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Kiwifruit Commodity Chain in New Zealand

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Nutrition
Wordcount: 2606 words Published: 18th May 2020

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The Kiwifruit, which is also known as the Chinese Gooseberry, is an edible berry that is mainly grown in New Zealand, Italy and China. In New Zealand kiwifruit is both a kiwi icon and one of the main commodities. As one of New Zealand’s largest horticultural exports the production of kiwifruit provides many New Zealanders with jobs and it export, a point of power, aids the country’s economy. As a commodity kiwifruit’s production and consumption has played a key role in the social construction of the New Zealand society we have today which illustrates Mintz’s theory of inside/outside meaning and also demonstrates the Food Regime Theory.

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New Zealand developed the first commercially viable kiwifruit and developed export markets creating the demand for the fruit that exists today. Today New Zealand is the third largest kiwifruit producing country in the world next to China and Italy. The commodity chain of the kiwifruit consists of the production (growth and harvest), export/distribution and the consumption of the kiwifruit in New Zealand and throughout the world (The New Zealand Horticultural Export Authority).

Since the first commercial kiwifruit orchard was established in New Zealand in the 1930’s planting and production of kiwifruit has rapidly increased. In the late 1970’s the kiwifruit industry experienced a particularly massive growth and as production boomed, export volumes also increase rapidly. Today, kiwifruit plantings in New Zealand have reached more than 165,000 ha (412,500 arces) with an annual production of 2 million tonnes (The New Zealand Horticultural Export Authority).

There are now approximately 2,600 kiwifruit growers in New Zealand alone, exporting approximately 149 million trays of kiwifruit for export each year. The Bay of Plenty is the main center for the production of kiwifruit in New Zealand (particularly Katikati, Te Puke, Tauranga and Opotiki) producing over 80% of the crop in New Zealand. The three main kiwifruit orchards in New Zealand are Te Matai Orchard (158.2 ha), Pacific Gold Orchard (38 ha) and Coachman Orchard (12.71 ha) (The New Zealand Horticultural Export Authority).

Kiwifruit is a vine plant, which survives all year round. In winter kiwifruit are leafless, in a dormant state, and can survive frosts to -10 degrees. Kiwifruit can be grown in most climates in New Zealand as they require adequate summer heat however the soil needs to remain moist and free-draining. Kiwifruit vines are fairly hardy and can grow in a wide range of temperatures but to produce the best fruit they need well drained fertile soils, shelter from the wind, adequate moisture and protection (from frosts especially) all year. The soils in the Bay of Plenty are well drained, but are low in essential nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium which are important for the growth of the vines. Therefore, orchards are usually fertilized in spring and early summer, to ensure the best growth. The young and flowing shoots of the kiwifruit plant are easily damaged and need protection from New Zealand’s persistent winds, to stop damage. Growers use water sprinklers and wind machines to protect the crop from severe frosts. Kiwifruit vines are grown and trained on supports (either a pergola or a T-bar) Vines also need to be pruned regularly otherwise they can become tangled and unproductive. Planting layout of the vines are also important and they are planted in rows of 3-5 meters apart, dependent on their type of support and with spacing of 5-6 metres between plants in a row. To ensure pollination, males plants are distributed through the orchard, with male to female plant ratios around 1:5 (McAneney, Richardson & Green, 1989).

The kiwifruit year starts after the previous seasons harvest when the vines drop their leaves and enter winter dormancy. Growers prune fruited and surplus canes. Dormancy lasts until late August, when the buds begin to swell. Budbreak, shoot growth and flowering all occur in the spring. The timing and extent of these processes are dependent on how cold it was during winter (Freguson & Seal, 2008).

Pollination of the kiwifruit plants occurs in the summer. Kiwifruit are not self-pollinating so in a kiwifruit orchard there must be a section especially devoted to male vines, (unless pollen is brought in for artificial pollination). Growers can either place numerous honey bee hives in the orchards temporarily or artificially pollinate the flowers. Throughout the summer the main tasks for orchard growers are to remove damaged/misshapen fruit and prune excessive vine growth to maintain fruit health and control pests and diseases (Freguson & Seal, 2008).

