Go into any Japanese supermarket’s “Fruit and Vegetable” section and I guarantee that you’ll find a stack of kiwifruits larger than that of cherries, apples and oranges combined. Over the last couple of years overall fruit sales have fallen by 10% in Japan. But according to the Fresh Fruit Portal, kiwifruit sales have grown by a third in two seasons. In fact the Japanese market accounts for 16% of global sales.
In Japan, fruit isn’t cheap. It’s actually a bloody ripoff. A single apple can cost anywhere from 150 yen (£1.02) to 400 yen (£2.72). Meanwhile a decent melon can cost up to 3000 yen (£20) and even higher. But do these steep prices account for a tastier fruit? Not really, and that’s why many Japanese people don’t buy much fresh fruit these days. Even cakes topped with strawberries are noticeably more expensive than those without.
Japan’s fruit and vegetables are seasonal-based, meaning that certain items will be readily available at different times. Back home, the UK mainly imports its fruit from around the world. We get strawberries from Spain, bananas from Cameroon and oranges from South Africa. That means that most fruit is available all year round and at a much cheaper price, unlike here in Japan. I’d guess that given a “taste test” between an British-grown orange and one from South Africa, I’d struggle to tell much difference. But Japan’s pride in its home-grown produce has exacerbated prices and the nation’s “attitude” towards fruit and vegetable. Imports are seen as lower quality and unbefitting of a place in the fridge. Though I exaggerate a touch.
Yet the popularity of New Zealand kiwifruits continues strong. The price may have something to do with it. At around 100 yen, it’s one of the cheaper options available. But back in the UK, I can get two for the same price. The more likely reason is the stellar marketing from their New Zealand distributor, Zespri. Unbeknownst to me, New Zealand actually produces about 30% of the kiwifruit market. Last year, the Zespri International (Japan) office was awarded the 2016 “Good Design Award” based on the company’s media and publicity efforts. They underwent a bit of an overhaul, scrapping the dated imagery in favour of a more modern and memorable approach.
Like with the majority of Japanese companies, brands and even individual cities, Zespri have two mascots; “Green” and “Gold”, know as “The Kiwi Brothers”. Basically a designer thought about sticking some arms, legs and eyes onto a kiwifruit, whilst taking clear inspiration from Pac-man. There’s nothing more to them than that, yet they proven to be a success. That sort of marketing is essential to a company’s survival. Stick a well-known actor, comedian or band alongside your product and you’re bound to see an increase in interest and subsequent sales. Promote your car insurance with a cute animal character and theme song, and people will remember your brand. I frequently see kids pointing at the “Kiwi Brothers” plush toys above the fruit stalls. In fact, one of my birthday presents from my girlfriend was those plush toys. They’re sat in my room with the rest of the soft toys that everyone seems to acquire whilst living in Japan.
Ironically though, I’ve never actually been too fond of the fruit. I’ve eaten it countless times in fruit salads, smoothies and juices. But I’ve yet to be convinced that kiwifruit can be enjoyed by itself. But this Japanese “Kiwi craze” seems to be forecast to continue through the summer with other companies such as Fanta introducing kiwifruit flavoured drinks. I tried one. It wasn’t very good. Even the cocktail bar that I sometimes go to has started serving Kiwi cocktails. I drank one. It was pretty good. Who knows what fruit will take the country by storm? Hopefully it’s not gooseberries.