The first charter vessel carrying Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit is heading to China and Japan following this season's early start to harvest.
The Southampton Star departed from Tauranga Harbour on Sunday night carrying approximately 3000 pallets of Bay of Plenty-grown SunGold Kiwifruit bound for Shanghai and Kobe.
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The vessel had earlier berthed in Gisborne where it picked up 1600 pallets of SunGold Kiwifruit, marking the start of what promises to be another bumper crop.
Zespri Chief Grower and Alliances Officer David Courtney said in total, Zespri expects more than 600,000 pallets of kiwifruit to be shipped offshore this season.
"This will mean we'll have more than 18,000 containers to ship this season," he said.
"We're also expecting to use 45 charter vessels - three to move our kiwifruit to northern Europe, 12 to service our Mediterranean markets and 30 to take fruit up to Japan, China and Korea," Courtney said.
For the first time, Zespri is also expecting to supply more gold kiwifruit than green this season.
"Last season we supplied 76 million trays of Green and 65 million trays of SunGold."
"Our latest estimates indicate we are on track to supply more than 75 million trays of SunGold this season, while Green is expected to be below 75 million trays."
He said the weather has also had a positive impact on fruit.
"Most of our growing regions have had a very dry summer which means we're certainly expecting a great tasting fruit this season."
Greater China and Japan remain Zespri's two most significant markets and are expected to continue to perform strongly as Zespri expands into new areas within these markets.
"Zespri is still seeing strong growth in China and Japan led by increasing consumer demand for SunGold and more broadly, we're seeing some excellent results in South East and East Asia."
He said the industry is hoping to introduce the fruit to consumers across the world and move closer to the goal of increasing global kiwifruit sales to $4.5 billion by 2025.