Traditionally kiwifruit harvesting was timed using a Brix test (a unit of measure used in the refractometer) to determine the amount of sugar in the fruit. Now dry matter and colour tests are also done to ensure the harvested kiwifruit has the desired qualities. The majority of kiwifruit is picked in May. The fruit is picked by hand and put into bags, which when full are emptied into large wooden bins. The bins are then taken to ‘pack houses’, where the kiwifruit can be graded (and decided whether it’s being exported or not), packed in trays and then stored in a cool place. The kiwifruit is then sold from April to the end of December (Freguson & Seal, 2008).

Kiwifruit continues to be New Zealand’s largest single horticultural export by volume and value with exports exceeding $1.8 billion in 2018. This represents an 11% increase in value compared to 2016. Volumes have only increased by 1% since 2016, therefore indicating that kiwifruit are earning a significantly higher return per tonne. The commercial returns from kiwifruit are dependent on the size of the crop and the proportion of the fruit that fall within an export window of weight between 70g and 160g (McAneney, Richardson & Green, 1989).

The main kiwifruit distributor in New Zealand is Zespri. Zespri is one of the prominent horticultural companies in the world and are recognized a leader in kiwifruit. They distribute kiwifruit all around the world (Zespri NZ). Their kiwifruit is exported to multiple markets that include western Europe, North America and Asia. Europe, China and Japan take 27.5%, 24.6% and 21.3% of all kiwifruit which is exported by Zespri and these exports have increased greatly since 2016. With Europe’s purchases increasing by 15.7%, North America’s increasing by 13.6% and Asia’s increasing by 9.8% (Zespri, NZ).

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While Zespri ships export grade kiwifruit to over 50 countries (primarily Europe, North America and Asia) around the world, fruit that does not meet the correct specification for export, due to either blemish, size, shape and firmness, is not distributed and therefore sold by Zespri in New Zealand. Due to this system of selling lower graded kiwifruit within New Zealand I believe that the power in the commodity chain lies within the export system. The best quality kiwifruits (classified as Grade 1 and 2) are exported around the world and the non-export quality kiwifruit is sold in New Zealand. In fact Zespri states that they do not sell any Grade 1 kiwifruit in New Zealand and only sell a very small volume of Grade 2 fruit on the New Zealand market. This shows that the best kiwifruit are exported to countries throughout the world and New Zealand gets the ‘lesser’ quality fruit. Export quality New Zealand kiwifruit is governed by kiwifruit export regulations 1999. These regulations permit only Zespri or collective marketer approved by KNZ (Kiwifruit New Zealand) to export NZ-grown kiwifruit. The regulations do not apply for the sale of such kiwifruit in NZ or its export for consumption in Australia (Zespri, NZ)

Kiwifruit is one of New Zealand’s most popular fruits, not only being consumed as the fruit itself, but is also used in a multitude of different products. One of the main commercial products kiwifruit are added to in New Zealand are Kiwifruit Crush. Kiwifruit Crush is a range of natural and functional kiwifruit-based drinks which are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They come in four different flavours and either in ice block, juice or freeze dried form (Kiwifruit Crush New Zealand). The product uses fresh New Zealand kiwifruits from local orchards in Te Puke, with kiwifruit making up 80% of their products. These types of products are suggested by health professionals as a solution for constipation, because kiwifruit contains 2g of fibre. These products contain a larger amount of kiwifruit (and therefore fibre) which will help relieve constipation naturally. Another group of products where kiwifruit are used is in health foods as the fruit is high in vitamin C and antioxidants (which are essential for health). These are often in freeze dried or pureed form which makes for high enzyme active applications suitable for capsules and tablets. The seeds of the fruit are also used and are pressed to release omega 3 and 6 oils (Kiwifruit New Zealand).

As discussed above the power in the kiwifruit commodity chain is seen to lie within the exporting and distribution stage. Kiwifruit which is exported from New Zealand farms are of a higher grade than what is sold in New Zealand supermarkets, markets and vegetable shops. Quite simply this has everything to do with money. Kiwifruit is a commodity we produce really well in New Zealand and we have a huge global market who wants this product and willing to pay well for it. The demand for this premium product is so great that we export most of what we produce, and definitely the best of it, to those who are prepared to pay the most for it. This power in the kiwifruit commodity chain is strengthened even more because there is a single dominant corporate player (Zespri, NZ) who holds a significant market share of this product and defines the quality standards.

