A Māori-owned and operated berry company based in Tauranga believes it could be as successful as Zespri - and experts say the berry export industry has the potential to rival kiwifruit.

Miro plans to become an export success story by putting tunnel houses on 500ha of underutilised Māori-owned land nationwide that would pump $500 million into the economy and create more than 5000 jobs nationally in eight years.

Business development manager Liz Te Amo said Miro had ambitious goals and ''that does not scare us''.

She said the board, which included Steve Saunders, had proven track records in the horticulture sector and it had already raised $10 million in capital - the bulk of that coming from Māori land trusts in the North Island and a South Island trust.

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It has just established a 3ha orchard and nursery at Te Teko in the Eastern Bay of Plenty using a state-of-the-art cropping system. It has sourced proven blueberry varieties from Australia.

The project allowed Miro to take 11 workers off the dole - an initiative it was developing with the Ministry for Social Development for employment and training.

Miro's next stage was putting tunnel houses on 30ha close by which would provide more jobs.

A joint partnership and breeding programme with Plant and Food Research meant new berry varieties were in the pipeline.

Te Amo said its mission was to transform Māori land into productive orchards that could employ Māori people and provide income and ''livelihoods for Māori whanau in the regions''.

It was specifically targeting areas high in Māori unemployment and Māori landowners who were getting low returns for their land or farmers who wanted to diversify.

Plant and Food Research plant varieties business development manager Andrew MacKenzie said the breeding programme was focusing on blueberries. Traditionally it could take at least 10 years to get a new variety onto the market. But it hoped the tunnel system of growing and using pots would make that faster.

New Zealand only accounted for about 0.25 per cent of berry production worldwide, so there was huge potential, he said.

''Berries are the darling of the supermarket and have a lot of consumer pull because they are viewed as a superfood. And it has been a global challenge to keep up with that demand all year around.''

Zespri marketing manager Oliver Broad said an approach that focused on consumer needs, delivering premium quality, supported by investment in innovation to create the best new products, could provide huge value within horticulture.

'''There are great opportunities across the horticulture sector and strong ambitions to grow, as we're seeing in the case of Miro."

Priority One chief operating officer Greg Simmons said Miro's model was significant for the Bay of Plenty, regional New Zealand and Māori.

''It provides an opportunity to optimise Māori-owned land to produce high-value horticultural product as well as create skilled jobs and employment pathways.''

Māori were major stakeholders and contributors to sustainable economic growth in the Bay of Plenty, contributing more than $1 billion to the region's GDP, he said.

''Māori constitute 25 per cent of the wider Bay of Plenty population and have extensive land holdings and strong cultural and economic ties to the region. The asset base of Māori in the Bay of Plenty has been estimated by Te Puni Kōkiri to be between $6 [billion] to $9 billion, including ownership of 32 per cent of the land in the region.''

That did not include treaty claims by local iwi, which were still being negotiated with the Government, he said.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said there was ''no reason why the berry industry cannot be as big as the kiwifruit export business''.

''It is a premium product grown in the best place in the world that discerning consumers want to eat. This is a tremendous initiative that has the potential to not only increase the amount of berries exported but to also increase the value of horticultural exports.''

Innovation, new varieties and adopting new technology were the vital ingredients for export success as companies needed to differentiate their products from their competitors' offerings, he said.

''As climate change becomes more of a reality, we will need enterprises such as these to achieve our emissions targets. This is therefore very future thinking and good for all of New Zealand.''

Miro: The details
• Miro means berry in Māori.
• Māori-owned and operated berry fruit company.
• Plans to export by building an end-to-end value chain.
• Māori will own the intellectual property including genetics, growing, processing, packaging, product development, post-harvest logistics, brand and market development.