Expanding varietal and product innovation amplifies opportunity.
Though known for apples and oranges, Australia and New Zealand provide even greater opportunity with expanding counter-seasonal offerings. Marketers maintain the counter-seasonal nature of the region’s exports is a crucial element for retail.
“Australia and New Zealand’s opposite production seasons ensure stores get the best-tasting fruits of the season,” says Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s Produce in Los Angeles.
Products from Australia/New Zealand fit in easily at Redner’s Markets in Reading, PA, with 44 stores. “It allows us to keep citrus, apples and other fruits consistently available as demanded by our customers,” says Richard Stiles, director of produce and floral.
Karen Caplan, president and chief executive of Frieda’s Specialty Produce in Los Angeles, observes counter-seasonal produce makes merchandising easier for retailers since best-selling items are available year-round.
The wide variety from Australia and New Zealand means “counter-season” may be broadly defined. “Depending on commodities, New Zealand’s harvest begins in December for stone fruit and ends with apples available well into August,” says Jason Bushong, division manager of Giumarra Wenatchee in Wenatchee, WA.
Supplying off-season makes for mutually beneficial relationships, according to Mike Chapman, chief executive of Horticulture New Zealand in Wellington, New Zealand. “We receive counter-seasonal fruit from the United States in our off-season,” he says. “This presents a great opportunity to work together.”
In fact, Wayne Prowse, principal and senior analyst at Fresh Intelligence Consulting in Sydney, reports Australia is a net importer of fresh fruit from the United States and in 2016, imported 45,000 tons worth US$110 million. “Trade has doubled from 20,000 tons in 2006 as grapes, summer fruit and cherries gained access to the Australian market during the off-season,” he says. “New Zealand imported 20,000 tons of fresh fruit, mostly citrus and grapes, worth US$42 million in 2016.”
Australia and New Zealand remain strong, consistent exporters of fresh fruit despite ups and downs. “Australia exported 10,000 tons of fresh fruit in 2016 worth US$17 million, which had declined from 40,000 tons in the past decade,” says Prowse.
According to Horticulture New Zealand, the country’s horticultural exports to North America grew to NZ$176 million (about US$126 million) in 2015. Chapman affirms amazing growth is happening. “Our horticultural exports between June 2014 and June 2016 grew 40 percent,” he says.
Watch Them Apples (And Pears)
Apples and pears from New Zealand are available April through August. “Counter-seasonality gives retailers the opportunity to offer fresh-crop apples in the spring and summer, a welcome alternative to storage apples,” says David Nelley, vice president, categories for Oppy in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada.
According to Prowse, apples and kiwifruit comprised 98 percent of the fresh fruit exported by New Zealand in 2016. “The split between apples (70 percent) and kiwifruit (30 percent) has changed little in the past decade,” he says.
Since the United States does not produce certain varieties in volume, Nelley notes New Zealand fruit keeps varieties such as Jazz and Envy on the shelf year-round. Oppy markets Jazz, Envy and Royal Gala apples, along with Taylor’s Gold pears. “The mix has changed dramatically in the past decade, with newer varieties taking space once dedicated to such standards as Braeburn and Granny Smith,” says Nelley.
Oppy reports Jazz and Envy continue to perform superbly. “According to Fresh Look data, in 2016 Jazz ranked third among premium apples for sales dollars and Envy ranked fifth,” says Nelley. “For the entire category, Jazz sat in 11th place and Envy at 14th.”
New Zealand’s most recent apple export numbers evidence this performance. “Over the last year, the volume of apples going into the United States has increased quite dramatically,” says Chapman. “From 2015 to 2016, we saw an increase from 35,000 tons to 49,000 tons of apples. That’s massive growth for one year.”
Retailers like Redner’s look to new varieties to create enthusiasm for the category. “New varieties stimulate consumer interest and sales,” says Stiles. “Sales of basic varieties are down and being taken over by these newer varieties.”
Sean Moore, head of primary food sector North America for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) in New York City, credits New Zealand’s success with its ability to adapt to changing U.S. demands for consistency in size, color, taste, texture and supply.
“New Zealand’s produce companies are investing heavily in ensuring their product allows for similar uniformity across the market,” he says. “Over past years the product mix in apples has evolved, allowing New Zealand to set itself apart from domestic U.S. and foreign growers by offering new varieties, alternate mouth feels, creative flavors, innovative packaging and investment in natural shelf-life extenders.”
Retailers are encouraged to capitalize on innovations such as the Rocket apple. “This apple is positioned as a snack item,” says Moore. “It’s all about consistency and size — a smaller apple with a longer shelf life and packaged in a tube as an on-the-go snack.”
