New kiwifruit an industry game changer

By Carmen Hall

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New kiwifruit could change the multimillion-dollar industry.
New kiwifruit could change the multimillion-dollar industry.

A new green kiwifruit and a red variety with edible skin are being hailed as "game changers" for the multimillion-dollar industry.

Growers were offered taste tests of the cultivars, which have been in trials for 10-12 years, at the National Fieldays in Hamilton last week but Zespri is guarded about their release in the marketplace.

Zespri would not say when the product would be taken to market if it proved commercially viable.

The cultivars were in pre-commercial trials on small blocks around New Zealand.

Zespri China GM Simon Limmer said the two cultivars had not been commercialised yet but the outlook was bright.

"New varieties are big drivers of growth and the red kiwifruit in particular have significant consumer demand. We know there is an opportunity to position it in the market.

"It is going to be a real game changer for us in terms of a clearly differentiating the product in the way it looks, tastes and its health attributes. All of those qualities drive consumer demand and attracts new consumers."

Zespri and the government have invested more than $15 million over the past three years into the kiwifruit breeding project overseen by Plant and Food Research. It has more than 100,000 cultivars in a nationwide evaluation programme.

It takes between 10-14 years to get a cultivar to the point where it was commercially viable, he said.

"Obviously its consumer acceptance but you have all the growing attributes as well like yield, size, storage, costs of growing products and the big one of late, Psa susceptibility."

The risk of commercialising too early could have significant impacts on growers, he said.

"It would be a big investment for individual growers if they changed to a new variety as it will take them several years to get up to full production.

"We are very enthused about the opportunity, especially with the reds, but we have got to get it right before we take that big step."

Zespri's market assessment suggested red kiwifruit could potentially fetch the same prices as gold per tray but while volumes were low they might achieve a premium, he said.

There were reds in marketplace around the world, but Mr Limmer said Zespri did not believe those varieties were commercially viable.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc president Neil Treblico said any new fruit would create interest.

"We have seen that happen with the Hort 16 A variety (gold). It developed a whole new kiwifruit category that was extremely successful so we would hope any new entrant like a red would add excitement. But the key here is going to be that it ticks all the boxes from the orchard to the consumer.

"These days any new variety needs to be tolerant of Psa and any new green has to be better than the existing green to make it worth changing across."

Mr Treblico said it was too early to say what decision Zespri would make about commercialisation.

"Growers are very innovative ... and want to plant, grow and see it sold. We have got to make sure the variety we have got is good."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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