Maori kiwifruit delegates off to Japan

By Graham Skellern

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A large Maori business and cultural group leaves on Sunday to promote New Zealand-grown kiwifruit in Japan at the start of the new selling season.

Mount Maunganui-based Te Awanui Huka Pak, the largest shareholder in Seeka Kiwifruit Industries, would lead a 55-strong delegation to Tokyo to meet leading players in the industry.

Te Awanui had been invited to open the Zespri Trade Conference on Tuesday and kaumatua Kihi Ngatai would lead the powhiri. About 300 Zespri VIP customers would attend the conference and the delegation would give gifts of Maori carvings.

The delegation, mainly orchardists, would also visit the markets and buyers in Tokyo to gain a greater appreciation of how their kiwifruit was sold in Japan.

Hemi Rolleston, chief executive of Te Awanui Huka Pak, said Japan "is our premium market and it's important for the growers to see the other side of [the] supply/value chain".

"There are some real similarities between Japanese and Maori culture.

We can add Maori culture to the Zespri global brand and help build relationships," he said.

The visiting cultural group would include Ria Hall who sang at the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony.

Te Awanui would meet up with two other major shareholders in Seeka - Tokyo Seika, the largest fruit wholesaler in Japan, and Fresh Systems, the largest fruit ripening and logistics operator.

About 40 kiwifruit orchardists from Eastern and Western Bay of Plenty would make the week-long trip, joined by representatives from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Export New Zealand, the Federation of Maori Authorities, Maori Trustee and Zespri International.

Mr Rolleston said there would be "a subtle message to stick with us" even though the Psa bacterial disease had infected orchards in New Zealand.

"We will demonstrate [to the Japanese] that our industry is not giving up, we are still in good heart and we are in it for the long-term," said Mr Rolleston. "Things might be a bit tough presently but we will get through it together."

Te Awanui owns 14 kiwifruit orchards in Matapihi, Welcome Bay, Te Puna and on Matakana Island. It produced 2.5 million trays a year. Most of its production was marketed by Zespri but its own Te Awanui brand was sold in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and North America.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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