Giumarra expects special varietal apples, such as Lemonade, and pears including Angelys, to grow in popularity. “The Lemonade apple has a refreshing fizzy flavor with just the right amount of tartness,” says Bushong. “It is a firm, crisp apple with a golden-yellow background and a beautiful orange blush.”
Kiwi represents another staple and expanding category for New Zealand, and Chapman notes a massive year-over-year growth from 11,000 tons in 2015 to 19,000 tons in 2016, exported to the United States. “Providing consumers with year-round supply of consistently top-quality kiwifruit is a key part of Zespri’s strategy,” says Ben Hughes, regional market manager, India, Middle East, Africa and the Americas for Zespri in Newport Beach, CA. “In the United States, Zespri kiwifruit from New Zealand is in season from May to November.”
For the past 20 years, Zespri has managed sales and marketing programs for two varieties in North America: Zespri Green Kiwifruit, the company’s longstanding backbone product, and Zespri SunGold, its new gold variety.
“SunGold kiwifruit was introduced in small quantities starting in 2013 with volume significantly increasing year over year,” says Hughes. “SunGold is driving growth in the kiwifruit category in the United States by offering consumers a new kiwifruit with superior nutrition and a unique tropical-sweet taste.”
Redner’s reports sales increasing for the SunGold. “This year sales have easily doubled versus last year,” says Stiles.
Oppy markets Zespri Green and SunGold kiwifruit and reports the primary change in the kiwifruit category is the successful transition to SunGold.
“Conventional and organic SunGold have performed very well since their introduction, achieving 70 percent growth in 2016 over the prior year,” says Steve Woodyear-Smith, vice president, categories, at Oppy. “Looking ahead, we expect a strong market for Zespri Green, especially this spring and summer.”
According to Zespri, the kiwifruit category is on trend, boasting year-over-year sales increase of 8.2 percent compared to total fruit at 0.3 percent. “Zespri is on track for sales of more than 5 million trays of fruit this season, up more than 20 percent from sales last season,” says Hughes.
Citrus — oranges and Mandarins — accounts for more than 98 percent of fruit exported from Australia to the United States, according to Prowse. “Australia’s supply peaked in 2007 at almost 40,000 tons, though it has faced increased competition from South American suppliers with geographic and cost advantages,” he says. “Australian Navel oranges are well-known for superior quality and maintain steady supply of around 10,000 tons mostly to the U.S. West Coast areas from July to October when local Navel oranges are not available.”
According to DNE, a division of Wonderful Citrus Packing LLC, in Fort Pierce, FL, the first Australian citrus arrives in the United States the last week of June in the form of Daisy tangerines. “On the back side of the season, the Australian Mandarins also continue to increase in volume,” says Jack Cannon, national accounts manager, Australian sales team leader. “This item comes in during the late August through September window when other summer citrus from Chile and South Africa are in their varietal transition window between Clementine and Mandarin varieties. It is a welcome volume support for retailers during this time period.”
The region’s citrus offerings expand to new items for the U.S. market with Meyer lemons from July to October. “Meyer lemons have been available from New Zealand for the last three years,” says Melissa’s Schueller. “They are trending nicely because the product is in more demand, more available and starts three months before the U.S. domestic season.”
Melissa’s imports blood oranges and Cara Caras in September from Australia. Frieda’s reports more volume of both Meyer lemons from New Zealand and Cara Caras from Australia than it did more than a decade ago
Australia’s newfound U.S. access for mangos and lychees represents yet another growing category from Down Under. “Although the volumes are below 100 tons, Australian exporters and U.S. importers see potential for these products in premium market sectors,” says Prowse of Fresh Intelligence Consulting. “These products should see strong growth in the market in the next few years during a small supply window from November to February.”
Melissa’s imports four types of Australian mangos during December through March. “The Australian mangos are new varieties not available anywhere else, including Honey Gold, Kensington Pride and R2E2,” says Schueller. “These varieties are consistent with like varieties from other popular growing regions in the U.S. market.”
Frieda’s Caplan says Kensington Pride and R2E2 Australian mangos have high color with silky-smooth texture and great flavor. “This is preferable over some of the North American varieties,” she says. “When the flavor and appearance are so much better, often the consumer will pay.”
Schueller forecasts big opportunity for Australia with these flavorful mangos. “This is a time when other imported mangos are not as appealing to the U.S. consumer,” he says. “Although Peru and eventually Mexican mangos are available during this window, Australian mangos offer a flavor advantage to the typical imported mango at this season and time only, and are thus premium priced.”
