Kiwifruit modernisation: Chinese firm establishes R&D centre to develop sector alongside government’s 2035 vision
China is the world’s largest consuming nation of kiwifruits, eating an estimated 2.2 million tonnes or 52% of the total global volume consumed and outnumbering closest competitor Italy by some seven times.
When we last spoke to the firm, its Executive Director David Zhao had told us that he had seen a rapid rise in kiwifruit volumes sold locally in China, rising sharply both in terms of volumes and profits over the past few years, with demand continuing to rise even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The company is very confident in the kiwifruit market expansion here [in China], so much so that [in 2021] we moved to become a pure-play kiwifruit producer [from] making and selling baijiu previously,” he said.
“Chinese consumers today are becoming more and more health-conscious, so the kiwifruit’s tart flavour, low calorie count and [unique] texture will appeal [to them as] a delicious and healthy option for snacking, sides, or a unique dessert.”
China Shenshan’s confidence in the local kiwifruit sector shows no signs of wavering, with the company having recently even invested CNY5mn (US$787,000) to acquire a specialised subsidiary (Hubei Shenshan Orchard) and incorporate this as its kiwifruit R&D Centre.
“[We] firmly believe that constant innovation and openness to technology are one of the key engines of success [thus] incorporating Hubei Shenshan Orchard and setting it up as an R&D Centre [serves] as part of our ongoing innovative efforts and initiatives to broaden our expansion into the kiwifruit industry and enhance our profitability,” China Shenshan’s CEO and Chief Executive Director Hu Chao told us.
“[This move] also demonstrates our commitment to contribute to the development and growth of kiwifruit industry in China [where] the government has articulated a vision for the modernisation of the agricultural industry by 2035 with the aim of eradicating poverty in China.”
According to the firm, the local government is currently investing heavily in agri-tech and other foo-related scientific research to employ technology to increase productivity due to a growing focus on food sustainability and security – and kiwifruits are expected to be a part of this vision.
“Moving ahead, we will continue to improve our kiwifruit varieties and develop new promising varieties, catering to the consumers’ evolving preferences and demands,” added Hu.
“The R&D Centre will [also focus] on targeting significant challenges in the kiwifruit industry including pests and disease, environmental factors, sustainability and food security with the adoption of technology, [as is China’s focus].
“[We] will also be seeking for innovative ways [make] kiwifruit production more sustainable and environmentally friendly [and] eventually commercialise these techniques and superior kiwifruit varieties [to] generate potential additional revenue streams.”
Although the firm did not specify whether the new R&D centre will be looking at developing varieties with characteristics or functions for use as ingredients in products further down the supply chain, Hu mentioned several key areas such as enhancing taste and quality which would be useful in later product development, e.g. sweeter varieties for dried packaged kiwifruit or for use as a flavouring in dairy or beverage products.
In China, kiwifruits are very popular as dried slices or as flavourings for yoghurts, such as used by Yili in its award-winning kiwifruit-yoghurt Ambrosial Greek yoghurt, and are increasingly being incorporated into newer formats such as kiwi-flavoured puddings and even kiwi-flavoured cocktails.
The latter is sold in an RTD cocktail format by Chinese alcopop brand Rio, which is part of Australia’s Bacchus Distillery and is exceptionally well-known in China and amongst fans of Chinese dramas for its sponsorship – and thus appearance – in popular dramas such as Love O2O and Boss & Me.
The golden kiwifruit-flavoured RTD cocktail contains 3% alcohol (mostly vodka) and is part of Rio’s ‘mild intoxication’ or low-alcohol range.