Jobs cheer as packhouse saved

By Mike Dinsdale

A Kerikeri company is to reopen a Whangarei fruit packhouse that closed earlier this year with the loss of 25 jobs, due in part to the Psa virus affecting kiwifruit.

LD Packers Ltd, owned and managed by Kerikeri couple Alan and Helen Thompson's family investment company, has taken over the former Apata kiwifruit and avocado packhouse in South End Rd, Whangarei, after it was closed in January.

At the time, Apata said the Psa vine disease had reduced kiwifruit production and, while avocados were also packed at the facility, Apata's Northland manager Graeme Burnett said there were not enough of them to warrant keeping the packhouse operating.

But Mr Thompson said his company had bought the packhouse with the intention of keeping it a Northland operation, and he hoped local kiwifruit and avocado growers would support it.

He said LD Packers Whangarei would start packing kiwifruit in April and the company had retained key staff members from the previous business.

The company already runs LD Packers in Kerikeri, which packs Zespri kiwifruit and citrus.

"Hopefully, we can get the seasonal workers to come back too," Mr Thompson said.

He said the opportunity to expand the business into Whangarei came about due to the restructuring of large Bay of Plenty-based post-harvest companies, which are now competing for volume throughout Northland.

Mr Thompson said the industry was competitive but he was sure the company could give growers what they needed to get them to support the venture.

"We are a Northland-based company and want to employ local people there. We're very keen to do a wholly Northland thing and the key is to get local growers' support," he said. "We saw this as an opportunity to expand into Whangarei and, hopefully, local growers will see some merit in that."

The Thompsons have been heavily involved in the horticultural industry in Northland for the past 30 years, including the origination and development of Kerifresh Ltd in Kerikeri, which was sold in 2008.

Since then they have continued growing 23 hectares of kiwifruit in Kerikeri and have developed LD Packers, which packs Zespri kiwifruit and citrus.

Mr Thompson said LD Packers would offer a wholly Northland owned and operated business model.

"Although the presence of Psa in New Zealand has clouded the future for kiwifruit, LD Packers Ltd is looking forward to offering this service for the foreseeable future with the support of local growers."

- Northern Advocate

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