RubyRed alert: Zespris first commercial red kiwifruit exports on the water

New Zealand’s first commercial volume harvest of red kiwifruit is heading overseas, and with returns to pioneer growers looking juicy, there will be keen interest in the results of this year’s Zespri growing licence round.

Marketer Zespri released a further 350ha of RubyRed brand licence this year in a closed tender bid, the results of which will be announced from May 2.

The New Zealand grower-owned company said it was expecting a total red crop of around 140,000 trays this year. That’s double last year’s harvest, which was used for market trials sales.

Around 100ha was expected to produce the red fruit this year from a total of 415ha already licensed.

(For context, Zespri expects to export more than 190 million trays of New Zealand-grown kiwifruit this year – a big jump on last season’s 158m trays sold. And in New Zealand 14,000ha is devoted to kiwifruit growing.)

Most of this season’s red crop was grafted two years ago.

Latest Zespri price guidance to growers suggests an orchard gate return of $15.50-$19/tray for RubyRed in the 2022-2023 season.Well-established bestseller Zespri SunGold was estimated to return $10-$12/tray and $11-$13.50/tray for organic SunGold. Zespri Green was $5-$7/tray and organic green $8.50-$10.50.

Zespri is forecasting red fruit volumes to grow to 15 million trays by 2030 under the current licence release plan.

Zespri spokeswoman Carol Ward said the season’s red harvest had finished, with the crop picked and packed.

The first shipments had arrived in Japan, with exports to Singapore, China and – for the first time – Taiwan in the weeks ahead, she said.

As Kiwi shoppers discovered this year, the more delicate red kiwifruit has a short harvest and selling season.

The fruit was popular in Zespri’s supermarket trials at home but Countdown said with export taking much of the crop this year, it was only in store for around three to four weeks compared with six to eight weeks last year.

It had retailed for $8 for a 600g punnet, Countdown said.

Foodstuffs, which operates New World and Pak’nSave supermarkets, said the fruit was available in both the North and South Islands, but not at every store. The price varied according to wholesale prices, the company said.

RubyRed was commercialised in 2019.

Ward said the response to the variety during trials had exceeded Zespri’s expectations.

Trials in all markets attracted younger shoppers than other Zespri varieties.
Sales trials in Singapore found that over its short selling window, the red fruit also attracted new buyers to kiwifruit, with one in three purchases in 2020 made by those who had not bought kiwifruit in the previous 12 months.

A sweet fruit with an edible smooth skin, RubyRed’s more delicate nature had meant a steep learning curve for growers and postharvest operators in handling, processing and storing.

Meanwhile a new Rabobank research report on the global kiwifruit industry said red kiwifruit varieties could gain importance in the coming seasons, especially in China, Japan and South Korea.

While supply chain problems were a major factor in holding back global trade last year, kiwifruit exports weren’t affected, increasing by 3 per cent, it said.

New Zealand remained the world’s leading exporter at 647,000 metric tons “with no sign of a decrease in the near term”. (China is the biggest kiwifruit producer.)

Italy had shown a marked downward trend in its exports while Iran, Greece and Chile had delivered stable export volumes over the past three years.

On the imports front, the report said 80 per cent of the globally traded kiwifruit in 2021 was imported by Europe and Asia, both regions having a long history of kiwifruit consumption.

The most attractive current market was Asia, which had a higher share of gold kiwifruit imports.

The report said as quality was rewarded by a premium price, the trend toward higher-quality kiwifruit, particularly golden varieties, would be increasingly relevant.

“However, growers and exporters will face significant challenges on the production side, in terms of higher costs, including but not limited to; fertiliser, energy, harvest, packaging and freight cost.

“Although inflationary pressures have exacerbated since the beginning of the war in Europe [Ukraine], the relevance of Russian and Ukrainian markets is relatively limited for kiwifruit exports from the Southern Hemisphere but indirect implications will impact the industry, particularly on the cost side.”

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