Zespri's big boss will join Prime Minister Bill English in a trade mission to Japan after growing kiwifruit sales by 30 per cent over the past two seasons in the Asian country.

Zespri chief executive Lain Jager will join Mr English after selling a record 24 million trays of kiwifruit in Japan last season.

"Japan sales earned around $500 million last season and accounted for 16 per cent of our global sales," Mr Jager said.

"This is all the more remarkable as overall fruit sales in Japan declined by almost 10 per cent over the past decade, against the backdrop of an economy with an ageing population and changing consumer behavior, with a growing preference for more convenient processed products."


Mr Jager said the performance was testament to the longstanding relationships it had with customers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers "who work very closely with us in-market to deliver consistently great-tasting kiwifruit to Japanese consumers".

Mr Jager said Zespri has partnered with local Japan kiwifruit growers for the past 14 years to grow Zespri gold varieties to supply the local Japanese market in the few months of the year when New Zealand kiwifruit is not available. Zespri also has supplying orchards in Italy, France and Korea to meet consumer demand in the New Zealand off season.

"Our partnership with local growers keeps Zespri Kiwifruit on shop shelves in Japan all year round, supporting the relationships with our trade partners and keeping our brand in front of consumers all year round."

Zespri is expanding Japan production under a new commercial model which will see the aggregation of larger land areas, with significant volume growth ahead in response to the exceptional success and demand for SunGold in the Japanese market.