To most New Zealanders, imagining life without feijoas is almost unthinkable.” Yes, this is marketing copy, but as with all the best marketing copy, it is also true. At this time of year, these small, smooth green fruits are plentiful in New Zealand, traded by the bucket for next to nothing and infusing everything from chocolate to crumbles, ice-cream to vodka with their distinctive, soapy-citrus flavour.
Physically they are unassuming, a little like oval limes of a darker green, but their taste defies description, which is “rather challenging” for Pole to Pole, the company “on a mission to promote NZ Feijoas around the world!”. They give it a go anyway, in a guide for growers to “marketing your fruit”.
“Many liken them to guavas or quince, but their complex flavour also brings to mind strawberries and pineapple, with a pear-like gritty texture, and a hint of mint.”
The best indication of their taste is their powerful and distinctive fragrance, which Wikipedia says “strongly” resembles that of the chemical methyl benzoate.
As this might suggest, a little feijoa goes a long way in flavour, and it is surprisingly versatile, appropriate in baking, confectionery, chutney, smoothies, salads and even alcohol. In New Zealand, where they have been embraced with a zeal that obliterates their South American origins, they crop up in everything.
Mostly, though, they are eaten like kiwifruit, another foreign fruit inextricably linked to New Zealand: sliced open and scooped out with a spoon.
Feijoas are technically “available” in Australia, but invariably in small quantities at exorbitant prices at boutique grocers. (Harris Farm Markets say they “have been and are stocked … as far back as 2015”, the inference being “before they were cool”.) Like dragonfruit or any other “exotic fruit” that no one knows what to do with, they have low name recognition – hence the marketing copy.
Pole to Pole, based in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty region, export Zeijoa-brand feijoas around the world. Its target market is clear: New Zealand has one of the largest diasporas of any country in the world, with an estimated 600,000 citizens in Australia alone. Forget about not being able to vote, or the university fees hike: New Zealanders never feel less at home in Australia than for the three months of the year friends and family back home are experiencing peak feijoa fatigue.
As a result of this scarcity, intelligence-sharing within the New Zealand community in Australia as to where the green gold can be found is very good, and made more urgent by time pressure: once ripe, they don’t last long (though you can drag out the halcyon period of plenty by freezing their pureed flesh).
“There are feijoas on the ground on my ride to work in Sydney, yet to spy the tree,” tweeted a friend, new to Australia, with a picture of some small sad fruits on the verge of the road. It was his first feijoa season out of New Zealand – always the hardest.
“Where is the source? Think they’re rolling down the hill.”
A recent photo posted by Zeijoa to Facebook of crates of the things being shipped to Coles supermarkets in Australia (“Have any expat Kiwis spotted any in stores yet??”) drew nearly 300 likes, 400 comments and more than 500 shares.
Todd Abrahams, the managing director of Pole to Pole and director of the grower-owned Zeijoa brand formed in 2014, says Australia is a great market, despite its “stringent” requirements on imported fruits. “There’s a lot of expat Kiwis there that can tell their friends,” he says.
For many, feijoas are the stuff of childhood memories, Abrahams says. “A lot of people joke they don’t like paying for them because you’d fob them from your neighbours. Literally, at this time of year, in the upper North Island, they’re falling on to the streets.”
But the real measure of feijoas’ – sorry, Zeijoas’ – success will be whether they are embraced by people who did not grow up with them.
Abrahams says there has been a good response in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia and small shipments have been trialled in the US and Japan. Pole to Pole is also working on the Middle East, particularly Dubai. The lack of recognition is a barrier, he says, but not an insurmountable one.
“To get consumers to walk in and pick it off the shelf, that’s a challenge, because they don’t know what they’re buying. But these things take time. Other fruits have done it.”