared with 25.94 million trays in 2021. The Green variety, however, witnessed a considerable drop from 7.43 million trays to 4.62 million trays, corresponding to a year-on-year decrease of almost 38%.

Speaking of 2023, Cameron stated that global export volumes would be significantly lower than in previous years as a result of adverse weather. “We have about 90 million trays of SunGold and about 45 million trays of Green that we will export this season,” said Cameron, specifying that these are the lowest figures for many years. The industry estimates a drop of approximately 20% in its exports worldwide. It is important to note that New Zealand was successively hit by three climate events during the kiwifruit production period, namely, excessive rainfalls causing poor bud break and pollination, spring frosts and heavy floods.

“Next year, if we have a normal year climatically, we should be up around 30–40 million trays more. And then the growth of the volumes should get higher and higher. So, we expect to be past a 200 million tray mark over the next three to four years,” projected Cameron. In regard to RubyRed, Cameron estimated growth to four to five million trays in the short term for Asian markets, as the variety is now mainly designated for China, Japan and Singapore.

According to Ivan Kinsella, Zespri’s China vice president of corporate affairs, the shorter shelf life of RubyRed compared with SunGold and Green determined its key export destinations, with a shorter marine transit time making Zespri prioritize Asian markets for this variety. Meanwhile, the unique sweet flavor played a crucial role in the enthusiastic welcome received by RubyRed in Asia and particularly China. According to Kinsella, Chinese consumers generally prefer a sweet taste, which is also why SunGold became the most popular variety in this market.

Responding to a question about Zespri’s cooperation with kiwifruit growers in China, Kinsella said that work in this direction should be resumed soon, after it was put on pause owing to the pandemic. Zespri’s office in Chengdu will continue exploring production opportunities in Sichuan, which could become China’s first base for Zespri kiwifruit. Production in China, however, first needs to be approved by 75% of Zespri’s growers in New Zealand.

Images: Zespri


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