The first exports of Chinese gooseberries were in 1952–53, from a few orchards in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty. Growers sent trial shipments to the UK and Australia, where the fruit was well received. Early exporters learned by trial and error the complexities of growing, harvesting, sorting, packing and storing a tender fruit for faraway markets.
The overseas demand for kiwifruit grew steadily in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, kiwifruit producers intensified their use of chemical pesticides, adopted industrial production techniques such as mechanical sorting of fruit, and built large cool stores to hold the fruit ready for export.
Kiwifruit is exported in reefers (refrigerated ships) rather than in refrigerated containers. 1984 was the first year that exporters chartered entire ships for their produce. Since then, Tauranga has become the dispatch port for most kiwifruit exports, which means that the bulk of growers – those in the Bay of Plenty – do not have to transport their fruit long distances in refrigerated trucks to get it to port.
Rise and fall
In the late 1970s kiwifruit was hailed as a ‘golden harvest’ because of the industry’s explosive growth. Financial success and the appeal of the orchardist’s lifestyle attracted investors and new growers, and kiwifruit-growing expanded to new areas such as Northland and Hawke’s Bay.
However, unstable interest rates and exchange rates and increased world supplies of kiwifruit led to an industry crisis between 1987 and 1989. Some growers felt bitter that overseas growers were raising kiwifruit from plant stock originally exported from New Zealand – ironically, kiwifruit promoters had created their own competition.
In a tough world market, many exporters competed to sell kiwifruit, driving down the price of the New Zealand fruit. Growers responded by lobbying government to regulate the export sector.
Kiwifruit Marketing Board
The New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board was established in 1988 and had monopoly powers to distribute and market kiwifruit everywhere except Australia. In 2000 it adopted the corporate identity Zespri International Ltd.
So that it could supply kiwifruit year-round, Zespri began to represent some northern-hemisphere growers and gave them rights to grow gold kiwifruit. The Hayward cultivar is produced to Zespri standards by some Italian growers.