Kiwifruit is a Kiwifruit is a key sector for the country's horticulture industry and contributed almost $2 billion to communities across NZ in 2020. Covid-19 has thrown a major spanner into the country's harvests by severely limiting the number workers, many of whom would usually come from overseas. Mike Murphy of NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc. talked with Bay of Plenty grower and employer Sean Carnahan about the challenges.
The New Zealand-grown Zespri kiwifruit is on route to Tokyo and Busan aboard the MV Kakariki, the second of three new specialised reefer vessels built to ship kiwifruit to Asian markets, with the ship expected to complete its maiden voyage in early April.
Alastair Hulbert, Zespri’s chief global supply officer says the vessel is the first of 57 planned charter reefer vessels under Zespri’s shipping programme this season, up from the 49 used last season.
This season will see five sailings to Northern Europe, 12 to the Mediterranean and 40 to Asian markets. Zespri also expects to send approximately 18,000 containers of kiwifruit.
“We’re expecting to supply around 177 million trays of kiwifruit this season, or approximately 700,000 tonnes, which will be a record breaking crop of New Zealand-grown Zespri kiwifruit,” says Hulbert.
He says the latest forecasts indicate Zespri could potentially reach 100 million trays of SunGold kiwifruit this season.
This would be a significant milestone for the industry, he says, and it reflects the growing popularity of the variety since its commercialisation ten years ago.
“We’re also excited to be providing consumers in China with their first opportunity to try Zespri Red kiwifruit.”
The red variety will be available in New Zealand stores shortly, with the first shipments scheduled to arrive in Singapore, Japan and China in early April.
With the harvest now underway across all growing regions of New Zealand, Hulbert says the wider kiwifruit industry is again working hard to ensure it can safely pick, pack and ship another crop of kiwifruit.
“There has been a tremendous effort from everyone in the kiwifruit industry to respond to the ongoing challenges posed by Covid-19 and our focus continues to be on safely delivering another great-tasting crop.
“We’ll again be embracing enhanced hygiene and safety protocols throughout the supply chain to make sure consumers in our markets around the world can still enjoy our fresh and healthy fruit.”
Hulbert confirmed that while Zespri is closely monitoring the global shipping situation, he believes the company is well placed to mitigate any risks associated with port and container congestion.
“This season we’ve increased the number of charter vessels we’re using, providing an additional 47,500 pallets of reefer capacity.
“The use of our reefer vessels, in combination with our refrigerated containers, is providing extra flexibility on when we ship our fruit.”
He says that as the delivery of this season’s kiwifruit starts, Zespri will continue to work with its long-term port and shipping partners to ensure the fruit is reaching consumers in premium condition.