Brown and fuzzy on the outside and green and sweet on the inside, nearly everyone knows and loves the kiwifruit, and Zespri is one of its biggest fans. The kiwifruit, commonly known as the kiwi, has been Zespri’s passion for more than twenty years, and helping to lead the business is General Manager of Europe Bert Barmans. Mr. Barmans has been with the company for 18 years, but for him, the job never gets old.
“The fruit and vegetable sector is a lively one. We deal with seasonal influences and the impact of several conditions on the production. For example, weather. We have to adjust our operations all the time, and that is interesting for me. In a factory, you can control production down to the details, but we can’t do that in the fruit sector. There are strong fluctuations,” says Mr. Barmans.
In order to account for these changes, Zespri keeps a close eye on its products and production standards. “Our core business is our quality control, which encompasses the entire supply chain. The level of involvement required to make sure our high standards are met requires great expertise,” Mr. Barmans notes.
Focusing on kiwis alone has indeed enabled Zespri to become experts, producing 200,000 t of kiwis per year. Europe is an important region, with an annual turnover of 500 million EUR. Spain is Zespri’s biggest market, followed by Belgium and the Netherlands. Germany, France and Italy are also among the key markets.
“We are an organization with just two kiwi varieties. We are purely focused on our product, the consumer and the highest quality in the entire supply chain,” points out Mr. Barmans. Even with kiwis though, there is always room for improvement and innovation. “A major milestone for us was the introduction of the Gold kiwi in 2000. It was a very important innovation. We see a lot of evolution in the fruit sector, but not many that are truly innovative. The introduction of the yellow kiwi was a true game-changer,” highlights Mr. Barmans.
We work for all of Europe and have local people in multiple European countries. Local people in local markets is the best way to understand and feel a particular market. That is a forte of ours. Bert BarmansGeneral Manager
In the meantime, the popularity of SunGold is increasing and its production has almost reached the level of Green. The Green kiwifruit has quite a distinctive taste, while the SunGold kiwi is rather softer and sweeter. Organic kiwifruit is on the rise be cause of the growing demand for ‘greener’ products.
Innovation is a key component in Zespri’s branding and future plans. “We are always looking for new varieties and will definitely introduce a red kiwifruit. We have done several tests already, including commercially. Our demands for quality and distinction are extremely high, however, and we want to get this right. You see, just another colour of fruit is not enough. A new variety should also taste sufficiently different to stand on its own, the production should be profitable and the added value should be high enough,” emphasizes Mr. Barmans.
“The shelf life should be long enough to fit into our present supply chain or, if it is not, we should be prepared to carry through with adding a different supply chain. Compare, for instance, a fruit such as the strawberry, which has a different supply protocol to kiwis, because it has a significantly shorter shelf life. We have to think these things through, so that we are not unpleasantly surprised after a new variety is introduced,” the general manager adds.
At the heart of Zespri’s innovation is a commitment to put its customers first by consistently producing quality, delicious products they will enjoy. “Kiwis taste great and have a great shelf life. We research what times of the day people eat kiwis and tune into that by providing recipes and preparation suggestions on our website. People appreciate this. In addition to tasting delicious, kiwis are also very healthy, containing an exceptionally high level of vitamin C. We are very proud of our brand. Zespri is continuously working to fulfil the promise our brand is making to consumers,” he says enthusiastically.
Mr. Barmans takes this promise seriously and is excited to see how customers will receive a new kiwi variety. “We want to successfully introduce the aforementioned red kiwi, but it will be a matter of time. We are progressive and our company will always maintain the highest standards,” he underlines.