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Zespri Momentum 2020 a Kiwifruit Village coming together

A Kiwifruit Village coming together, Sustainability and Taiao

I had the opportunity on behalf on Cucumber to attend the recent Zespri Momentum 2020 conference in Tauranga. It certainly was a large occasion with some 500 delegates from across the world gathered together to listen to both Zespri leaders and industry experts on direction and future trends in fresh produce.

The impression I got over the 2 days was that this is an industry that is excited about the future, has plenty of global opportunities, some significant environmental challenges but has a togetherness in structure that is pulling everyone in the same direction.

Dan Mathieson, the Zespri CEO, talked about the interdependence of the industry and that together we can achieve where we want to be. He certainly saw the conference as a reset with New Products, New Thinking, New Brand, a focus on People, Community and the Environment along with a large slice of Innovation and a whole lot of Shared Commitments.

The Minister for Agriculture, Damien O’Connor, talked about the need for NZ to be seen not just as producing for the world but being seen as the best growers and farmers for the world as huge challenges need to be addressed in terms of climate change, water quality, consumer demands, labour, biosecurity and rules on trade. The positive from my perspective was the continued mention of support from MBIE in terms of funding science, innovation and technology to help Primary Sector meet the challenges with a mention of our very own PlantTech Institute here in Tauranga as an example.

From Cathy Burns, CEO PMA, it’s clear that the trend towards plant based foods is accelerating and so is the move towards purchasing produce online with some 26% of consumer budgets going into online shopping for groceries, delivery to the door of those goods autonomously and the need for the consumer to be as connected to the grower as possible to ensure their food is produced sustainably. Consumers are striving for a more personalised experience even with grocery shopping.

Attracting talent was also a theme in that employees and new hires in produce want to work for a company with a purpose and who have a strong commitment to sustainability.

The interesting thing I didn’t really grasp before is the aging factor. 19% of the world’s population is over 65. People are living longer; Health is the new wealth and the message is that “food has to be good for me AND the planet in order for me to buy it”.  It is interesting to see even the traditional meat food processing companies getting in on the plant based diet act with the BK Impossible Whopper as the example - made out of plants but tasting just like a BK product.

The message from Cathy was that we are the original plant based food and Kiwifruit is a really great food and is incredibly healthy. William Li's “Eat to Beat Disease” book talks about eating 3 kiwifruit a day which actually helps fix damaged DNA.

That was a good lead into Zespri’s launch of the new brand. A new more modern look with a large emphasis on the red Zespri and Z swish.  Juinn Shih, Chief Growth Officer, talked about the heritage of the company and the thinking behind the new brand from both a recognition and emotional perspective but what connected with me is that he focused on the fact that you have to make the product not just healthy but irresistible. There are plenty of healthy foods, but making them irresistible is the goal.  People are currently eating themselves sick because they are not eating healthy. The new tagline “Make Your Heathy Irresistible” is about connecting physical and emotional wellbeing and getting people to choose to eat healthy.  Juinn also made a big play in connecting this with the Zespri Organics growers with that market growing significantly globally.

Zespri have been doing some significant market research and Walter Smith from Kantar Research Consulting presented their view that business must move into what they called “uncomfortable places” outside of the established norms of business operations. He boiled this down to 5 imperatives:

  1. Long-term oriented companies outperform short-term oriented companies. Those making big bets and sticking with them became better performers.
  2. Trusted companies outperform non-trusted companies three-fold. There is economic value in trust. Authenticity and transparency feature strongly in consumer trust. It’s now not about what you say about yourself it’s what others say about your message.
  3. Changing shape of the global population. More 65+ than under 5s. Every age group is more mature and there is desire for products to meet this change. Food is at the epicentre as it can be a stimulus for both body and mind.
  4. 7 +/- 2 is the greatest number of things a person can manage in their head at one time. We are complicating the world and people are struggling to connect with companies. We need to simplify and streamline messages to be more distinct.
  5. 90% of people rate experiences more than material stuff.  People value expanding social settings and people want a human connection and real experiences. The Kettle brand advert was the example using the word “Real” to illustrate the point .

