Busy packhouse all set to get busier

Busy packhouse all set to get busier
Riverlock Packhouse expects to process upward of 1.6 million trays of kiwifruit next year.

Situated 7km south of Opotiki in the eastern Bay of Plenty is Riverlock Packhouse, a kiwi-fruit processing, packing and storage facility owned by the Brown family.While small in size compared with some of the major players in the kiwifruit industry, Riverlock has grown in capacity and is continuing to do so to this day.
Riverlock operations manager, Steve Lambert, says the company is poised to evolve further with the building of two new cool stores bringing the total on site to twelve.“The Brown family were farmers and had a small kiwifruit orchard so developed a pack-house initially to meet their own processing needs. This is going back 35 plus years,” Steve says.
With the growth in plant, Steve expects the packhouse to process upward of 1.6 million trays of kiwifruit next year and foresees the time when the goal of selecting, packing, and storing 2m trays will be achieved within a matter of years.Today, Riverlock processes kiwifruit for a number of independent growers along with the company’s own crop.
On site, a team of 20 staff are employed in permanent roles while the ebb and flow of seasonal workers hits peak between the second week of March and mid-June.Last year, Riverlock introduced a 12-hour shift for its casual workers, while in the past it has run two eight-hour shifts.
“We have a lot of locals who come back year in year out to help during the processing season supplemented with visitors and backpackers,” Steve explains.Training is undertaken through experienced packhouse managers carrying various responsibilities. Melissa Walker handles logistics and orders while Audrey McCann takes care of quality management.
“It’s critical to our performance and maintaining our niche in the market, while giving our clients the best possible return, that we are very stringent on quality throughout the whole process from growing, through to grading and storage of the fruit in our cool-stores. “We’re always assessing new technologies and keeping up to date.”
Last year the company invested in an automatic pallet strapper which helped enormously with processing flow.“It’s streamlined that part of the process and consequently means we can get the fruit into the chiller earlier which gives the best outcome in terms of maintaining the right quality.”
Standards are so stringent that before the fruit is picked in bulk, samples are tested at the laboratory of Agfirst in Te Puke to assess fructose and dry matter content.Early fruit is stored at 7°C in order to colour the fruit up to optimum and the plant has the capacity to store long term through to the end of November.
The hard yards put in early in the growing and packing process means Riverlocks fruit is in the top quarter of the industry when it comes to quality.Steve says the company has a 10-year plan with the goal to attain two million trays comfort-ably each year.

Busy packhouse all set to get busier
Riverlock Packhouse processes kiwifruit for a number of independent growers along with the company’s own crop.

 
Now in charge of the daily operation of the packhouse he began his journey with the company as a casual worker, moving through various roles.“It’s a great company to work for. “We’re extremely proud of our track-record to consistently process kiwifruit at optimum quality standards. That’s an aspiration shared by all the team here.”
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