Consumer interest in kiwifruit has grown during COVID-19, according to Zespri International new cultivar innovation manager Bryan Parkes.
“We have found that consumers have become increasingly conscious about supporting their immune systems. There has been a spike in web-searches asking what foods are rich in vitamin C, and kiwifruit is one of the first search results.
“Despite the challenges COVID-19 has thrown our way, it has significantly underscored the benefits of kiwifruit, and the positive effects of our growing relevance to consumers should continue for years yet.”
Focussing on the positives seems to be a shared approach to COVID-19 throughout the kiwifruit industry, despite the initially grim forecast.
According to New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated, the industry began the season short 1300 workers who couldn’t enter the country, while expecting an estimated harvest of 155 million trays for the year.
Even in the midst of it, NZKGI chief executive officer Nikki Johnson has remained confident.
“We’ve employed New Zealanders who wouldn’t otherwise be employed, and earned an income for the regional and national economy when many industries couldn’t do so, which is a great thing,” says Nikki.
“Before COVID-19 became rampant, we already had positive uptake from Kiwis because of our targeted Labour Attraction Campaign, but obviously COVID-19 took that to another level.
“Recognised Seasonal Employer workers already in NZ who were scheduled to go home had their visas extended, which also helped fill the shortfall.”
Trevelyan’s managing director James Trevelyan says staff engagement throughout COVID-19 has been impressive.
“For example, a team member called me just to share an idea about how we could take temperatures more efficiently, which was really going above and beyond their job.
“Having such keen attitudes makes it a great place to work.”
Going into Alert Level 4, pickers and packers had to quickly adapt to a new working environment that allowed for social distancing and daily health checks. Strict pre-employment checks were also implemented.
James says the cost of meeting the new standards, from doubling security and tripling cleaning staff, to sourcing thermometers for health checks during a shortage, was “significant”.
“Initially we also had a churn over of staff, because we are all different in how we react to situations like this. Some people are happy to work with risk, and others can’t cope with it mentally – and that’s okay. It’s life; you roll with it,” says James.
“You could look at COVID-19 and think we’ve hit a bottom of sorts. But, rather than dwelling on it, we can focus on the resilience shown in the rebuild.”
The kiwifruit industry still has employment opportunities available across the Bay of Plenty, says Nikki. For more information and listed vacancies, search ‘Kiwifruit Jobs New Zealand’ on Facebook.