Kiwifruit is native to north-central and eastern China. The first recorded description of the kiwifruit dates to 12th century China during the Song dynasty. As it was usually collected from the wild and consumed for medicinal purposes, the plant was rarely cultivated or bred. Cultivation of kiwifruit spread from China in the early 20th century to New Zealand, where the first commercial plantings occurred. The fruit became popular with British and American servicemen stationed in New Zealand during World War II, and was later exported, first to Great Britain and then to California in the 1960s.
In New Zealand during the 1940s and 1950s, the fruit became an agricultural commodity through the development of commercially viable cultivars, agricultural practices, shipping, storage, and marketing. Much of the breeding to refine the green kiwifruit and develop the gold Zespri was done by the Plant & Food Research Institute (formerly HortResearch) during the decades of 1970-1999. In 1990, the New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board opened an office for Europe in Antwerp, Belgium, which became the headquarters for European marketing of Zespri gold kiwifruit in 2010. The general name, “Zespri”, has been used for marketing of all green and gold cultivars of kiwifruit from New Zealand since 2012.