A Bay of Plenty post-harvest kiwifruit facility plans to hire hundreds of workers next year after investing tens of millions of dollars in a major expansion project.
Confidence in the kiwifruit industry's export growth is fuelling the development which has been welcomed by business and industry leaders. Mount Pack & Cool's plans to expand with new investment in innovation and increased packing and storage capacity at its 6.5ha site at the Tauranga Business Estate.
The company expects to employ about 500 seasonal staff and 100 permanent staff next year.
In January, the privately-owned company will start work on stage four of the development, which will have the capacity to handle 24 million trays of Class 1 kiwifruit by 2022.
Mount Pack & Cool general manager Brendon Lee said the company had invested "tens of millions" into the expansion, which was important for the Bay.
"We're one of the lucky industries after going through Covid relatively unscathed.
"We've had a lot of people from other industries come work with us and we see it as an opportunity to employ local New Zealanders."
Lee said the Tauriko Business Estate was a great location for the company, with the close proximity to the Port of Tauranga, state highways and the town centre, which helped to attract local staff.
"In terms of future value, it's well-conditioned for whatever the future holds."
He said the business' rapid growth reflected the industry's and Zespri's positive market outlook.
It was also a sign of growers' confidence in the company's ability to deliver strong returns year after year, he said.
"Growers can see we have an amazing facility and our results speak for themselves.
"As growers are also increasing production volumes on orchards, they're looking to partner with us because they can see we've future-proofed for growth and greater capacity, which is critical for them at harvest time."
The state of the art facility has been operating at Tauriko since May 2018 and now has three seasons under its belt, packing kiwifruit for growers across the Bay.
It opened with a 25,000sq m custom-designed bin curing room and packhouse, 10 coolstores and eight controlled atmosphere (CA) coolstores.
In May this year, work was completed on an additional 10 coolstores and six pre-coolers as part of the facility's stage three development.
The 10,000sq m building and load-out canopy increased Mount Pack & Cool's coolstore capacity by a further 2.3 million trays.
Lee said the company had experienced significant growth in three years, having gone from harvesting six million trays in 2018 to 12 million trays in 2020.
Next year Mount Pack & Cool expects to handle at least 15 million trays, including seven million Green kiwifruit and eight million trays of Gold.
About a third of the volume packed this year will be from orchards, which Mount Pack & Cool's sister company GroPlus manages year-round.
The remaining two-thirds will be from growers who manage their own orchards and sign up annually to have Mount Pack & Cool pack their crop.
Some Green kiwifruit orchards are being converted to Gold fruit and, while Zespri continues to release 700ha of SunGold licences each year, Lee expects the company to handle even more Gold fruit in the future.
Form NZ was the lead contractor for stages one and two and iLine Construction was used for stage three.
"We've completed 35,000sq m of building with local contractors over the past three years. They've been significant investments and valuable partnerships."
Zespri chief global supply officer Alastair Hulbert said it was great to see such investment going into the Bay of Plenty and Mount Pack & Cool's confidence in the industry's future.
"Such investment underlines the importance of the industry to the wider region."
NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said the building of new cool stores was a great example of investments, which were currently being made across the kiwifruit industry's supply chain.
"Investment into postharvest facilities is critical to ensure infrastructure can meet forecast supply and demand levels."
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said Mount Pack & Cool's expansion showed it was confident in the long term future of the industry.
Cowley said the Tauriko Business Estate was starting to see clusters of similar businesses, which was more powerful than having a business estate with random un-related businesses.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said the Western Bay was fortunate to have the kiwifruit industry.
"They have come through covid well and have a bright outlook, which is why we're seeing investments like this.
"Creation of employment in uncertain economic times is very helpful to the local community."
Tauriko Business Estate director Bryce Donne said the expansion and the job opportunities created from it was "fantastic news".
"It is great for both the regional and national economies."
Mount Pack & Cool expansion: The Stage 4 specs
- Stage four will feature another technically advanced packhouse and bin curing room, 17 CA stores and four additional cool stores.
- The commissioning of a packhouse purpose-built for Gold kiwifruit.
- Temperature and humidity will be carefully controlled inside the packhouse to preserve the fruit quality as it moves through the facility and out of controlled atmosphere environments. This will ensure there's no humidity or sweating on the fruit giving the ability to extend shelf life.
- A grading machine that uses Global Scan, the latest version of camera grading with pinpoint accuracy.
- On-site laboratory can test for fruit pressure, Brix, pests and colour pre-harvest, while its Near Infrared (NIR) grading technology recovers a portion of fruit, which has failed to meet Zespri's dry matter requirements.