THE country’s affluent consumers have been helping boost the sales growth of kiwis imported from New Zealand.
This has made Zespri International (Asia) Ltd. confident that it will meet its target sale of 6.5 million green and gold kiwi fruits in the Philippines for 2011.
Also, the organic variety will be introduced this year as Filipinos have increased their consumption of organic-food products.
In an interview, Steven Bunyan, regional market development manager for Southeast and South Asia, said: “We believe there is a lot of great opportunity in the Philippines,” with the higher-end consumers easily able to afford the green variety, sold between P23-P26 per piece, and the gold variety, about P35 per piece. Only two years ago, both varieties were priced between P19 and P21 per piece.
He also said Zespri is currently looking at possible sites in the Philippines where it could grow kiwi fruits, with Baguio and Bukidnon on top of the list. “Zespri as an organization is exploring where else to grow kiwi fruits.”
The kiwi fruit is grown mostly in fertile volcanic soil but needs cold weather and very clean water to propagate.
“The challenge is to grow good-quality fruit. Anyone can make it survive because it grows almost like a weed and survives anywhere, but to get good flavor, that’s the difficult task,” he said.
Aside from farms in New Zealand, where the green variety is grown, the company also has partnered with kiwi growers in Italy, France, Chile, Japan, South Korea and Australia, where the gold variety is produced.
Kiwi sales in the Philippines have been brisk since the fruit was officially introduced in the country in 2008. That year, sales posted a 200-percent increase to 2.16 million pieces, rising steadily to 3.9 million pieces in 2010.
Bunyan said he doesn’t see the kiwi fruit’s price as a deterrent to meeting Zespri’s target sales in the country. “Once people have experienced the benefits of the kiwi fruit they are happy to pay the price because they know the nutritional and health benefits. We don’t believe it’s expensive; we believe it’s good value.”
He added that globally, Zespri is targeting to sell “over 108 million trays” or close to 4 billion pieces. In Asia, Japan still accounts for the largest chunk of Zespri sales, at 15 percent of the market, followed by China and Hong Kong, at 12 percent.
“But we expect in the next years that China would take over from Japan,” Bunyan stressed.
Ironically, the kiwi originated in China and is still called the Chinese gooseberry in some parts of the world. A Wanganui teacher, Isabel Fraser, brought the first seeds back to New Zealand in 1904.
The green variety with its fuzzy skin and green tart flesh now famous around the world was cultivated in 1928. It was only in 1992 that New Zealand growers successfully bred the gold hairless variety with sweet mustard flesh. Because of the growing demand for organic fruits, some kiwi-fruit growers also grow organic varieties of the green and gold cultivars.
With global sales revenues of $1.5 billion, Zespri is the world’s most successful horticulture marketing company with the Zespri brand recognized as the world leader in premium-quality kiwi fruit. The marketing company is owned by the kiwi-fruit growers in New Zealand who produce three varieties of kiwis—the green, the golden and organic varieties.
In the Philippines, Elite Marketing is the direct importer of the kiwi fruits, and Zespri has tied up with Fresh Studio Innovations Asia to do its exclusive marketing in the country.
In a separate interview, Kingson Chan, manager of Elite Marketing, said they will soon introduce the organic kiwi variety to the local market, recognizing that more Filipinos are now consuming more organic products for health reasons.
Chan added that more consumers are purchasing the kiwi ever since it was marketed as a healthier alternative, especially for diabetics. Studies show that the kiwi fruit has a low-glycemic index of 48.5 points (gold variety), compared with mango (55), banana (58), papaya (60) and pineapple (66).
It is also a naturally high source of vitamins, provides excellent mineral balance, is high in antioxidants, and full of phytonutrients for good health. It is also a leading source of vitamin C, providing 108.9 mg compared with an orange (53.2 mg), mango (27.7 mg), pineapple (16.9 mg), banana (8.7 mg), and an apple (4.6 mg); as well as folate and vitamin E.
He said supermarkets are still Elite’s biggest customers for kiwi, accounting for 80 percent of company sales, followed by restaurants and hotels at 10 percent, and wholesalers at 10 percent. Elite Fruit also imports apples from China and grapes from Chile and the US. The company is among the top five fruit importers in the Philippines.
Chan also noted an increasing competition for New Zealand fruits from Chile, but Bunyan said: “There were some huge deliveries of Chile fruit, but we’re expecting to get ahead of the competition. The challenge to Zespri is for people to try our fruit and know the difference. We believe when people eat our fruit, they will know we are the superior fruit.”
Chile accounts for 10 percent of the world’s production of kiwi fruits, supplying most of the US market. New Zealand is the third-largest kiwi producer in the world, accounting for 21 percent of total, after Italy (26 percent) and China (25 percent), according to data from Zespri.
(My piece was originally published in the BusinessMirror, June 9, 2011. Photo courtesy Zespri.)