A SHIPLOAD of mice has disrupted NZ kiwifruit exporter Zespri’s season launch in Europe.

The company has been anticipating bumper sales of its kiwifruit varieties this year after crops recovered from 2023’s unfavourable growing conditions and cyclone damage, as well as the 1 May 2024 enactment of the NZ-EU free trade agreement. The FTA sees the removal of the existing 8.8% tariff on the furry fruit.

However, Zespri announced yesterday [22 April] it had been forced to delay the start of its European sales season by a week following the discovery of pests in the holds of its first chartered reefer vessel on arrival in Zeebrugge, Belgium.

Evidence of the refrigerate rodents was found during in some parts of the ship during Zespri’s standard clearance processes. There were 1.2 million trays of the SunGold variety on board, packed on 4800 pallets and worth around NZ$12 million. It was unclear how many pallets were affected.

Zespri COO Jason Te Brake said Zespri takes fruit quality “incredibly seriously” and had made the decision to quarantine the fruit while inspections continue. This would ensure all affected fruit is identified and destroyed; no fruit will be released unless both Zespri and relevant regulators are confident of mitigation measures.

“We have a proven track record over 20 years of providing only the highest quality fruit and building a brand people trust and we won’t compromise on that,” Mr Te Brake said. “This is the first time in more than 20 years that we have encountered this issue, and we have had a number of successful arrivals in other markets already this season. We are working with our shipping partner and insurers to understand the cause and to put additional processes in place to avoid this occurring again.”

Mr Te Brake said that after a strong start in Asia, Zespri’s season start in Europe will now be pushed back a week, with a second charter vessel due to arrive in Zeebrugge on Saturday. That fruit will undergo an inspection process before being released to customers.

“We’re now working with our customers and our distribution partners to ensure we can commence the European sales season as quickly as possible to meet strong consumer demand,” Mr Te Brake says.