An Eye On The Unique
Retailers are encouraged to look to unique items available from Australia and New Zealand to build sales. Specialty houses such as Frieda’s and Melissa’s list passion fruit (from March to June), Kiwano melons (from February to May), feijoa (from March to June), tamarillo (from May to September), kiwiberries (March) and figs (March to April) among their increasing product offerings from the region.
Schueller reports feijoas, imported from New Zealand for more than 20 years, are marketed to upscale retailers and those with Latin/Hispanic shoppers. “It’s a cousin to the guava, which is popular with this customer segment,” he says.
Highland Park Market in Farmington, CT, with five stores, carries a fair amount of exotics from New Zealand. “Items such as dragon fruit and lychee add variety and excitement to our department,” says Brian Gibbon, produce director. “Dragon fruit, when it hits its season, draws a lot of attention.”
Cherries, passion fruit and strawberries are increasing in export volume, too, according to Horticulture New Zealand’s Chapman. “Good passion fruit is commanding a high price in the export market,” he says.
Organic product is another rising trend. “New Zealand exports a lot of organic kiwi to the United States,” says Chapman. “Plans are to increase organic kiwi for export.”
NZTE’s Moore credits New Zealand as constantly investing in innovation to serve evolving demands. “This includes creating natural solutions to extend shelf life, provision of year-round supply and alternative packaging formats. There is also real opportunity from an R&D perspective to engage with buyers to focus specifically on creating custom varieties with the retailer consumer base in mind.”
Top Merchandising Tips
Marketers of fruit from Australia and New Zealand point to a few key elements for successful sales:
Focus on Freshness
Retailers are encouraged to plan the seasons by setting promotions around freshness, country of origin and the best-eating fruit in-season. “Market flavor and health,” says Jason Bushong, division manager of Giumarra Wenatchee in Wenatchee, WA. “Health is top of mind for consumers, but they also want to feed their families delicious, unique foods.
Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s Produce in Los Angeles, links retail desire for differentiation with use of items from Australia/New Zealand. “These items allow a more unique offering versus what is available at the store across the street,” he says.
Getting crispy, sweet, juicy fruit into people’s mouths at point-of-sale is a key driver, according to David Nelley, vice president, categories, for Oppy in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada. “Give consumers a taste of New Zealand when products hit the shelves,” he says. “The fresh crop truly differentiates itself in flavor and texture, so sampling sets the stage for a successful import season.”
Zespri and Oppy support fruit at retail with demonstrations and appealing price points — critical to the successful launch of a new item. “Sampling creates enthusiasm retailers can build on throughout the season,” says Steve Woodyear-Smith, Oppy vice president, categories.
Building large displays to draw attention is crucial for any product, and marketers confirm one reported barrier to greater kiwi sales is that consumers cannot find the product in-store. “Bigger displays toward the front of the department are crucial to help consumers find this nutritional powerhouse,” says Ben Hughes, regional market manager, India, Middle East, Africa and the Americas for Zespri in Newport Beach, CA.
Woodyear-Smith suggests creating a destination display. “Don’t hide kiwifruit in a wicker basket,” he says. “Experiment with bulk and packaged options to call the fruit out on the shelf and price it attractively.”
Likewise, visible displays also drive citrus sales. “Focusing on large bulk displays of Australian Navels results in a real wow factor by showing off color and cosmetic beauty,” says Jack Cannon, national accounts manager, Australian sales team leader for DNE, a division of Wonderful Citrus Packing LLC, in Ft. Pierce, FL. “Make sure displays are full and perhaps placed next to lemons to make the orange color pop for a strong visual.”
Connect with Customers
Consumers increasingly say they want to feel more connected to their food sources. “Providing information about growers, sustainable practices, both environmentally and socially, and quality standards are ways to connect with consumers,” says Hughes. “Zespri offers custom-marketing programs for SunGold kiwifruit, including in-store sampling, branded POS displays, ad circulars and more.”
Educating customers on the benefits of seasonality encourages the purchase. “Take the opportunity to point out counter-seasonal apples and explain why they are fresh in spring and summer,” says Nelley. “There are times when imported apples and pears simply offer a better eating experience because they are fresher than local.”
Use Supplier Resources
Marketers provide support and information readily available for stores to use. Giumarra offers a variety of recipe and point-of-sale materials to promote New Zealand fruit, both digitally and at stores. Zespri undertakes significant public relations and social media activities to create and sustain consumer awareness for both the SunGold and Zespri Green kiwifruit.