New Zealand's kiwifruit season is off to a cracking start with a record crop likely, the biggest shipment ever sent to Europe and the new Zespri Red fruit drawing big interest at home and overseas.
Grower-owned marketer Zespri is expecting to supply around 177 million trays of Zespri-branded kiwifruit in the 2021-2022 season - compared to 164.4m last season.
Around 100m trays will be the money-spinning SunGold variety and 72m green fruit.
As at May 12, week 19 of the new season, more than 110m trays had been submitted, said chief global supply officer Alastair Hulbert.
The largest shipment of Zespri kiwifruit ever was dispatched to Europe, around two million trays of SunGold, he said.
"This season we're expecting to supply nearly 20 per cent more Zespri SunGold kiwifruit to Europe, reflecting the continued growth in demand for the variety."
In China, year-to-date sales are up 23 per cent on the same period last year, Hulbert said.
Zespri Red fruit is available in China for the first time, as well as in New Zealand, Japan and Singapore in the final year of pre-commercial sales trials.
More than 70,000 trays of Zespri Red were supplied across the four markets, having been harvested from late February to early April for trial sales, a first for the fruit in China.
Red fruit sales in Japan, Singapore and China had exceeded expectations, with consumer awareness boosted by strong promotional activity, social media interest and Zespri Red featuring in prominent news media, said Hulbert.
The Zespri Red hashtag was ranked as one of the top Twitter trends on April 19.
In New Zealand, more than 3000 shoppers sampled the new red fruit in an instore programme. Around 60,000kg of Zespri fruit was sold.
Early sales trials suggest Zespri Red is attracting new and younger consumers to kiwifruit, Hulbert said. Next year, the first 150ha of Zespri Red planted in 2020 will come into production.
"At this point of the season, we have delivered over 16.7 million trays of Zespri SunGold kiwifruit, which is around 3.6m trays ahead of last season. Green kiwifruit is later maturing and still on the water to many markets with 1.7m trays delivered so far.
"Under our shipping programme, we have loaded 22 of our planned 59 charter reefer vessels for our markets which have enabled faster delivery rates and strong season-start sales across Zespri's key markets like Japan, greater China and Europe."
The use of chartered reefer vessels and refrigerated containers provided extra export timing flexibility, Hulbert said.
Increasing the chartered vessel fleet this season provided an extra 47,500 pallets worth of reefer capacity.
The first vessel of the season arrived in Japan and Korea in late March, with Japan already seeing strong retail activity and sales compared to last year, he said. Fresh kiwifruit for Korea also landed two weeks earlier than last year.
In Europe, SunGold sales had started strongly after the largest-ever single shipment of fruit arrived aboard the new MV Cool Eagle reefer vessel in April.
Around 8300 tonnes of fruit was on board. The vessel unloaded at Zeebrugge.
"We marked a record first week of deliveries in Europe with 1.2 million trays sold in week 16, and that trend has continued to average one million trays per week."
Zespri's global operating revenue last year was $3.3 billion. Global sales earned $3.1b, with New Zealand grown export fruit contributing $2.2b of that.
Last year Zespri sold 145.3m trays of New Zealand grown fruit, comprising 72.8m trays of SunGold and 66.8m green.
Non-New Zealand grown fruit comprised 11m trays of gold and 8.1m green.