80 procent of European kiwis through Zeebrugge

If you buy a kiwi, odds are that it will have a Zespri sticker on it. The New Zealand company grows a staggering 2.44 billion kiwis a year. 'The lion’s share still comes from New Zealand', says Giorgio Comino, Zespri's chief executive officer for Europe and North America. '80 per cent of the kiwis destined for the European market come by ship to Zeebrugge.'

What are you working on?

'Zespri is a thriving cooperative of New Zealand growers who also work with growers in other parts of the world. Our mission: to supply fresh, tasty and nutritious kiwis the whole year round. The company’s core is still in “kiwi land” New Zealand, where we are set to produce some 190 million trays this year. By comparison, our Zespri production sites in Southern Europe, Korea and Japan are only responsible for 36 million trays.. This geographical distribution allows us to provide customers with kiwifruit the whole year round.'

'Zeebrugge is our main European logistics hub. We handle 80 per cent of our European imports in our distribution centre there, forwarding the fruit to the Benelux, France, Germany and Scandinavia. To serve southern Europe, we have further hubs in Tarragona in Spain and Vado in northern Italy. Our environmental footprint would be much too big if it all came here and then got trucked to southern Europe. We are very conscious about that.'

Boxes of kiwis arriving at Zeerbugge.©Zespri

What is the added value of Port of Antwerp-Bruges?

'I looked it up in our archives. Our official cooperation with the port of Zeebrugge started in 1985. But then I was told that we’d been unloading New Zealand ships there earlier than that. Originally, they were all refrigerated ships with just kiwis in their holds. These days we use refrigerated ships mainly at the start of the season and for supplying Southern Europe. The rest comes in refrigerated containers where the kiwis get “put to sleep” for their month-long journey.'

In 2018, we renewed our partnership with Belgian New Fruit Wharf (BNFW) for a further ten years. That means we are long-term partners.

Giorgio CominiCEO Zespri Europe and North America
Handling and storage efficiency of cold chain and perishable goods ©Zespri

'But obviously we’re not blind to the facts. Importing fruit from the other side of the world does have an impact. Though ocean freight is more environmentally friendly than air freight, here too we are looking at how we can operate our ships in the most sustainable way, for example by reducing speed.’ In recent years, together with Belgian New Fruit Wharf (BNFW), we have developed an enormous expertise in the field of storing, packaging and shipping our kiwis to our European customers, all with a view to guaranteeing the quality of our products.'

About Zespri

  • Zespri is set to distribute 63 million trays of New Zealand kiwifruit in Europe this year, equivalent to 225,000 tons.

  • 80 per cent of European production goes through Zeebrugge.

  • Zespri’s packaging centre in Zeebrugge produced 26 million consumer packs last year.

  • Belgian New Fruit Wharf employs between 150 and 265 workers, rising to 300 at peak times. In addition, there are the dockers loading and unloading the ships and containers.

Kiwi boxes.©Zespri

What does the future hold in store?

'In 2018, we renewed our partnership with BNFW for a further ten years. That means we are long-term partners. At the same time, we invested heavily in a new packaging centre last year. Moreover, kiwi consumption continues to increase. We are aiming to double volumes by 2030. In addition to the familiar green, acidic kiwis, the golden and gloriously sweet SunGold™ variety has a lot of potential. And three years ago, we introduced a new variety: the red kiwi, which we are planning to bring to the European market in the near future. Our future in Zeebrugge thus looks rosy, both literally and figuratively.'

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