Belgium is a hub for Zespri kiwifruits: 70% of the New Zealand production destined for the European market lands at the port of Zeebrugge. The rest is distributed through the ports of Tarragona and Vado. And with every new reefer arrival, it’s all hands on deck for 250 employees. Including IT.
In China, the kiwifruit has been a popular fruit for centuries. But it took until the early 20th century for it to be introduced in New Zealand. In 1959, the locals renamed the Chinese gooseberry ‘kiwifruit’, after a hairy egg-shaped flightless New Zealand bird and since WWI, kiwi has also been the nickname given to New Zealanders. Just like that, the kiwifruit fruit became a national symbol. Its popularity really took off around 1980.
Kiwifruit all year round
These days, two countries produce more kiwifruit than New Zealand: China and Italy. And yet, New Zealand Zespri is by far the biggest kiwifruit seller in the world. The company was established in 1997 as a cooperative of kiwifruit growers. Today, almost 90% of the Zespri harvest comes from New Zealand, with Italy, Greece, France, South Korea, and Japan producing the rest.
“Kiwifruits are a seasonal product,” says François Caudron, Senior Business Analyst. “Most varieties are not hardy, which is why Zespri works with growers in the southern and northern hemispheres. This allows us to sell the fruit 12 months a year.”
Quality in 12 steps
“We also follow strict quality and sustainability standards. These are set out in a 12-step plan. What are the criteria for the production location and soil? How do you manage a kiwifruit orchard? How do you sustainably use water? What about pesticides? What is the best time to harvest? What environmentally friendly packaging do you use? What is the best possible way to get the kiwifruit to the customer? All our growers and partners share the same philosophy.”
All hands on deck
Belgium plays a key role for Europe. Zespri International (Europe) N.V. is responsible for the sales, marketing and distribution of all Zespri kiwifruit destined for the European market. “We have sales offices in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK and Sweden,” Filip Toelants, System Business Analyst, explains. “From early spring to November, every week, a reefer carrying six to ten thousand pallets of kiwifruit arrives in Zeebrugge and the other ports. Two-hundred-and-fifty employees have two days to unload the cargo. Nothing can go wrong in the storage, packing and distribution of the kiwifruit. Time is money, both to us and the hauliers.”
“This has major implications for our IT. It has to be available 24/7 for most of the year. The systems have to work, as do the connections between our systems and those of our partners. We have been using SAP for logistics and financial management since 1998. This is integrated with Flex²B, the warehouse management system (WMS) of Oryx. The IT team in New Zealand manages the SAP system. The WMS operates on local European infrastructure, in three ports and a number of warehouses.”
The bar is high
The Belgian IT team is small but driven, with two business analysts and one infrastructure manager. “To ensure we meet our commitments, we call in external expertise for specialist advice,” François continues. “Unreliable partners are a no-go. Trust is everything. You have to be able to say to each other what you’re thinking. The people you rely on, have to be there for you, including at peak times. We don’t have time to hold anyone’s hand. We value stability. Familiar faces who systematically develop their knowledge of the company and think along with us.”
So, the bar is set high for technology partners. “That’s why we were happy to come across Rank 1 a couple of years ago,” François remembers. “We were looking for a party who could take over our helpdesk activities. Gaining an understanding of our business was the starting point for Rank 1. We liked that because it’s the basis for future-oriented infrastructure management. Rank 1 thinks along with our organisation. They question things and provide new ways of thinking. That keeps you on your toes. There is one consultant who is responsible full-time for providing first-line support to end-users. Rank 1 also manages and maintains the servers and storage systems of our WMS with great know-how.”
Financial and logistics processes
“It turns out that there was also an SAP partner in the same business group,” Filip goes on. “TheValueChain supports us with financial processes and EDI. Also, New Zealand is currently preparing the move to SAP S/4HANA. Financial and logistics processes are organised completely differently here at our site. TheValueChain is mapping our requirements for them with great knowledge and insight and makes impartial recommendations. TheValueChain team has experts in a wide range of SAP areas. As and when necessary, our FI consultant calls on colleagues with the right know-how to help answer our questions quickly and thoroughly. Now that’s service.”
“For instance, our users wanted to integrate data from SAP with reports based on Microsoft Power BI. As a result, we got to know yet another company of the Gumption group. Bmatix has specialists in Power BI and provides a tool for fast and efficient data extraction and integration. It works perfectly. Our users wanted to know how they could use Power BI optimally. In just a few workshops, Bmatix taught us the tricks of the trade.”
“It’s great to find all that knowledge in one business group,” François concludes. “We click with their people and share the same ambition: we want to be at the top when it comes to quality. That keeps us sharp. That, and kiwifruit!”
Kiwifruit facts and figures
- In the 2019-2020 season, Zespri sold ca. 5 billion kiwifruits worldwide.
- 1/3 of these were distributed across Europe from Zeebrugge.
- China is responsible for almost half of the global kiwifruit production.
- The best-selling variety is the Zespri Green, followed by the patented Zespri SunGold.
- Since 2017, Zespri also sells Red Kiwifruit, although these are currently only available in Asia.
- Zespri has almost 600 employees worldwide, half of which are based in New Zealand.