Sweet success of Fiji’s spicy ginger

When young Chinese immigrant Calvin Qiu harvested his first crop of ginger in Fiji’s fertile soil one day in 1997, little did he imagine that his tiny patch would grow into one of the country’s biggest exporters of the much sought after spice in just a few years.

Calvin Qiu of Kaiming Agro with the ginger that adds spice to New Zealand's popular Whittaker's chocolate.
Calvin Qiu of Kaiming Agro with the ginger that adds spice to New Zealand’s popular Whittaker’s chocolate.

With no farming background, all Mr Qiu had when he started was a tremendous appetite to learn – and to succeed as a ginger farmer. He grew to love the root and developed a passion for growing it. As early as 2003, his enterprise, Kaiming Agro, received organic certification.

Though Kaiming Agro began by selling raw ginger as product, Mr Qiu saw quite early that value addition was the way to grow faster. In 2006 he started with exporting semi-processed ginger. In the following years, he added products like sushi ginger and crystallised ginger (branded ‘Zing’) building steadily to today’s impressive portfolio of 40 different ginger products including pureed, glace, and ginger juice, besides others.

Kaiming’s ginger finds itself in a range of quality food products, many of them branded and popular. Pacific Trade & Invest (PT&I) NZ is proud to have played a role in its fusion with one of New Zealand’s iconic brands of chocolate.

Mr Qiu with a retail pack of crystallised ginger, which has found a market in New Zealand, Australia, the US and Europe.
Mr Qiu with a retail pack of crystallised ginger, which has found a market in New Zealand, Australia, the US and Europe.

In July 2015, PT&I and the European Union-supported IACT (Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade) signed an MOU to deliver a food and beverage trade mission into New Zealand. PT&I developed, delivered a customised programme for six companies including individual appointments for companies.

“We developed a customised programme aimed at introducing the participants to different types of buyers in the New Zealand market and insights into various paths to Market,” Joe Fuavao, PT&I Trade Development Manager says.

One of these meetings was between Kaiming Agro and popular New Zealand chocolate maker Whittaker’s. The meeting resulted in a trial shipment followed by regular export sales as Whittaker’s launched its new flavour ‘Fijian Ginger and Kerikeri Mandarin’ in the New Zealand market in 2016. The flavour was one of its new range of artisan chocolates available countrywide.

Kaiming makes some 40 different products from Ginger.
Kaiming makes some 40 different products from Ginger.

The Whittaker’s deal has sweetened Kaiming’s exports: It has been able to establish new deals and increase existing orders by 20 per cent. “This is an excellent outcome for Kaiming Agro Processing. We congratulate Calvin and his team on the success of establishing new business relationships from this mission,” Mr Fuavao told Pacific Periscope.

Kaiming Agro’s export orders have also been growing impressively across the Tasman. “Our packaged crystallised ginger has been sold in the Aldi supermarkets and since July this year also in Coles around Australia,” Mr Qiu told Pacific Periscope when we visited his Pacific Harbour processing facility in Fiji in September. Kaiming Agro consistently exports two containers a month to the Australian market all year round.

Besides New Zealand and Australia, Kaiming Agro exports ginger and ginger products to the North American continent and several countries in Europe. “We’re proud to have a played a role in building a niche market for Fijian ginger in all these markets,” Mr Qiu said.

Kaiming's customised labelling machine at the plant in Pacific Harbour.
Kaiming’s customised labelling machine at the plant in Pacific Harbour.

Kaiming Agro, a 100 per cent export enterprise employing 155 staff, is a certified organic ginger processor and producer with no traces of any chemicals or heavy metals detected in any of its products. “This is very important in markets like Europe where consumers are not only in pursuit of single origin products from exotic locations but also insist on best practice growing and processing techniques,” Mr Qiu said.

The cost of compliance to earn and maintain such certification is certainly high, acknowledges Mr Qiu, but says “It’s a must in the food industry. Credibility is very important. We’ve got to find ways and means of recovering these costs while staying competitive. That’s the challenge.”

Mr Qiu acknowledges the role that agencies like PT&I, the European Union, SPC and the Fiji Government have played in its impressive growth story.

For more information email Joe Fuavao, Trade Development Manager at joe.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

All photos: Dev Nadkarni

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