New Zealand fruit trade has become a heavy hitter as an export, helping to at least partly offset weakness in the dairy and forest products sectors.
Data out from Statistics NZ showed the value of fruit exports reached an all time high of $2 billion in the year to June, up almost 20 per cent from a year earlier. Wine was another strong performer, up 7.3 per cent to $1.4 billion in the June year.
The performance of fruit and wine wasn't enough to offset downturns in other parts of the primary sector - dairy exports were down by 24 per cent to $12 billion and log exports were down 11.3 per cent at $3.56 billion - but the data showed the downturn was not universal.
Both higher prices and a greater quantity of fruit exports - up 9 per cent - contributed to the overall rise, Statistics NZ said.
Kiwifruit and apples led the monthly increases, with exports in May 2015 being the highest value recorded for both kiwifruit ($280 million) and apples ($157 million).
Statistics NZ said kiwifruit was responsible for 59 per cent of fruit exports, followed by apples (28 per cent), and avocados (5.7 per cent).
"If you could find another export industry that is growing at even a fraction of the rate of those three, then you would be lucky," said Gary Jones, Business Development Manager at Pipfruit NZ. In the Hawkes Bay alone, apple exports are projected to hit $500 million in 2017 from $200 million in 2010, he said.
Agricultural analysts are bullish about kiwifruit as the sector continues to recover from the devastation caused by the Psa virus since its outbreak in 2010.
ANZ, in an analysis of the sector, said New Zealand kiwifruit sector typified many aspects of true "value-add" leading the way in producing and selling a premium offering.
"Despite the challenges posed by Psa, the industry is in good heart appearing to have navigated the worst of its impacts," ANZ said.
Kiwifruit had a strong 2014/15 season with increased volumes and good grower returns.
Zespri chairman Peter McBride told grower-shareholders at the annual meeting that Zespri had delivered $1.57 billion of sales in the 2014/15 season, up 16 per cent on the previous year.
Volumes of New Zealand kiwifruit sales are up 11 per cent to 95.2 million trays this season and set to grow to over 130 million trays in the next five years.
The apple sector is going from strength to strength with new plantings, by area, increasing by 5 per cent a year. NZX-listed Scales Corp - the country's largest grower, packer and marketer of apples - said its export grade apple volumes were about 13 per cent ahead of prospectus forecasts.
The higher percentage of both premium apples and percentage of sales to Asia and "near" markets is expected to result in a higher average price per carton than prospectus forecast, said managing director Andy Borland.
"In addition, apple selling prices and quality have held up well in many of our export markets."
Avocado, the country's third-largest fruit export, faces a rosy future as consumers worldwide focus more on healthier food choices. The season, which goes from August to February, was a strong one but production tends to be lumpy. Last year a record 4.5 million trays were produced with about 2.8 million trays being exported through Avoco. This year, the sector expects to produce about 2.8 million trays in total.
"This year we will have a light crop but will have exceptional prices," Avoco director John Carroll said. "It's not just about supply, it's about demand growth. The real growth in demand keeps steaming along at a staggering rate," Carroll said.
For supermarkets worldwide, avocado had become a "darling product" for promotions.
" ... we have the advantage of being on the doorstep of an exceptionally strong market - Australia - and the doorstep of a potentially bigger market - Asia, in the years ahead."
The nurseries that grow seedlings for avocado orchards are booked out for the next two to three years.