First avo crop China bound

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Five years of visits and close relationship-building with Chinese authorities has culminated in the first shipment of Bay of Plenty grown avocados heading to the huge Asian market. For this inaugural export year, China is expected to import about 240 tonnes of New Zealand avocados.

Shanghai bound, the fruit has had to meet significant phytosanitary standards and regulations to gain access and assure Chinese authorities the fruit is pest free.

“China identified 13 pests of concern and we have had to prove to them we have a system that mitigates the risk of any of those pests entering China,” said NZ Avocado chief executive Jen Scoular.

While the Free Trade Agreement helps New Zealand receive some priority with officials in a country dealing with 140 other fruit products seeking access, she said relationship-building has been a key part of the exercise.

“And that is why we personally visit the market every year.”

She said attendance by NZ Avocado staff for each of the past four years at the China International Fruit and Vegetable Fair, a government-sanctioned event, has played a big part in that relationship building.

The joint protocol agreement to export was signed late last year between Ministry for Primary Industries and China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).

The phytosanitary standards required under the Official Assurance Programme (OAP) have included additional on-orchard pest monitoring, regular calibration of packhouse water blasters through to increased fruit inspection rates.

Chinese consumers are quickly becoming familiar with the fruit, with imports growing strongly from a number of countries including Mexico, Chile and Peru being the only other countries currently granted access.

“New Zealand is really putting a focus on offering a high quality fruit from a country with a well-established record for food safety, and we will be creating relationships with outlets that understand that and want to build our presence there,” said Scoular.

Being the closest source of southern hemisphere avocados to China, exporters are able to offer the market subtle taste and texture profile differences to the competition, and a larger piece of fruit.

Jen Scoular hastened to add that “China” was simply too ambiguous a descriptor for the enormous market, and exporters were instead focusing on specific regions and even cities within the market.

For example, the initial market is Shanghai, with a population of 22 million people.

“And New Zealand forms only 1.5 percent of the total global avocado supply, compared with Mexico at
55 percent.”

United Nations data indicates the world produced 5.46 million tonne of avocados in 2016, up 28 percent over five years, and global production is expected to reach 6.42 million tonnes by 2020.

A relative newcomer to the market, China imported 32,000 tonnes in 2017, up by over 1000 times from a mere 31 tonnes in 2011.

Chile has been China’s major avocado supplier for the past two years, exporting 16,700 tonnes in 2017, up 44 percent on the previous year..

Most of the demand for what is sometimes known as “butter fruit” in China is coming from younger urban consumers, many of whom have travelled and tried the fruit overseas, with demand strongest in the urban centres of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

Recent research into New Zealand avocados has established they have 20 percent more folate and double the vitamin B6 of avocados grown elsewhere. NZ Avocado intends to leverage this information in its marketing message to Chinese consumers.

Alistair Petrie, chair of the Avocado Export Council said exporters here will be working to establish niches within the market from the relationships already formed.

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