Kiwi – a study in branding and economics
Kiwi relates to New Zealand – either as a bird, a fruit or someone native to the country.
Today the fruit is on the menu. What today is known as a kiwi was originally a fruit found in Yichang in Northern China. English-speaking travelers to China first described the fruit in the 19th century and brought it home to Great Britain and the United States. Englishman Augustine Henry writes about a “climbing shrub which bears edible fruit about the size of a plum” as early as 1887. In the United States G.D. Brill is commonly credited with introducing the fruit to the U.S. around 1900.
But it was Mary Fraser, a principal of a New Zealand school for girls who turned the kiwi into a New Zealand icon. As a missionary, she visited the missionary school in Yichang China, where her sister worked. There she found the fruit, brought it back home and had it planted in the school’s garden. At first it went by its original Chinese name, yang tao. But soon as the New Zealanders began to develop a taste for the fruit, it became known as the “Chinese gooseberry.”
However, it was not until the Second World War that kiwis from New Zealand became an export sensation. US soldiers stationed in the Pacific were introduced to the fruit and popularized it. Soon after the war, efforts were underway to export the fruit to America. U.S. relations with China were strained throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (there were not even any American ambassadors in China right up until 1979). What is more anything with the name berry attracted high customs duties in America.
Time to rebrand. Time to lose the name Chinese gooseberry. Anything connected with China in the name was a no-go. Anything connected with berries was expensive. The fruit was then branded as regional New Zealand product. Bearing visual similarities with the kiwi bird, the national symbol of New Zealand, the small, furry, brown fruit was marketed as the quintessential New Zealand product, the kiwi, the country’s national fruit. And with virtually no competition, the New Zealand kiwi became a world leader. Consumption flourished.
Today, the 3,000 or so kiwi farmers of New Zealand rank third in world kiwi production. In the late 1980s, Italy emerged as the new market leader of kiwi exports by employing their existing grape production technology and infrastructure for growing kiwis. Paired with Italy’s proximity to the European market, low transport costs, and EU subsidies, Italian kiwi farmers were able to undercut prices and replace New Zealand as the top kiwi producer. In recent years, however, the original home of the kiwi plant, China, has heavily subsidized its own kiwi industry, improved infrastructure, and growing conditions. As a result China in now once again the world’s biggest producer of Chinese gooseberries!
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