Zespri Momentum 2020

Carol Ward, Zespri’s Chief Innovation and Sustainability officer, discussed Zespri’s sustainability direction. In support there were talks by Will Steffen, an earth systems scientist, pointing out that we had the choice to act and stabilise the earth or do nothing and create a hothouse earth; Ian Proudfoot,KPMG’s Global Lead on Agriculture, who talked about future consumers eating good food based on ethics and provenance and that NZ should not shy away from telling the truth about its agri-food sector; Doug Grant, CEO of Oppy, showing that Sustainability and Profitability are interlinked; Nikki Harre, Psychologist, that sustainability is a Tale of Joy and helps people work together.

Carol outlined the 5 key Zespri commitments – highlights only:

  • Packaging – 100% recyclable/reusable/compostable by 2025
  • Water – committed to improvements in water quality
  • Climate Change – to become carbon positive by 2035
  • Community – to be the best place to work
  • Health and Well-being – to show how we can lead healthier lives

It was clear that to be part of the family in the future you need to be delivering against these commitments. From my own perspective I think this is overdue but glad that it’s finally here and with a real bang and some weight to ensure that the village will move firmly in this direction.

The family also got together to celebrate the new Zespri building and the winner of the Hayward medal at the dinner was Ian Greaves for the life-saving pastoral care he provided to the industry during the Psa outbreak. Standing ovation and plenty of emotions reflected the huge respect everyone had for his commitments and sacrifices at that time.

My personal favourite part of the conference was when the Primary Council led by Lain Jager talked about their Vision “Fit for a Better World” https://fitforabetterworld.org.nz/

Backed by the Govt they have been asked to create a vision for the Ag, Food and Fibre sector. Lain played this video https://vimeo.com/378171648 - the strategic focus is on three themes

  1. Prosperity and value
  2. World leading
  3. Environmental sustainability focus

The interesting element here is that Treasury are looking for 2% growth in the economy through to 2060. To achieve this, there will be scrutiny on land use and optimisation. Horticulture delivers far greater return/Ha than other sectors.

Also if we think there is huge pressure now on environmental sustainability this will only increase unless we embrace change. Being excellent in environmental management is going to be essential.

“The onus now is on us, as farmers, growers, fishers, makers, and crafters, to show that we produce outstanding products that treat our land and oceans with care and respect. New Zealand can lead this.”

Therefore, we need investment in ways to achieve this and that is where a combination of cultural change and science & technology can deliver.

Mariana Stephens, as part of the Primary Council, connected Lain’s introduction by showing how embracing the Maori concept of Taiao is a hugely positive step for the sector.

Taiao is about finding our way forward by forging an interconnected relationship with the environment based on respect. That interdependency lies at the heart of our Taiao methodology. This struck a huge chord with me and I am sure with my fellow team at Cucumber. Taiao Ora Tangata Ora; if the environment is well, so too are the people. We must thrive without overuse, nature’s gifts are a privilege not a right, and if Taiao is not healthy we need to fix it. Te Mauri o Taiao is a framework to get Maori and Pakeha working together on a plan to be guardians. Good Kaitiakitanga will involve taking action where things are out of balance.

I would suggest everyone in any sector and particularly the Primary Sector get in behind this concept and the Vision of the Primary Council. I know I will be advocating this to our company and how we can show support.

A number of really interesting workshops played out through the rest of the day and I think the conference certainly got its messages across on Togetherness, Brand value and the Sustainability drive.

Cucumber’s strategic direction to support the Primary Sector means we have a huge part to play in supporting the industry in achieving the vision. From human centred design through to technology innovations I feel confident Cucumber can be recognised for its part in transforming the primary sector. 

Given the continuous drive and the will of the Village, the Bay of Plenty can be seen as a beacon of Agtech innovation, Sustainability and Taiao for the world to follow.