Update: Since this article was published, www.freshfruitportal.com has obtained an itinerary of another buyer visit from March 16-21, including orchard and packhouse visits as well as recreational events such as a visit to the Hobbiton movie set and a luxury yacht cruise.
Several New Zealand kiwifruit orchardists have expressed their shock at a NZ$500,000 buyer visit arranged by grower-owned company Zespri, but the single desk marketer claims the spending was necessary to boost sales of a rising gold variety crop.
Dissent has been brewing since ONENEWS aired a report on the visit in February, highlighting one grower had called it a “week-long festival of debauchery”.
A Zespri spokesperson told www.freshfruitportal.com the investment only represented half a percent of the company’s NZ$100 million annual marketing investment, but some growers are not impressed with what some described as a “junket” with helicopter flights, golf, two corporate boxes at the Cricket World Cup and a private plane to Queenstown for outdoor activites.
“They’ve helicoptered them from one place to the next, they’ve done obscene things with our money, and it just simply is unacceptable,” grower Rob Thode said in the report.
“It’s just simply not on when we’re so pushed to recover from Psa and everything that’s happened.”
Grower Ted Meade told www.freshfruitportal.com the buyers were brought to New Zealand on a “wild goose chase” to boost sales.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re getting far too much commission. The extravagance of spending is unbelievable,” he said.
“You’d never know whether there’s a precedent because we don’t get told as growers that they’re going to do anything like this. God knows what they do overseas.”
However, the Zespri spokesperson clarified this was the first time these buyers had all come to New Zealand for an event of this kind.
Another grower, Stewart Moss, described the visit as questionable.
“The cost of the recent Zespri customer visit seems excessive, I would question whether flying buyers to world class golf courses around New Zealand is going to increase sales or prices in the market,” Moss said.
“How many Zespri directors and executives also took part in this junket? Kiwifruit growers are only just getting back on their feet after several tough years due to Psa.
“After going through such a difficult financial period it is disappointing to hear about Zespri’s corporate exorbitance.”
A grower who asked not to be named said the amount of money seemed “a bit steep” but would be worth it if it yielded a good return on investment.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) president Neil Trebilco also highlighted the need to foster increased sales.
“I can understand why a few growers may be concerned about the spend. It does seem like a fair amount of money,” he said.
“It should be put in context however. We have a large increase in crop expected for this upcoming harvest and in future years. Volumes of both Hayward Green and Gold varieties are expected to increase significantly this year – both Green and Gold volumes are expected to rebound to levels we last saw at the onset of the Psa disease.
“From 2016 onward, Gold volumes are expected to continue to increase dramatically. Because of this Zespri has greatly increased it’s budgeted spend on promotion.”
Trebilco clarified that growers would expect Zespri to get value for them in this coming and future seasons from such a sizable amount of spending.
A Zespri spokesperson was disappointed that Thode was used as the main source by the reporters, claiming he did not represent the industry.
“Zespri was pleased to host 29 of our most important customers from around the world, who together represent a billion dollars of New Zealand kiwifruit sales last year,” the spokesperson said, adding the buyers came from Europe, South East Asia, Japan, China and the Americas.
“This was a great opportunity to discuss our kiwifruit business and showcase New Zealand, and we look forward doing this again in future.
“This trip involved a number of industry briefings and activities, including updates on strategy, innovation and new cultivar development, a visit to see new kiwifruit cultivar trials on an orchard, and interactions with growers and postharvest industry leaders.”
Meade has used the controversy to try and push Zespri for greater transparency with its grower owners, claiming he has been asked to pay thousands of dollars when requesting information about expenditure accounts and credit cards.
The farmer, who is also a committee member of the Independent Kiwifruit Growers Association (IKGA) which is often discredited as a minority group by Zespri and NZKGI, was also critical of how the voting process was being carried out for the Kiwifruit Industry Strategy Project referendum.
“The referendum is a complete sham and a scam…when you go into elections you’re supposed to get a piece of paper, they cross your name off on the ledger book, and then you go ahead and they give you the voting papers to go and vote. There’s no reference to who you’re going to vote for,” he said.
“In this paper you’ve got your name on the front of it and then you’ve got an oblong box inside it with an easy vote for yes, but there’s no easy vote for no.”