Scientists behind the Jazz apple face next challenge

Scientists behind the Jazz apple face next challenge

A new report suggests New Zealand needs to up the ante on our fruit and veggie exports to stay ahead of other global players who are on the rise.

It says more research and development and continued innovation are needed, and our horticultural industry is responding to the challenge.

Tucked away on the side of Auckland's Mt Albert, scientists are working on innovative new fruit and veggies. The Jazz apple and golden kiwifruit as we know them now were designed there.

"New Zealand can only feed about 30 to 40 million people with all the food it produces," says Plant & Food Research CEO Peter Landon-Lane. 

"So the strategy, the right strategy for New Zealand, is to focus on those consumers who are willing to pay a premium for a really superior offering. And that's something New Zealand really does well."

According to a new Rabobank report, we need to keep innovating. The likes of Mexico and Peru are rapidly becoming big global players in horticultural trade.

One way to stay ahead is to be different. The golden kiwifruit is one of the more successful examples.

"It's attracting new consumers to the kiwifruit category. They're really excited by the taste, the look of the product, the health benefits," says Zespri chief operating officer Simon Limmer.

"That allows us to open up new markets. Not only like China, but also south east Asia, Middle East, India."

That's in line with the report's finding that "temperate climate fruits", like grapes, berries and kiwifruit, are becoming more popular overseas.

Dozens of innovations are underway at Plant & Food Research's labs right now, but it can take 15 years from lab table to breakfast table.

One of the advantages for scientists here is New Zealand's wealth of cultural diversity. It allows researchers to test new innovations on different ethnic groups before they are produced and released to that market.

"We see in the growth in the Asian markets for example, they have a sweeter palate," says Mr Landon-Lane. "So on average they typically like a sweeter, more-rounded flavour in their fruit, whereas European consumers will tend to like a higher acidity, slightly more sour and crunchy apple."

So while New Zealand might not always be able to compete on quantity, producing quality will help ensure we still get a decent bite of global fruit and veggie markets.