Zespri SunGold “really taking off” in North America, says CEO

November 29 , 2018

Zespri International CEO Dan Mathieson and Zespri North America marketing manager Sarah Deaton

New Zealand-based kiwifruit marketer Zespri says that sales of SunGold have been soaring in North America and believes that despite the significant volume increase seen in recent years the variety still has “huge room” for growth globally.

The company has recently concluded a successful season of New Zealand-grown fruit, during which sales in the market rose by 32% year-on-year.

Fresh Fruit Portal spoke with Zespri International CEO Dan Mathieson and Zespri North America marketing manager Sarah Deaton at last month’s PMA Fresh Summit in Orlando, Florida.

“This year we’ve seen really good growth. [It was] our biggest crop so far for Zespri SunGold,” Mathieson said.

Globally, around 150 million trays, equivalent to 520,000 metric tons (MT), were shipped from New Zealand since the season kicked off around March.

“We’ve had very, very strong demand and we’ll be finishing the season pretty much to plan,” he added.

Zespri is now transitioning to supplies from the Northern Hemisphere, where Italy is the company’s leading growing region in terms of volume. Fruit is also grown in France, along with Japan and Korea for those respective markets, and evaluations are being carried out in China.

Booming North American market

Mathieson said that SunGold is “really taking off” in North America, helping to give the kiwifruit category a “whole new lease of life.”

“We’ve seen strong consumer demand, and that’s given us so much confidence to come here in a big way. We’ve set up our office here and we’ve now got quite a number of people on the ground,” he said. 

He explained that two years ago Zespri only had one full-time employee in North America, but that number has since grown to 12.

“That’s really good growth, and it won’t stop there. We’re continuing to invest in the market with really great local capability that understands the market really well and can keep driving the business forward,” he said.

“Around the world, we’re seeing that North America is one of our fastest-growing markets – in fact, this year for SunGold it’s probably our fastest growing market percentage-wise.

“China and Japan have been going a bit longer, so we’re seeing really good growth still and there’s certainly no sign of a plateau yet, but North America’s really picked up in the last couple of years and we’ve seen incredible growth here.”

Deaton said the success of SunGold in North America is “very exciting.”

“The growth in the gold category is actually outpacing total fruit sales by 116%, and that’s phenomenal,” she said.

“A lot of that is because we have boots on the ground that can really set marking programs with our retailers so that we can reach the shopper. What we’ve seen is that our retailers are getting double-digit growth – 50% or more – and a lot of that is because they’re building big displays.”

She noted that Zespri’s digital campaign, which this year achieved 142 million impressions, was also driving people to stores to purchase SunGold.

“We’ve had 32% sales growth in SunGold. It’s so exciting to see the consumers and listen to what they’re saying. They love it and they want to know where they can find it,” she said.

Taste and ready-to-eat aspect driving SunGold growth

Mathieson said that two of SunGold key attributes were its taste – which he said often surprises first-time consumers who have only ever known green kiwifruit – and the ready-to-eat aspect.

“The SunGold is always ready-to-eat, so you can pick it up like an apple or an orange or a banana, take it home and eat it straight away,” he said, adding that the convenience factor has “real value for the consumer.”

Green kiwifruit, however, needs to be ripened, and Mathieson said that consumers often have a hard time knowing when the fruit is optimal.

“We focus on that really hard at Zespri. If it’s got the Zespri sticker on it, it’s been conditioned in transit and it’s been conditioned when it gets here so that we can get it as close as possible to that ready-to-eat stage when the consumer buys it in store,” he said.

“It’s hard to do, but that’s what we’re focused on – we do it all around the world. The beauty with SunGold is that you don’t have to do anything – it just happens. It’s just an easier piece of fruit to get it to that outstanding, optimal eating conditions.”

Deaton added that it also has a longer shelf life, which benefits both consumers and retailers.

“We see SunGold is going to bring people back to the kiwifruit category,” she said.

“There is a lot of room to grow, and every year after year we’re outpacing total fruit sales. SunGold will actually overtake Zespri Green out of New Zealand in terms of total volume next year, so that’s just showing how much demand there is around the world.”

More room for kiwifruit to grow globally?

Asked what he saw for the longer-term global market prospects for the kiwifruit category, Mathieson said that some challenges remain for green varieties, but he said there is “huge room” for SunGold.

“We’re not seeing a plateau of demand in any of our markets, and we’ve been in other markets a lot longer than North America,” he said.

“So that’s great news, because it means that even in our newer markets that are taking off and seeing strong growth the future is still very positive and bright.”

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