Established firm ready to face future challenges

Established firm ready to face future challenges
Advances in the management of kiwifruit vines has helped to increase the yield per hectare.

Kiwifruit services company Punchbowl PackCo will celebrate 30 years of business in 2020, having operated through eras of diverse change and growth in the industry.It’s an exciting place to have arrived at in 2019, with 3 million trays of kiwifruit forecast to be processed through the packhouse and coolstore at Glenbrooke Road, Pukekohe next year.
But that is nothing on where volume growth will rocket to by 2025 with a potential doubling in quantity predicted to come on stream if the industry has positioned itself to take up this challenge.
For managing director, Colin Davies, the future presents a raft of challenges to meet in order to seize the opportunities that successful exporting of our kiwifruit has presented to growers and fruit processing companies alike.“We have had to really plan thoroughly to cope with forecast increases in volumes at the level we expect.
“Fortunately, technology has evolved to the point where processing through grading and packing can cope within the same packhouse footprint on our site,” Colin explains.The company will be adding on additional cool-store facilities in a planned programme extending over the next five years.“We’re fortunate we have the capability to invest in this infrastructure.”
One ongoing challenge is around human re-sourcing; finding adequate numbers of peak casual staff season in season out. Colin says an overhaul of the RSE allocation process is necessary because the current one doesn’t take into account localised increases in volume from packhouse to packhouse.
At Punchbowl PackCo a permanent core of 68 staff swells to 380 at peak, when the clock is seriously ticking to process vast volumes of kiwifruit. This reality is something Colin and others in the industry are really focussing on. “It’s about finding ways to promote the industry to young people who are considering career options.
“For some reason the kiwifruit sector has not been promoted as an attractive and worthwhile career. This is something sector-wide we need to address.”Colin says inroads have been made that will bear fruit in terms of attracting a much younger generation toward the industry.
A pilot programme of outreach to students currently attending Pukekohe High School gives them the opportunity to explore the various orcharding and packhouse processes, and an understanding that the industry does offer career path options.

Established firm ready to face future challenges
Punchbowl PackCo will be adding on additional cool-store facilities in a planned programme extending over the next five years.

Colin has been with Punchbowl PackCo for 15 years and says for 10 of those there was relatively little growth in volumes so these past five years have really challenged growers and allied services to adjust. Other dynamics are also impacting on the wider kiwifruit sector and the growers that Punchbowl PackCo engages with through its grower services activities.
Colin says that many orchards in the local district and throughout the country are now of an age where their founding owners, who planted the vines, are wishing to retire with no one within the family necessarily wanting to take over ownership and operation.This means over time larger corporate-owned or managed orchards will evolve.
“This also creates opportunities for us as well to increase the number of orchards we will directly manage with a consequent fl ow through of greater volumes to be processed at our packhouse.”Another contributor to the increase in volume coming from existing orchards is how advances in the management of vines have increased the yield per hectare.
“We were very fortunate in this region to escape the worst impact of the PSA crisis. “We were a few years behind the Bay of Plenty for instance when the disease hit and were able to prepare best for it by grafting the new Gold 3variety, so when the disease arrived here it’s effect was mitigated to some degree.”
Colin says the potential doubling in volumes expected in five years is a phenomenon that won’t be repeated and its therefore crucial that there is industry-wide preparation for this at every level of activity. “We’re going to need smart young minds to come on board.
“We’re going to need to create a sustainable strategy to guarantee workforce participation increases year on year. “This is a fantastic industry to be involved in and we plan to extend our connection with other schools in the district to attract more and more students wanting to enter the kiwifruit sector.”
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