Zespri growers make strong showing in voting on China rogue growing plan

The country’s kiwifruit growers have made a strong showing at the ballot box in voting on marketer Zespri’s plan to try to counter rogue growing in China of a Zespri-owned gold fruit variety.

Voting closed at midday Friday with early indications the voting return was around 59 per cent and around 75 per cent in terms of weighted production.

Zespri is owned by 2000-plus growers.

Carol Ward, Zespri’s chief grower, industry and sustainability officer, said the early voting indication was similar to the response at the last Zespri producer vote in 2019.

The result of the vote is expected to be announced late next week after postal votes are counted and final auditing complete, she said.

“We’ve really appreciated the time growers have taken to consider the proposal and the strong engagement within the industry on the issue over the past few months, including throughout our grower roadshows and at Fieldays.

“Our focus remains protecting the interests of New Zealand growers and regardless of the outcome of the vote, we’ll continue working to address the challenge of unauthorised plantings of Gold3 in China which remains an important market for Zespri.”

Zespri’s plan to counter the undermining of its brand in China is tightly-controlled commercial trials with Chinese growers.

Zespri is proposing a one season trial starting later this year contracting about 20 Chinese growers to supply up to 200,000 trays of SunGold.

The fruit would be contractually procured and quality would be monitored in the orchards and a post-harvest facility, with Zespri marketing and selling in China fruit that met its quality standards.

If the trial was successful, Zespri would go back to its 2500-plus New Zealand sector owners to ask to start a second trial in March next year.

Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson, who has been in China working with growers and local and central governments there, last week told the Herald he believed the proposal had a lot of support but “it’s also clear there are those that don’t support it”.

The proposal requires the support of 75 per cent of growers who vote.

The IP for the gold fruit variety, branded as SunGold and known in the sector as G3, is owned by Zespri and is its best selling kiwifruit. The Mount Maunganui-based company believes at least 5500ha of the fruit is being grown without authorisation in China.

Mathieson said Zespri expected Chinese counterfeiting of the highly successful brand togrow rapidly now in China as volumes of the variety and consumer demand swell.

Zespri was one of the most counterfeited fruit brands in China, the world’s biggest grower of kiwifruit, he said.

China is Zespri’s biggest market, alongside Japan.

“When our New Zealand season finishes there is five months of space for supply to come in from the Northern Hemisphere and from China production. At that point we see a lot of counterfeiting of the Zespri brand – putting the Zespri brand on other fruit from other origins and selling it as Zespri fruit,” Mathieson said.

“That’s a big concern for us.

“The second issue we’re going to see is variable quality undermining the confidence of consumers in the SunGold. That’s why we are very focused on our 12 months [of the year] supply strategy.”

Mathieson said some of the counterfeit fruit was of a high standard, but some quality was “really poor”.

“That will devalue the offering of SunGold and undermine consumer confidence.”

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