1969 John started working in the produce business,joining "Auckland Export Ltd" a major player in developing Kiwifruit markets in Europe and Japan.
There is an old proverb,
“Success has many fathers”,
and John has been one of the
fathers of two major horticultural
industries of New Zealand.
I started with Kiwifruit
My career in Kiwifruit began in 1969. Prior to that time, the attempts to export kiwifruit met only limited success. Progress was characterised by one step forward and one step back.
In fact, I recall the doyen of New Zealand Kiwifruit growers Jim McLoughlin, saying " ..that there was no future in exporting' and being on the verge of giving up.
Trying to sell Kiwifruit up to 1971 was like trying to push string. A typical attitude in those days is summed up by a European importer who said to me “we don’t eat Kiwifruit here, can you offer strawberries?”
In 1971, my firm enlisted the support of the NZ Government Senior Trade Commissioner in Brussels, Mr Fergus McLean. (McLean was responsible for Scandinavia as well as the Benelux Countries). Together we managed to persuade a major Swedish supermarket, Kooperativa Forbundet to undertake a trial marketing campaign within their stores throughout Sweden. The Company gave the product shelf space, newspaper and other media advertising tied in with point of sale brochures and posters.
With our help the campaign was hugely successful and was followed by immediate orders from competitor supermarkets in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries. The success in Scandinavia spread rapidly in northern Europe. There is no doubt in my mind that the match which lit the fuse of the Kiwifruit explosion, was lit the day that Kooperativa Forbundet decided to take a risk promoting a completely unknown and externally unattractive fruit.
Another stimulus occurred when my firm persuaded the major German retailer Edeka to undertake a Kiwifruit marketing campaign, which included for the first time significant TV advertising. This promotion lifted the market for Kiwifruit across the board.
Export statistics for Kiwifruit (Chinese Gooseberries ) , were not collected as a specific item until 1975 when 3066 tonnes were recorded as being exported. From memory I doubt that not more than 500 tonnes was exported in 1970 worth less than $1.0 million. In 2009 the Kiwifruit export volume was 365,000 tonnes, worth $1.304 billion.
In any rapidly expanding enterprise there are growing pains; the Kiwifruit industry was no exception. The Kiwifruit industry was a victim of its own success aided by Government export incentives. The sudden demand for the fruit, which was exaggerated, led to a plethora of new plantings on an exponential basis. You had Doctors, Drain Layers, Dentists, Dairy Farmers et el, all seeking high returns and at the same time receiving significant tax exemptions.
The trade simply could not handle the massive increases in crop volumes on a year to year basis and as a result the system, which involved multiple exporters, got the blame. I could see that the Government of the day would concede to Grower demand to establish an Export Authority and in 1987 agreed to the creation of a single desk exporter.
I hadn't waited, three years earlier I had moved on...