North Island Mussel Processors (NIMPL), based in Tauranga, will create several world firsts when Prime Minister John Key officially opens its second factory tomorrow.
NIMPL, a joint processing venture between Sanford, Sealord Group and Greenshell New Zealand, has completed its $23 million expansion at the 2.7ha site in Glenlyon Ave, Greerton.
The state-of-the-art factory, built by Marra Construction, will triple the production capacity at the site to 30,000 tonnes a year, and will be the largest half-shell processor in the world.
NIMPL will also reveal several firsts in technology - such as the automated mussel opening (AMO) machines; the Danish-designed blanching process (rather than cooking) that maximises the weight recovery from the raw mussels; and the gentle-handling conveyor system that separates the mussels before they are weighed and packed.
The groundbreaking automated mussel opening machines - they are all equipped with knives - were designed and patented by Sanford, and Kando Innovations in Auckland has the licence to manufacture them.
The automation increases efficiency and reliability and reduces costs, but NIMPL still needs trained staff to run the modern equipment.
"We might have machines opening the mussels but staff have to understand, and operate, the robotic machinery.
"It enriches the prospects of skilled labour in Tauranga," said NIMPL general manager Steve Wells.
Its chairman, Geoff Burgess, based in Hamilton, said the joint venture had been allocated more water space (in the Coromandel) and the supply of mussels would increase.
"We needed extra processing capacity and the shareholders had a vision, when it first bought the Greerton factory (in 2005), to expand the facility," he said.
Mr Burgess said NIMPL would contribute significantly to the aquaculture industry's target of earning $1 billion by 2025. Mussels make up 77 per cent of the industry, as well as salmon, oysters and paua.
Up to now, the old factory at Greerton has been processing 10,000 tonnes of plump, green-lipped mussels a year, and the new factory is expected to take on double that amount next season (from November to early August).
The old factory will process a value-added product using the mussel meat.
NIMPL expects to reach full production of 30,000 tonnes, or three million mussels a day, within three to five years, and by then the joint venture will have made a decision about upgrading the old factory.
With production doubling, even tripling, NIMPL will maintain its present staff of 220 including 35 permanent and 185 seasonal.
During the transitional phase of commissioning the new factory this year, NIMPL increased its staff to 420 at one stage, making it one of the largest employers in the Western Bay.
The joint venture bought the Kiwigreen plant in Greerton in August 2005, and all the processed mussels are exported with each partner - Sealord, Sanford and Greenshell New Zealand - taking responsibility for sales.
The mussels are sold in United States, Asia, Europe and Middle East, and earn about $25 million in export revenue - any drop in the NZ dollar is a boost.
Aquaculture is in growth mode around the world. Demand for farmed seafood was increasing at a rate of 9 per cent a year, and more than 60 million tonnes a year was consumed globally, compared with one million tonne in the 1950s.
It is estimated that by 2015 more than 100 million tonnes a year would be required globally.