Birchwood Packhouse employs local staff, exports kiwifruit varieties

Export-ready fresh produce kiwifruits
Birchwood Packhouse’s produce is exported internationally through Zespri, which is the world’s largest marketer of kiwifruit.

Located in Kaikati, Birchwood Packhouse is a cooperative-owned business with a lot of heart that has a strong focus on employing local staff.

General manager Phillippa Wright says the cooperative is solely dedicated to processing kiwifruit and employs 24 permanent staff with 150 added during the busy harvest period from February to June. “We have a family culture, and even with our growers, they know the staff really well.”

Strong partnerships between Birchwood Packhouse and its client growers are essential to maximising returns, Phillippa says. Its focus is on developing a total service, from skilled orchard management to effective communication, efficient packhouse systems and its streamlined one million-tray cool store facility in an industry that is becoming increasingly complex.

As a niche cooperative, it operates one packing line and typically processes about 2.5 million trays each season, which by comparison with other packhouses in the region processing double or more is a small quantity.

Birchwood Packhouse’s growers produce green, gold and red kiwifruit, with the red being the newest variety. All produce is exported internationally through Zespri which is the world’s largest marketer of kiwifruit.

Phillippa describes the past season as “challenging” with the volume of kiwifruit that was processed and packed by Birchwood Packhouse significantly reduced, as it was for most of the industry.

The objective of TZG is to produce the best-tasting kiwifruit for each colour variety, and for a superior taste experience to be consistently delivered to the consumer.

The harvest Birchwood processes is drawn mainly from a radius of about 40 kilometres with red kiwifruit being the first to pass maturity testing and packed late February/early March. “Because it’s a new variety, there’s not a huge volume yet and then we go into packing gold from mid-March right through till May.”

This is followed by green kiwifruit from early April until late May/early June. “We also have an orchard division so the orchards will start their winter pruning from mid-June to late August/early September, and once the winter pruning is done, they will start their maintenance.”

During summer vine management work includes thinning buds, flowers and fruit respectively, as well as pruning and girdling. This is to encourage the growth of the ideal-sized fruit that is harvested at the optimum taste zespri grade (TZG) which is a balance of sweetness and acidity that relates to their Brix and dry matter levels.

The objective of TZG is to produce the best-tasting kiwifruit for each colour variety, and for a superior taste experience to be consistently delivered to the consumer.

Birchwood Packhouse is quite unique in that it does not bring in regional seasonal employer (RSE) labour from overseas during the harvest as most other packhouses need to. More than 60% of its 150 seasonal workers return each year, Phillippa says.

“We have a process where we stay in touch with them after the season, and then we have a pool of backpackers who join us each year. Within that 60%, we would also have other locals who come in who may be new to the business.”

© Waterford Press Ltd 2023 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

Continue reading...

Related Posts