New Zealand prides itself on its fertile soil and beautiful fruit growing climate. As a country, we are highly regarded as growers, and the success of our exported products is a testament to the hard work and ingenuity displayed by Kiwis. In discussion with Jerry Prendergast, the president of United Fresh New Zealand, Supermarket News learned about the state of the industry and how New Zealand fares on a global scale.

“New Zealand has always embraced new and improved varieties—something innovative. We’ve always recognised opportunities for export, and although we may not have produced the hybrid variety here, we’ve always been constructive in growing and identifying the right variety that works for the New Zealand soil and climate.”

“Innovation has garnered success in the kiwifruit and apple export industries. We’ve grown the right varieties to match our climate and soils and produced beautiful products. The future is very positive if we continue down this path.” According to Plant and Food research, over 495,000 tonnes of New Zealand kiwifruit are sold each year, 30 percent of them being the gold variety. Golden kiwifruit, native to northern China, went from a foreign fruit to a Kiwi staple. The development of the fruit to fit New Zealand’s unique soil and climate means that despite our size, we are the second biggest producer of kiwifruit in the world, right after Italy.

New Zealand’s fruit and vegetables are widely known to have a great taste and high quality. “The taste of our fresh produce in New Zealand is superb. We know this from when people come over from Europe, and we get this feedback. Our taste and quality are excellent compared to around the world.”

“New Zealanders in horticulture have always been well-travelled—they have to be in order to learn and understand more.” A key point highlighted was the fact that for New Zealanders in horticulture to grow, they must be able to see the fault and the positives from other countries. Prendergast believes the industry as collaborative. He said that the biggest differences between the Kiwi fruit and vegetable industry here and overseas is the constant reinvestment and support for growers. “The investment in the area for better varieties is understood and backed.”

Prendergast outlined what he believes are the three main areas of importance. These were: taste, yield, and shelf life. Prendergast used raspberries as an example; “the old variety of raspberries used to taste good, and they would yield well. However, they had an awful shelf life—they’d go mushy in the punnets so you would have to eat them straight off the vine. Compare this to the newer varieties of raspberries, which taste, yield, and keep well.” This lead to an increase in consumer consumption as they didn’t have to be eaten straight away and could stay fresher for longer. The development of the raspberry came through work in the cross-pollinated/hybrid industry in which the natural genetics of the berry were enhanced to make it hardier, and less susceptible to going bad.

Prendergast predicts that some of the significant changes coming to the New Zealand fruit market would be changes in berry fruit, namely blueberries, boysenberries, blackberries, and strawberries. “The changes that are coming will help to improve consumers view on berry fruit in the market—it’s going to be quite an exciting industry.” In addition to berry fruit, developments in both summer fruit and melons mean that they will have better taste, more variety, and better shelf life.

In light of the recent fruit fly incidents that New Zealand has seen on its soil, we asked Prendergast about what impact this could have on our fresh produce market. “Maintaining biosecurity for New Zealand’s horticulture industry is critical. The fruit fly is a very serious concern, especially for our export industry. It’s important for all sectors, but the export industry is relatively free from devastating diseases, and this could have a devastating effect on this. The whole produce industry realises the severity and has to be willing to support this.”

As Prendergast has outlined, the New Zealand hybrid/cross-pollinated industry is one that is continually undergoing development. It works closely with the preexisting produce market to develop tastier, longer-lasting, and better-looking produce. Considering New Zealand’s strict stance on genetically modified organisms, the hybrid/cross-pollinated sector is doing well. Although it’s a market that would be tough to crack, it sounds as though the reward and the collaborative nature of New Zealand growers and retailers would make for a good industry to work in. “The advantage, from New Zealand’s perspective, is that we tend to be pretty innovative. We tend to find a way,” added Prendergast.