Lain Jager, the New Zealand company’s chief executive, said he had his sights on substantial growth in the region, alongside India and Africa.
Zespri expects sales in these markets to increase by more than 50% over the next five years to more than 4m trays of New Zealand fruit, and over 2m trays of kiwifruit grown in the Northern Hemisphere.
This is a fraction of the 131.6m trays the company sold globally last year, but it sees the expected growth coming from a concerted marketing campaign in a region with a fast-growing population and little of its own fruit cultivation.
Zespri’s long-term plan is also to increase global kiwifruit consumption across the world to beyond a “fraction of a per cent” of the overall fruit market, and “build new markets like the Middle East, India and the United States”.
“Our gold variety SunGold has proved particularly popular with consumers in the Middle East who enjoy its sweet, juicy taste and powerful health properties,” said Jager.
“Our in-market team is working hard to expand distribution across the region to introduce more consumers to our premium quality fruit and get more of them to buy Zespri kiwifruit each week.”
Though Zespri brought a snippet of New Zealand culture to Dubai in the form of the Maori delegation to “bless” the new office, it is also eager to adapt to local customs in the Middle East, especially as the beginning of the selling season currently coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, and will do so until 2020.
While this period of daylight fasting is not traditionally bounteous for food suppliers, kiwifruit has the potential to capitalise on iftar, or the meal taken to break the fast at sunset, when Muslims consume a great deal of fruit to replenish their energy.
"We have to adapt our programme to Ramadan. Our in-store sampling is suspended during the day and our promotions shift to Iftar instead," Zespri regional market manager Ben Hughes told Fairfax NZ.
He said the company is also looking to market to expats in the Middle East the idea of choosing kiwifruit as a snack. Moreover, the new office is currently assessing the potential of Iran and Egypt as new markets.