Zespri’s chief executive Dan Mathieson says the kiwifruit marketer would love introduce a red kiwifruit to its overseas markets soon but predicts its commercial introduction is still at least a few years away.
“We’d love a red – it’s got such strong consumer attraction,” says Dan. “We’ve just had it in Singapore over the last few weeks and it’s created a buzz,” he told a media briefing at Fieldays last month.
“Even in my household the kids love it. It has very strong berry undertones and is an exceptional piece of fruit.”
A Zespri-labeled red kiwifruit was for sale on retail shelves in Singapore during May and June as part of the first-time Zespri International and Plant & Food Research’s jointly-run breeding programme has put the red-coloured fruit through the entire export supply chain – on a contained scale.
Zespri International’s operations manager for kiwifruit new cultivar development Bryan Parkes told Coast and Country News in March that harvesting of red fruit from three cultivars was underway and would go through the supply chain for two-three seasons “depending how things are tracking” before a business case is formed to decide whether to commercialise any of them.
The entire export supply chain trial – on a contained scale – from being grown on a New Zealand orchard to reaching the mouth of an overseas consumer – is part of the programme’s third – and last – stage of evaluation in pre-commercialisation of a red variety.
But Dan admits the red fruit has hit a speed bump on export – storage longevity.
“We’re excited about it – we know we have to have it in the portfolio – but it can’t just tick the consumer box. It’s got to tick all of the production side boxes as well.
“At the moment we’re still struggling with storage, so getting a piece fruit that can give us a sales window which will allow us to put meaningful investment in behind it – and really tell the consumer about this how great this piece of fruit is.”
Dan says the red fruit’s storage “is just not there”. “And so we’re trying to increase that out to a 12-week window so we can export it viably out of NZ. [Currently] I think we’re about eight weeks.”
Asked how the fruit’s storage value can be improved, Dan says it takes time through the natural breeding techniques.
“[We have] To choose varieties that have got strong storage and combine those with those the varieties that have got that taste – but it takes time.
“Ideally, we’d like to be able a red in the market in the next couple of years. By 2020 is certainly what we’re pushing for.
“But again we won’t rush into that. We’ve got to make sure it ticks all of the right boxes.”