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Zespri
 

Zespri


  Zespri
a kiwi's kiwi
by Robin D. Rusch
July 30, 2001

Twenty-five percent of New Zealand’s gross domestic profit comprises exports. One of the contributing brands to that GDP is Zespri International, a grower-owned kiwifruit producer, which annually exports 2 billion kiwis to an estimated 70 countries.

Anyone who has ever touched a kiwi, knows what a soft and delicate fruit it is. Quality can become compromised by shipping or storing, so for New Zealand to export so much of its fruit to so many far flung regions (especially in countries like the USA and Japan where consumers are pretty picky

 
 

about the appearance of their fruit and vegetables) requires a quality, premium organization.

That is in fact what the New Zealand Kiwi Marketing Board set out to promote when it underwent a brand makeover in 1996. Introducing Zespri International – a fresh fruit marketer achieving breakthrough results in what is typically a commodity-based (price times volume) industry.

The kiwi originated in China (yang tao or Chinese gooseberry) as a wild vine. It was domesticated and brought to New Zealand about a century ago, where it was eventually renamed kiwifruit in the late fifties (not to be mistaken for the kiwi bird, New Zealand’s national symbol).

In the eighties, kiwi consumption rose substantially worldwide as people got wise to the deliciously refreshing green fruit inside the otherwise unattractive brown furry exterior. Of course with consumer awareness comes increased competition. Kiwis are grown in warm regions such as Australia, California, Chile, Turkey and New Zealand. Thanks to the various growing seasons of these regions and their storage ability (storage can last for up to six months without deterioration of look or taste), kiwis can be enjoyed year round. Unfortunately that meant that place of origin was no longer the strongest differentiator for choosing one kiwi over another. Also the name kiwi was never registered as a trademark and the name fell into generic usage as banana or peach.

The New Zealand Kiwi Marketing Board had been around since 1977, but by the late nineties it was decided it was time for a distinct identity to get consumers to choose its brand of kiwi over the others.

The kiwi is seen as a healthy-choice snack as it’s packed with vitamin C, potassium, and more fiber than any other fruit. What’s more, it’s refreshingly juicy. Therefore, the New Zealand Kiwi Marketing Board took on a punchier name to describe the zest of the fruit combined with its life giving properties (esprit, fr.). The name works in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, and importantly, Japanese, among whom kiwis enjoy a substantial market. In 1997, the new name and brand identity were rolled out in an international campaign to promote the brand as “active, real, fresh and vibrant.” Also, in keeping with the world’s image of New Zealand, Zespri promised a clean, green environmental program to raising its produce.

Since then, Zespri hasn’t just been lying around the orchard swatting flies. In 1998, a new product variety called Zespri Gold was rolled out internationally, giving Zespri the jump on competitors with a unique product, which is difficult for others to commercialize quickly. As the name implies, Zespri Gold is yellow/gold inside, and it’s slightly less hairy on the outside with a sweet ‘melon’ taste, making an attractive contrast with the traditional (and now commonplace) green kiwi.

It’s clear that Zespri understands the importance of building brand value and its link to shareholder wealth. The steps it takes to underpin the brand with a total quality management system gives it a competitive advantage around the world in cropping, fruit selection, packaging and global distribution.

The future for Zespri is multiproduct, nonseasonal income and global distribution. Just how far the Zespri brand can stretch from great kiwi to other fruit is an obvious question, with a far from obvious answer. However, what is clear is that after record financial returns to growers this year, continuing significant premiums, strong brand management, reliable quality assurance systems and leadership in R&D, Zespri is a standout brand story in a traditionally commoditized industry. For other price-driven players in other traditionally commoditized industries – the writing is on the wall.

 
     
  

Robin D. Rusch lives and works in New York City.

  
     
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