Mintz theory of inside and outside theory argues that the cultural, economic and political realities based around a commodity (this original theory was based on sugar) helped determine the means by which capitalism developed during the 19th century. Kiwifruit, like Mintz sugar, is a commodity which has both inside and outside meanings. Inside meaning is defined as what the food comes to mean to those who consume them (Analyzing the Contemporary Food System – Food Regimes Theory Lecture). Kiwifruit is a national New Zealand Icon. The fruit represent’s all that is good within New Zealand, it is placed on top of our iconic dessert, the pavlova, and is always a main feature in our traditional kiwiana products. The kiwifruit represents who we are, the word kiwi is associated with our national bird which is defined as a treasure of New Zealand, taonga in Maori, (Collins English Dictionary). Not only is this fruit an icon but it is also considered a super fruit! This national fruit is also ‘prescribed’ by doctors to help with constipation, in a natural way (in the place of laxatives), it is also very nutritious (being high in vitamin C) so is often eaten when people are sick as it is believed to help reduce symptoms and quicken recovery. Kiwifruit in New Zealand is harvested in autumn and is associated with the fall season. The kiwifruit is a wonder of New Zealand! The kiwifruit is an export commodity in New Zealand (outside meaning), being New Zealand’s largest horticultural export. The fruit is commonly associated with New Zealand, and in many countries and it is referred to as simply ‘the kiwi’. This fruit provides New Zealanders with jobs and supports New Zealand’s economy.

The Food Regimes Theory also applies to this commodity chain. The food regimes theory is a broadly Marxist approach which focuses on theorizing food systems. It was developed in the 1980s by Harriet Friedmann and Philip McMichael (Analyzing the Contemporary Food System – The Third Food Regime lecture). The food Regime theory that fits the best with the kiwifruit commodity chain is the third food regimes and the food from somewhere, food from nowhere theory which it is associated with. This represents the shortening and increasing viability of ecological feedback loops which has the potential for positive transformation of the food system. New Zealand is a small, environmentally friendly country, where sustainability and local food is important. Kiwifruit which is eaten in New Zealand is grown fairly locally (mainly in the Bay of Plenty). Where customers are all aware of where this product is coming from. Sustainability in New Zealand’s biggest kiwifruit supplier is well known. They manage their soil and water by ensuring the kiwifruit vines have deep roots which make seeking out water more effective and little need for irrigation by the growers. All the water used is from naturally replenished sources, such as rainfall. Another sustainable practice which is well known are minimizing the use of agrichemicals and instead finding alternatives to prevent pests and diseases from destroying the crops. It is also ensured that there is little to no fruit waste for both environmental and cost reasons. An “information Systems has been created to improve inventory management” by introducing precise manufacturing procedures and monitoring of temperatures, reducing waste to less than 4%. The packaging used is also 100% recyclable and printed with a water-based ink (Zespri, NZ). Zespri also partnered with the NZ Ministry for Primary Industries to ensure a minimal carbon footprint throughout the commodity chain, from produce to consumption.

The kiwifruit commodity chain consists of a production phase, including the planting, upkeep (pruning) and harvest of the vines, the export/distribution phase and the final composition phase. Within this chain the power clearly lies in the export/distribution of the kiwifruit. This is illustrated by the massive number of fruit exported, the fact that these are all Grade 1 and Grade 2 fruit meaning they are regarded as the best (biggest, sweetest) and the significant income this generates both Mintz’s theory of inside/outside meaning and the Food Regime Theory as undeniably kiwifruit ha truly transformed New Zealand – culturally, economically, politically and environmentally.


  • Collins Dictionary
  • Class Lectures – Analyzing the Contemporary Food System – The First, Second and Third Food Regime Lectures
  • Ferguson, A. R., & Seal, A. G. (2008). Kiwifruit. In Temperate fruit crop breeding (pp. 235-264). Springer, Dordrecht.
  • Huang, H., & Ferguson, A. R. (2001). Kiwifruit in china. New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science29(1), 1-14.
  • Kiwifruit Crush New Zealand – www.kiwicrush.co.nz
  • Kiwifruit NZ – www.knz.co.nz
  • K. J. McAneney , A. C. Richardson & A. E. Green (1989) Kiwifruit fruit size distributions, New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science, 17:3, 297-299, DOI: 10.1080/01140671.1989.10428047
  • The New Zealand Horticultural Export Authority, Kiwifruit
  • Zespri kiwifruit nz – zespri.com


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