"NERGI® is not a kiwi fruit", says Andrea Rigazio, Ortofruit sales manager, in this exclusive interview with Italian Berry.
It is a statement that illustrates with an effective paradox the path from kiwi to berry taken by Actinidia arguta, a fruit that took its first steps on the markets in the 1990s but which had been identified over a hundred years earlier in a publication of the Annales Musei botanici lugduno-batavi in 1867.
Its botanical name(Actinidia arguta) clearly indicates that it is a species of the Actinidia genus, the same as the more famous kiwi fruit, now widespread throughout the world and of which Italy is one of the world's leading producers.
In fact, the common name by which Actinidia arguta is best known is baby kiwi: this is what Sant'Orsola (the Trentino cooperative that was one of the first to introduce it in Italy) calls it to indicate one of its particular characteristics: its small size. It is almost like a miniature kiwi, which is why it is also called mini kiwi.
But some think otherwise: NERGI® calls itself a baby fruit. In what sense is Ortofruit changing the positioning of this product?
We are convinced that NERGI® has its logical place in the berries category because of its taste characteristics, the way it is consumed, and the packaging used, says Andrea Rigazio of Ortofruit Italia. In addition, its bright green coloring makes it distinctive on the shelves of berries, representing a chromatic uniqueness among raspberries and red currants, blue blueberries and black blackberries .
How is the market reacting?
NERGI® belongs to a new generation of Actinidia arguta: after the difficulties encountered thirty years ago with the first varieties characterised by a poor shelf life, we are now able to offer a product that, while on the market for a long period from September to November, has a shelf life of 7 days in the supermarket fridge. And this has quickly rebuilt the trust and interest of buyers and consumers. This year, the first requests for NERGI® anticipated the start of the season: customers who asked for product as early as August had to be patient for a few weeks.
What are the figures for Italian NERGI®?
Ortofruit is the exclusive Italian distributor of NERGI® and in the 2021 season just ended we produced, packed and sold 1,600,000 125g packs. We suffered from the spring frosts which reduced production by 40% on existing plants, but the negative impact compared to 2020 was limited to -30% thanks to the new plants that came into production this year.
Where are the most passionate consumers?
85% of Italian NERGI® is sold externally, mainly in Germany (in Kaufland, Rewe, Edeka and Penny shops) and the Netherlands. The remaining 15% is found on the shelves of Italian supermarkets. In addition, 10% of the production is certified organic: this product is sold exclusively in a special packaging made of 100% compostable cardboard.
What are the main technical features of NERGI®?
To improve the uniformity of presentation, we calibrate the fruit according to two weight categories: 7-15g and 15-22g. Grading is carried out on dedicated automatic lines, where the fruit is transported by water to minimise the mechanical shocks that can cause imperfections on the skin. Most of the fruit does not undergo any treatment in the field and therefore has no chemical residues.
What distinguishes the consumer experience?
First of all, the high sweetness (15 to 18 degrees brix) and the thin, soft skin, which is completely edible and the consumer doesn't even notice. And then, like all berries, the ease of consumption: a NERGI® is the size of a medium-sized olive and is also great for a snack on the fly!
How did you manage to extend the marketing season?
The two main cultivars (Rua and Tahi) have been specially selected for their different ripening times and better conservation of the fruit. This is combined with careful harvesting practices, which only take place when our technicians find the ideal quality parameters. The process is completed by refrigeration, which can also take place in a modified atmosphere, further extending the marketing schedule.
What can we expect for the future of this baby fruit?
The results are confirming that we are going in the right direction: for example, prices for the 2021 campaign are in line with those of 2020. This is another reason why Ortofruit continues to believe in us and we plan to increase production to 65 hectares, all in Piedmont. This will allow us to expand production to 700-800 tonnes to meet the demand that is growing every year.