New gold fails to charm consumers

It’s called Charm and although it tastes great, the new Zespri gold kiwifruit isn’t impressing consumers and may be phased out of commercial production.


The appeal of Zespri’s Charm variety is fading.

The high-yielding sweet fruit has a problem with “shrivelling” of its skin at room temperature after cool storage and it is that appearance which is putting buyers off because they believe the fruit is deteriorating.

Zespri has offered growers $10,000 per hectare of Gold9 and a Gold3 licence at no cost to remove vines this season, but that was rejected by a majority of gold growers as insufficient to make up for their costs and losses in income.

While Zespri general manager grower and government relations Simon Limmer says no decision has been made about the commercial future of Gold9, many growers believe next season will be their last harvest of the fruit.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc president Neil Trebilco says the wrinkling is cosmetic and the fruit in fact tastes great, but Zespri’s marketing efforts have been unable to convince its customers and consumers that’s the case.

G9 was released commercially four years ago and about 1.7 million trays currently grow on 150 ha. The fruit can be grown in the Bay of Plenty without the use of the chemical Hi-Cane and it produces up to 24,575 trays per hectare of high-tasting fruit.

Pooled returns
Returns for G9 are pooled with the other new gold variety Zespri Sun Gold (G3), which means G9 returns are pegged to those of G3.

Neil says the industry needs to have a discussion before the end of the year on a proposal that G9 have its own payment pool, which would mean true profits and losses were sheeted home to growers.

“This needs to happen soon, as growers naturally don’t like uncertainty,” says Neil.

The current uncertainty around the future of G9 is tough on growers as re-grafting to another variety will mean loss of production and income before the vines come into production.

Tauranga G9 grower and chairman of the Green Growers Group, Mike Smith, says while he’s not happy about the decision, he supports Zespri because of the adverse impacts G9 could have on the brand.

Mike has notch-grafted his G9 vines to G3 and says next season will be the last harvest of the G9 fruit on his orchard.

“I think Zespri has tried to find answers to the shrivelling but hasn’t been successful and unless a novel solution is found I think they have done the right thing.

“We can look in the rear vision mirror, as to how G9 was released and why the shrivel problem didn’t show up sooner, but that’s not helpful.”

World’s best
One grower, who does not wish to be named, says he’s extremely upset at Zespri’s decision, as he believes G9 is the best-yielding and tasting gold fruit in the world.

“Someone somewhere will get its DNA and start producing it,” says the grower, who has reluctantly grafted his G9 vines to the other gold variety G3.

He believes the shrivelling issue could be overcome by improved cool storage and handling facilities in the markets and that the fruit should be sold in niche markets, not alongside G3.

At the Zespri AGM in July, CEO Lain Jager indicated the future of G9 may be in doubt.

“Ultimately we may need to consider whether this variety remains viable.

“Our strategy must be built from the market back through the rest of the supply chain. This means success is likely to be reflected by having relatively few, relatively large product categories, which each earn their own shelf space.

“In this environment we must avoid the temptation to allow the proliferation of small products in the market and have the courage to de-commercialise cultivars that do not have a clear role in the portfolio.”

Simon Limmer told Coast & Country the variety’s future is uncertain because of market feedback from customers, wholesalers and retailers about Gold9 fruit deterioration.

Compensation
“Zespri has made it clear to Gold9 growers that the future of the variety is uncertain, due to inherent quality issues that have yet to be overcome.”

Should it be de-commercialised, growers will be entitled to the compensation outlined in their licence agreement with Zespri, he says.

All new varieties carry some risk with them and the issues apparent with Gold9 have been made very clear to growers throughout the commercialisation process, says Simon.

“Ultimately, growers make a decision about whether to invest in a new variety based on all the information put in front of them and on their own risk profile.”

All Gold9 fruit this year has been shipped and sold in the markets of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and Australia. Gold9 was not sold in Japan in 2014 or 2013.


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