Zespri International, New Zealand's kiwifruit marketer, says it will licence more production of its SunGold variety in Italy to meet rising demand and ensure 12-month supply.

The Tauranga-based company today said it will allocate an additional 1,800 hectares of European SunGold licence over the next three years. The first 1,200 will be in Italy and the remaining 600 hectares are still to be allocated.

Zespri chief operating officer Simon Limmer said the move is driven by growing year-round demand for Zespri kiwifruit. It has established supply in several northern hemisphere countries, particularly Italy and France, to ensure supply when New Zealand kiwifruit is not available. It currently exports and markets premium New Zealand kiwifruit to 56 countries around the world.

"Twelve-month supply is a key part of Zespri's strategy and this investment aligns our offshore production with the strong increase in New Zealand SunGold volumes, set to double to around 90 million trays over the next first years," said Limmer.

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Production of Zespri SunGold in Italy is over 4 million trays this year from 800 hectares. Zespri said there are another 850 hectares which will come into full production in the next few years. The combined volume of the existing hectares and the new 1,200 will see volume more than triple to around 15 million trays in the next five years. Any production from the additional 600 hectares will be on top of that, Zespri said.

It did not specify the investment involved but said it will be carried out through its partnership with four Italian suppliers - Apofruit, Alegra-Intesa, Salvi Unacoa and Spreafico. Suppliers can only grow SunGold kiwifruit with a licence from Zespri and can only sell to Zespri.

Zespri shares last traded at $3.20 on the Unlisted market.