Opinion & Analysis

Zespri Kiwifruit in South Korea

South Korea is Zespri's eighth-largest market.

Zespri works with growers from countries in the northern hemisphere to supply kiwifruit to key international markets all year round. Sheila McCann-Morrison, Zespri's General Manager of Global Supply, shares more about the production of Zespri Kiwifruit in South Korea.

OPINION: Zespri Kiwifruit might be a Kiwi icon, but New Zealand isn’t the only place we grow our fruit.

Zespri has partnered with Korean growers since 2004 to supply South Korea – our eighth-largest market – with Zespri Kiwifruit all year round.

We have more than 70 producing hectares of Zespri’s gold varieties in the fruit bowl of Jeju Island, and nearly the same number of new plantings which are still to reach production. Zespri is considering further plantings to meet planned market growth which will see volumes in South Korea triple to 3 million trays by 2022.

We have partnerships with growers in Japan too and we are two years into a three-year trial to see if we can grow Zespri quality kiwifruit in China.

Offshore strategy

If we only sold New Zealand-grown, there would be several months of the year where the shop shelves of the world would have no Zespri Kiwifruit.

Our New Zealand grower-owners realised the importance of supplying their markets 12 months of the year and set up relationships with kiwifruit growers in the northern hemisphere to grow Zespri Kiwifruit in Italy, France and Japan as well as South Korea. 

The strategy behind our offshore production is to supply fruit grown in an overseas market to consumers in that market in the New Zealand offseason. All our offshore fruit must meet stringent quality standards to make it into to a Zespri box, supporting our premium brand promise in the market.

Kiwifruit in South Korea mainly grown on the picturesque southern island of Jeju, known for its volcanic landscape and tourist-filled beaches. Its also where much of the countrys citrus crops are grown. Kiwifruit allows the fruit-growing community in South Korea to diversify into a new crop with premium returns.

Unlike in New Zealand, kiwifruit in South Korea grow in tunnel houses for protection from destructive typhoons that frequent the tropical island. South Korea is the only place in the world where Zespri growers use tunnel houses.

The infrastructure isn't the only difference – most of the orchards in South Korea are small at around 0.6 hectare, compared with the average New Zealand orchard size of 3.5 hectares for Green and 2.6 hectares for SunGold. Zespri is working with growers to encourage larger plantings and support our 181 growers to meet our stringent quality standards.

Growing in South Korea hasn’t been without its challenges, but we’ve worked closely with our growers to find solutions and we’re committed to our strategy of prosperity in South Korea.

Plantings of our previous gold variety, Zespri Hort16A, are being grafted over to our new variety SunGold. Our New Zealand and European growers have already switched over to this new variety in response to pressure from the vine disease Psa; Hort16A was very susceptible to Psa, which is now present in all kiwifruit-growing regions around the world.

New plantings of SunGold are also being established in mainland South Korea in the Haenam and Jangheung districts. The sweet, juicy taste of this new variety is proving a great hit with consumers around the world. On the orchard, it’s easier to grow and has a higher yield than the previous gold variety, making it a hit with growers too.

Korea zespri growers2

Zespri’s Korean growers at an on-orchard field day.

We’ve recently appointed a new Zespri Global Supply (ZGS) Korean Manager, Rachel Kim, to lead a team of three in Jeju. She has worked extensively in food industries in Canada and South Korea. We believe she'll do a great job in developing our Korean team, and establishing the structure and discipline required to triple our production.

The overall outlook for ZGS South Korea is for volume increases and continued high market returns. A big part of our positive growth forecast is thanks to the enduring relationships Zespri has built with not only our Korean growers, but also our post-harvest operators, distributors, retailers and loyal consumers.

Sheila McCann-Morrison is General Manager, Global Supply, at Zespri. 

– Asia Media Centre