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Expansion mirrors production growth

Expansion mirrors production growth
EastPack processed 41.2 million trays of kiwifruit this season.

EastPack is New Zealand’s largest kiwifruit post-harvest service company, providing a raft of services to its shareholder members, across six Bay of Plenty sites in Edgecumbe, Opotiki, Katikati and three sites in Te Puke.

Business Development Manager Toby Potter has been with EastPack since 2012 and in those six years the company has significantly expanded its packing and coolstore capacity – most recently with the 2017 commissioning of the largest fruit sorting machine in the industry.

“One of the most important things we can offer growers, is the freedom to harvest their fruit at the best time, which can make a massive difference to their returns, and improve stress levels at picking time”, Toby explains.

This season EastPack processed 41.2 million trays of kiwifruit, including 17.5 million trays of the sought-after Sungold variety and 1,100 tonne of avocados.

“We offer growers a complete service including orchard management, technical growing support, harvest coordination, packing, grading and storage of fruit, and logistics to get fruit from the packing site to the port”.

Such has been the rampant growth in fruit volumes in recent years, EastPack has invested approximately $117.8m on packing and coolstore infrastructure since 2015.

At the height of the season EastPack has the packing capacity to process over one million trays of kiwifruit per day. EastPack have embraced technology so growers can feel confident they are getting the most class 1 fruit from every bin of fruit from their orchard.

“We are one of the first companies to use the latest fruit camera grading technology called Spectrim which is capable of taking up to 500 images of each fruit and helps to achieve high grading accuracy with minimal human intervention,” says Toby.

Innovation continues to evolve with the development this year of the industry’s first ‘lights out’ coolstore.

The internal operations of the coolstore operate automatically without people or forklifts entering the store. “A gantry develops its own logic to systematically deliver and retrieve fruit pallets to positions within coolstore racks.

“These racks also have automatic shuttles to deliver pallets to their final position in the store,” says Toby. This technology brings several benefits including better utilisation of space, air flow accuracy and energy efficiency.

“It will ultimately benefit the shelf-life and storage potential of the fruit.” And it is not all just about the fruit.

While technologies have changed the nature of the jobs humans do Toby says one of the perennial challenges facing the industry is the availability of labour across all skill levels.

“We currently employ 260 permanents with 3600 total employees during the height of the season, however growth projections published by Zespri estimate the supply of NZ grown kiwifruit to more than double by 2027.”

In the past, the perception of a career in the kiwifruit industry involved people completing manual, uninspiring tasks on the orchard.

This perception is improving and the industry now attracts professionals with a diverse range of skills including marketing, finance, human resources, logistics, engineering, scientists, just to name a few. “The question is, can the supply of people attracted to a career in the kiwifruit industry keep up with demand.”

A shortage of personnel in the kiwifruit industry provides opportunity to people with a good attitude and work ethic because they can progress from an entrant level into management in a relatively short period of time.

“It’s clear the kiwifruit industry, and post-harvest sector in general is going through an exciting phase with plenty of opportunity for investors and career-seekers alike, and long may it continue,” says Toby.

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