As the single desk marketer, Kiwifruit company Zespri owns the rights to SunGold kiwifruit, which means all growers must sell their fruit to the company for marketing and export.
Rogue Chinese growers, however, are already producing around $1 billion worth of prized SunGold without permission and Kiwifruit growers are mulling over a radical plan by Zespri to halt the explosion of illegally grown fruit.
Growers here say Zespri has not only lost the intellectual property, but it has also lost control of the variety in China, with the growth in the illicit fruit threatening Zespri's stake in its largest market.
Zespri's solution is to put its sticker on the counterfeit fruit in a controlled commercial trial, giving technology and advice to the Chinese growers who are producing the illicit fruit. SunGold growers in New Zealand will vote on the plan this month.
According to Zespri's website, Gold Kiwifruit were particularly susceptible to the Psa bacteria and their vines were badly affected. But the new gold-variety kiwifruit had been in development for more than 10 years.
The SunGold variety was a hit – Psa-tolerant and with a more balanced sweet tropical taste, full of Vitamin C, and a smoother skin. It’s now sold in more than 54 countries.
According to Zespri's chief growing officer, Carol Ward, the new strategy is aimed at managing the spread of the variety. Working with the Chinese industry and the government is the best approach and gives Zespri the best chance of success.
Under the three-year trial, Chinese growers will produce 1.9 million trays of SunGold, a fraction of the 100 million trays of the variety that are expected to grow in New Zealand.
“It’s a small amount in context but compared to the amount that's already growing over there a fair bit could swing on this trial," Rennie says.
The Chinese-grown SunGold could become an important out of season supply for Zespri. It would mean that the kiwifruit variety – a minor player in the market – would be able to secure year-round shelf space internationally.