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Zespri announces first innovation fund projects

zespri zag fund

Zespri BB #:141270 is excited to announce the first three pilots from its new innovation fund, ZAG. These pilots will focus on the color of RubyRed kiwifruit, the tracking of kiwifruit bins, and the use of biochar on kiwifruit orchards. 

The $2 million annual fund launched late last year is designed to attract innovative problem solvers to help address some of the key challenges the industry faces as it meets the growing demand for kiwifruit.

An Innovation Steering Committee chaired by Zespri’s Chief Marketing, Innovation and Sustainability Officer Jiunn Shih has been evaluating ideas submitted by prospective solution providers which support projects that are focused on four core priorities for Zespri: (1) Initiatives that are good for kiwifruit; (2) Initiatives that are good for people; (3) Initiatives that are good for the environment; (4) And initiatives that foster a thriving kiwifruit industry. 

The first solution selected to move into the pilot phase involves Zespri evaluating the consistency of the colour of its RubyRed Kiwifruit, which is in its third year of commercial production. 

Mr Shih says, “There’s strong demand for Zespri RubyRed Kiwifruit which is popular amongst consumers who love the distinctive taste, colour and health benefits – although they’ve told us that the red colouring of the fruit can sometimes be inconsistent.

“In response to this feedback, our pilot will explore ways we can have better visual consistency with our RubyRed Kiwifruit that will encourage the fruit to produce more of the natural anthocyanins that cause the red fruit colour. As our newest kiwifruit variety, we continue to build our knowledge so we can meet the strong demand we are seeing with this six-month pilot involving one RubyRed orchard.” 

The second pilot is centred around improving the traceability of kiwifruit harvest bins with GPS devices. Each bin will have a unique location identifier with tracking information collected and displayed to users on a software platform.

Mr Shih says, “This 12-month pilot is designed to help improve the challenge of efficiently managing bins in the supply chain. Having a record of real-time harvest bin movements within or between regions is also important in the event of a biosecurity incursion that affects fruit, such as fruit fly.”

Pilot three involves a 12-month field trial of biochar on kiwifruit orchards – biochar is a carbon-rich material known to improve soil nutrient availability, sequester carbon and improve soil drainage and aeration. While biochar has been used with other crops, this pilot will assess whether it will help improve kiwifruit orchard soil characteristics and therefore possibly improve vine productivity and fruit quality. 

Mr Shih says ZAG has been designed to allow Zespri to accelerate its kiwifruit innovation work through broadening its efforts through collaborating with global innovators, with an impressive range of ideas submitted from around the world.

“The RubyRed, bin tracking and biochar initiatives have been selected to help us solve some of the specific challenges the industry is facing, and which benefit our industry, the wellbeing of our communities and our planet. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of our pilots as we work to find solutions to help shape a thriving world through the goodness of kiwifruit.”

Zespri has also identified other solutions with potential to move into the pilot stage. To learn more or apply to the fund, please visit:


Zespri is 100 percent owned by current and former kiwifruit growers and has a global team of 850 based in Mount Maunganui and throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas. Our purpose is to help people, communities and the environment thrive through the goodness of kiwifruit, and we work with 2,800 growers in New Zealand and 1,500 growers offshore to provide consumers with fresh, healthy and great-tasting Zespri Green, RubyRed and SunGold Kiwifruit. In 2023/24, we supplied 164.2 million trays of kiwifruit to consumers in more than 50 markets, and recorded global operating revenue of NZ$4.21 billion. Zespri is committed to sustainability, with areas of improvement identified right through the supply chain including our pledge that by 2025 we will use 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging, do more to help the environment, and work with our partners to be carbon positive by 2035.