The first of a planned 47 charter vessels carrying new season Zespri Kiwifruit to offshore consumers has left Tauranga Harbour bound for Japan.

The Baltic Pearl, carrying just over one million trays of SunGold Kiwifruit, will reach Tokyo and Kobe in late March. The vessel had earlier berthed in Gisborne to pick up over 330,000 trays of SunGold after the region became one of the first to start this season's kiwifruit harvest.

Blair Hamill, chief global supply officer, says although there were ongoing challenges associated with Covid-19, all ports in Japan, Korea and Europe were functioning well and had labour available.

"We're continuing to monitor the situation closely and adopting a precautious approach, with our contingency planning taking account of the rapidly changing environment.

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"We're seeing positive signs in China in terms of the improving consumer metrics, and we expect our charter reefer vessels to run as planned."

The first kiwifruit ship of the season, the Nassau-registered Baltic Pearl, gets set to depart Port of Tauranga for Tokyo. Photo / Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media
The first kiwifruit ship of the season, the Nassau-registered Baltic Pearl, gets set to depart Port of Tauranga for Tokyo. Photo / Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

Hamill said with harvest now under way, the industry was working hard to deliver another great tasting crop of premium-tasting Zespri kiwifruit which had benefitted from this season's warm weather and excellent pollination.

"This season we're expecting to supply around 155 million trays, or around 600,000 tonnes, of our premium Zespri kiwifruit to our consumers across the world.

"Our latest estimates show we're on track to supply over 80 million trays of SunGold, and around 70 million trays of Green this year.

"That's up from around 74 million trays of SunGold and 73 million trays of Green last year, which marked the first time we've supplied more SunGold to the markets."

Hamill said in total, Zespri expected to send over 18,500 containers of kiwifruit and 47 charter vessels this season, with four sailings to North Europe, 11 to Mediterranean markets and 32 to Asia.

"We'll continue to monitor the developing Covid-19 situation closely, and if we see any change in demand or disruption to a port, we will make adjustments to our fruit allocations accordingly.

"We're pleased to be able to get this first shipment of SunGold kiwifruit away and will continue to be working closely with our partners and in-market teams to ensure we're continuing to meet our customer and consumer's strong demand for fresh fruit."

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