The career of Zespri kiwis is undoubtedly one of the most notable stories of the agricultural food sector, an intelligent strategy of associationism, in the first line, followed by a brand which assured that a fruit once known as the Chinese gooseberry is now firmly associated with Zespri.
New Zealand is the principal exporters of kiwis and accounts for 30% of world trade, but the most important thing is that Zespri kiwis have managed to achieve a sale price above that of kiwis from other countries. This surely has a lot to do with what they call “consistency and quality”, something they have achieved with the values of sustainability, health, consistency and reliability which they have managed to pass on both to the product and to their relationship with shoppers, and the large promotion campaigns of the brand. This has all meant that the Zespri label on any kiwi in the world is a promise that will be met for any consumer.
However, we must not forget that a large part of the company’s success was the result of an important crisis. A saying from the rural world assures that “the path has to be really broken for all of the neighbours to agree to repair it”, and this is what happened in the Bay of Plenty over 30 years ago.
In the 1950s and 1960s, New Zealand was the only world supplier of kiwis, but this scenario gradually changed until in 1988, when kiwi production in the rest of the world exceeded New Zealand production for the first time, the prices fell dramatically due to the excessive offer in Europe, a situation that was on the verge of eliminating the New Zealand kiwi sector.
This crisis brought a response from the producers: to unite, and from this unity to adopt a strategy of differentiation and professionalisation with the birth of an institution whose foundations had long been forged, the New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board, which ever since has progressively organised the policies of product, distribution, price and communication of all kiwis produced in New Zealand in a unique fashion. In a historic assembly, on 16 June 1988 they decided to start a unified, disciplined marketing strategy with a single brand and a single seller, something which has undoubtedly brought them success.
In some way, all of the farmers agreed that if it had always been the farmers who assumed all of the risk, it should also be they who took control, and so they began to do so effectively in the following campaign.
Since then, always was concerned for the legacy of those who started to cultivate Chinese gooseberries in New Zealand in 1904, they have worked around the world with a professional structure capped by Zespri Group Limited. They assure supply to their customers and consumers, but also and more importantly, they assure the support of a single, integrated structure that continues to maintain a single market outlet.
At the heart of the whole organisation are the farmers, and if there is something that always characterises Zespri, it is that it has to be the producers who continue to take the strategic decisions, who are the owners of the business and therefore the final arbiters.
Zespri Group Limited’s structure is the same of that of any large company, with great, well-trained professionals with experience who account to a board of directors formed both by producers and external advisers. However, the owners of the company are the 2,754 kiwi producers and this means that Zespri Group Limited must constantly demonstrate the strength of its business and the value generated by the brand to these farmers.
Furthermore, the company’s global structure has Kiwifruit New Zealand (KNZ), an advisory or regulatory board created in the year 2000 which has no commercial functions, but works as a guardian that supervises the actions and practices of Zespri Group Limited, and makes sure that no producer or supplier receives different or discriminatory treatment, and that they all have the right amount of information.
If we look at the Spanish agricultural food sector, we can look for similar examples without finding them. We could undoubtedly wonder whether interprofessional institutions such as that of olive oil, Iberian pork and strawberries, or distinguished quality brands such as the Canary Islands banana IGP, all organisations with some trait in common with Zespri kiwis, might not be able to organise and professionalise themselves in the same way. With Zespri’s example we have already seen that this is possible. Will our sectors need to sink the right to the bottom before they start off along this path? I hope not.
In Zespri they know that their present situation is the result of the work of generations committed to building a viable, vital and sustainable legacy that ensures that Zespri kiwis put “more life into your life” and this “your” is everyone: consumers, customers and farmers.