‘Bridging the gaps’: Zespri positive on kiwifruit’s rising APAC popularity after launch of new US$2mn innovation fund

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Zespri believes that continued focus on health and wellness in the APAC region and beyond will propel the sector to even further heights. ©Getty Images
Zespri believes that continued focus on health and wellness in the APAC region and beyond will propel the sector to even further heights. ©Getty Images

Related tags Zespri Kiwifruit

New Zealand kiwifruit industry leader Zespri believes that continued focus on health and wellness in the APAC region and beyond will propel the sector to even further heights, bolstered by the innovations it hopes to find via the launch of its new US$2mn fund.

Zespri is currently the world’s largest kiwifruit firm, laying claim to about one-third of the kiwifruit market globally by volume.

According to Zespri Chief Marketing, Innovation and Sustainability Officer Jiunn Shih, there appears to be no slowing down in demand for kiwifruit both at the regional and global levels.

“Consumers’ increasing focus on health and mindful eating has been a driving force behind our marketing strategy [as] per capita fresh fruit consumption, currently averaging around 33 kg, is on an upward trajectory,”​ he told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“This is a positive trend for [kiwifruit] and we’re seeing that play out in the fact that within the global fruit bowl, kiwifruit is the fastest growing fruit in terms of popularity - It’s currently the most popular fruit in China and, for the third year in-a-row, is the third favourite fruit within Japan.

“We’re also seeing kiwifruit’s popularity increase in our growth markets of Vietnam and the US too, and there’s increasing demand for our fruit across Europe, including Belgium, Spain, Germany, and Italy.”

Much of Zespri’s marketing strategy has been focused on the health and nutrition benefits of its various kiwifruit varieties, which has helped to both spur interest and innovation for the industry.

“This growth in popularity has been built in part by the very clear focus we’ve put on promoting kiwifruit’s benefits across our Asia Pacific markets, highlighting the differing properties of our Green, SunGold, and RubyRed Kiwifruit,”​ Shih added.

“Notably, the introduction of Ruby Red Kiwifruit helped us attract younger and new consumers to try the fruit and become repeat purchasers.

“In recent years, we’ve also seen a significant increase in products using kiwifruit as a base  [for products such as] juices, dried snacks, smoothies, and even some nutraceuticals. This trend underscores the growing recognition of kiwifruit’s nutritional value and its potential in the increasingly health-conscious market.”

In search of even more innovation to push the kiwifruit sector’s growth to the next level, Zespri has decided to launch its own innovation funding initiative dubbed ZAG – this will be a US$2mn annual fund that looks to attract innovation focused on the four core areas of People, Environment, Community and Fruit.

“What we really want is to find the technology to bridge existing gaps in the industry,”​ he added.

“To do this, we will support projects that can either promote the wellbeing and accessibility of kiwifruit to consumers (People), protect and restore the environment (Environment), improve the wellbeing of kiwifruit growers, consumers and local communities (Community) or can connect the whole kiwifruit chain and drive up quality or productivity (Fruit).

“As such, we encourage anyone with relevant innovations to apply, from agtech firms to start-ups to incubators working with newcomers and so on, and not only within New Zealand but anywhere in the world.”

Focus not on equity

Of note for this new fund is that Zespri has decided not to go down an equity path, allowing beneficiaries of the ZAG fund to continue owning their own innovations and technologies.

“We decided on this as we don’t believe that equity is the only path to scaling up a beneficial innovation,”​ Shih said.

“Maybe somewhere down the line if the conditions are right we would change our minds depending on the situation, but right now the goal is to pilot these innovations, bring them to the forefront and invest in them to help get them started.

“If the tech is found to work well with our goals, then we would definitely want to help them scale-up and then partner with them, and to do that does not always need equity in the project.”

Successful applicants would not only be receiving funding assistance but also access to Zespri’s R&D experts across areas such as fruit physiology, human physiology, orchard management and more; as well as benefit from its partnerships across the kiwifruit value chain.


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