Export and Expand

Can Yuzu fruit power Japan’s agricultural exports to the heights Zespri-Kiwi Fruit has scaled for New Zealand?

Kiwi fruit is New Zealand’s biggest horticultural export and it’s a business worth around $2.7b

The Zespri company controls the global marketing of Kiwi fruit (with the exception of Australia). Zespri is particularly strong with in store, shopper marketing programmes, and has become a formidable agricultural brand.

Zespri in store marketing is world class!

But nothing is constant, consumer tastes, preferences and usage occasions do change. A hundred years ago Ansault pears were all the rage in France, these days they can hardly be found, likewise the Judean date palm.

Japanese food is not yet the biggest ethnic food globally, the top two are Chinese and Indian, however Japanese is steadily climbing up the foodie charts, and there is a lot more room to grow.

Whilst you may not immediately associate Japan with fruits, the fruit business in Japan is huge, and varied. From Hokkaido melons, to Fuji apples, Yonago pears, there’s also a lot of citrus fruits grown in Japan. The most common are Mikan-Oranges, lemons (I have a small lemon tree in my garden), plus more exotic varieties like Sudachi and Yuzu.

Unlike Kiwi fruit which is largely sold and consumed raw, there’s both fresh plus processed Yuzu produce. One of the most common processed is Ponzu, a dipping sauce, but there are many other types of Yuzu processed foods including dressings, tea and even fragrances.

There’s also beer made with Yuzu

From a business perspective, processed foods are higher in value, offer more opportunities for innovation and significantly are harder to copy. One of the reasons Zespri came into existence is that kiwi fruit is a generic, and therefore unprotected name.

I have seen many Fuji apples sold in supermarkets around Asia but not many of them were grown in Japan…

Trademarking Zespri was a key learning for New Zealand. Back in 1959  the name Kiwi fruit was proposed however it was never registered globally. In 2020 Zespri was granted Trademark status in China, a key export market.

Yuzu is a great name, unusual, short and easy to pronounce. However it’s generic. Are the Japanese agriculture and marketing authorities minded to learn this critical lesson? 

Last week I went to Shikoku, one of Japan’s four big islands. It’s the natural home to Yuzu; over 50% of Japan’s Yuzu is produced there. Whilst the volumes of Yuzu aren’t yet Kiwi fruit volumes, they’re not insignificant. Shikoku grows around 10,000 tons of Yuzu annually. Outside of Japan, Yuzu is becoming well known especially amongst those who like Japanese food.

Can Japan capitalise upon the growing popularity of Yuzu?

Rupert visited Shikoku island to find our more about Yuzu

Check out this video I just made about Yuzu versus Zespri. What do you think?

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