From heritage building restoration in Switzerland to kiwifruit growing in Katikati, André Rochat's career transformation was accidental and nothing short of remarkable.

The Swiss-born 44-year-old arrived in New Zealand 10 years ago with no experience in horticulture, yet now owns two orchards in the Western Bay and is an international adviser for Zespri.

"I was just a pencil pusher and didn't really have much of an idea of anything else," Rochat said of his drastic change in career.

He initially trained as an architectural draftsman in Switzerland and later spent 15 years as a project manager for his business restoring heritage buildings.


His first encounter with kiwifruit growing was an accident.

Rochat and his New Zealand wife Dalena moved to New Zealand with their three children – now aged 12, 14 and 16 – and bought a house in Katikati that happened to have half a hectare of green kiwifruit.

He took up the challenge and eventually got involved in contracting and harvesting.

"It was a bit of a steep learning curve."

Rochat and his wife went on to buy two orchards.

He said being a kiwifruit grower was the "best thing ever".

Last July he was picked by kiwifruit marketing company Zespri to travel to South Korea and share his knowledge with Zespri growers there. He has been back three more times.

Rochat's shortest visit was 10 days, his longest about four weeks.

"I'm just there to bring in some Kiwi knowledge about how to establish the Gold [variety] and help them along with that."

He said the visits benefited him and his business as he questioned and evaluated his own processes as he taught.

"If they ask you why, sometimes you catch yourself asking yourself – actually, why are we doing it? It helps you rethink certain practices you do as well."

He worked predominately in Jeju Island where the bulk of Zespri's South Korean kiwifruit is grown.

Rochat will welcome about 20 South Korean growers onto his orchards in March, many from Jeju Island.

"Since I tell them what to do, now, of course, I have to prove that I'm actually doing that as well."

Orchards in Japan, South Korea, France and Italy have been producing Zespri-branded kiwifruit for many years. As a result of the Zespri SunGold success, expansion is occurring around the world.

There are trials underway in China and other northern hemisphere countries.

The Mount Maunganui-based company's global production manager, Shane Max, said demand for Zespri's fruit internationally was "voracious" and year-round.

"Sourcing Northern Hemisphere fruit is vital for our business, keeping our fruit on shelves during the few months when New Zealand-grown fruit can't supply the market."

Zespri also brings offshore industry people to New Zealand to understand New Zealand growing systems and to share their tips.

Next week, 20 Italians will spend six days in New Zealand.

Zespri's technical exchange programme

Last year Mount Maunganui-based Zespri sent 11 New Zealand growers and post-harvest industry specialists to help their counterparts around the world.

Four went to Italy, two to France, one to Japan, two to South Korea and two to China.

In 2016 Zespri sent seven advisers, and this year it is expected to be at least 11.

The local specialists can be away for anything from a few days to months at a time and often return several times during the year.