Zespri seeking greener kiwifruit sector

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ABOVE: Dan Mathieson: sounding sustainability alarm at Fieldays.
Photo/Richard Rennie

With awareness rising among consumers about the impact growing amounts of plastic are having on the environment, Zespri is aiming to cut it from the marketer’s packaging arsenal in coming years.

Dan Mathieson, Zespri chief executive officer, said at this year’s Mystery Creek Fieldays  that Zespri would be taking the lead on an industry-wide sustainability initiative later this year, and plastic was firmly in its sights.

“This is a challenge for the entire New Zealand food industry,” said Mathieson.

While the company has gained strong consumer loyalty based on the consistency of its product and marketing messages of health and snack focused convenience, there was a growing need to demonstrate sustainable practices were backing up the brand’s integrity.

Post-harvest kiwifruit processors Trevelyans have had a sustainability assessment programme running for several years, with an annual assessment of the company’s performance in this area. 

It is no longer enough to just have the best kiwifruit in the world, consumers are wanting to source food that is also packaged sustainably.”
– Dave Courtney

The company’s 2018 report acknowledged challenges around the use of refrigerants in cooling systems and recycling plastic. Since 2010, that company has managed to reduce its carbon emissions per tray by 58 percent.

Traditional markets in Europe particularly were starting to put greater regulatory heat upon single use plastics.  France has already banned single use plastic bags, plates and cups in 2016 and is now moving towards banning many other single use plastic products. 

The move by France has the entire European Union voting to outlaw the sale of single used plastics by 2021, and that all plastic packaging becomes reusable or recyclable by 2030.

The last straw

Large supermarket chains Carreflour and Leclerc have already discontinued the use of single use products, such as plastic straws. 

Cornstarch-based bio-degradable bags have replaced plastic in some cases. Canada has also banned single use plastics by 2021 and more than 60 nations have now taken steps to reduce single-use plastics with bans or taxes.

New Zealand lags behind the rest of the world in requirements around plastic packaging and recycling, and Mathieson said he suspected only a level of regulation would tighten up standards here. 

Pressure is on government in New Zealand to do more since China stopped buying the rest of the world’s plastic waste.

Dave Courtney, Zespri grower and alliance officer said demand was also increasing in growing Asian markets for less packaging. 

“Their voice has never been louder about this,” he said.

“It is no longer enough to just have the best kiwifruit in the world, consumers are wanting to source food that is also packaged sustainably.”

Zespri was hoping that by taking the lead innovative ideas and technology would come forward with the industry’s support.

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