A new building alongside Te Puke Highway, just to the west of town, is one big expensive fridge.

It will also house state-of-the-art technology to make it function as a ''totally lights out'' operation.

The 20m tall building that has been taking shape since November last year is to be EastPack's second fully automated coolstore.

The first, at its Te Puke Quarry Rd site, although larger, is nothing like as prominent.
Eastpack CEO Hamish Simson says the reasons for the Quarry Rd building and the new one at the Collins Lane site are twofold.


''We are increasingly looking at automation to achieve a few outcomes,'' he says. ''We are getting to the point where we have less and less usable land on our sites, so you can't go out any more, you've got to go up, so that was one driver.''

For storage options requiring forklifts, the height limit is the equivalent of three storeys, meaning an automation is needed for anything higher.

''The other driver was, technology's always changing. [The new stores] use a hybrid of a couple of technologies, what we call large robotic cranes which run down and aisle and carry a pallet and put it in a slot and what we call a shuttle so, for very deep racking, the shuttle then picks up the pallet and takes it deep into the racking.

''The two technologies were married together actually not that long ago — two or three years ago, we wouldn't even have considered this as a solution.''

The new building on Te Puke Quarry Rd was the first time the combined technology has been used in the kiwifruit industry. It can hold 1.2 million trays. The new building at Collins Lane will hold a million trays.

''The other thing is, there's quite a lot of innovation in terms of cooling technology. It's very much taking a leading edge using natural refrigerant with a very very low CO2 footprint, so its using very modern refrigerants and it's really really efficient.

Hamish says the success of the technology is highlighted by EastPack's decision to build a second five story coolstore.

''It's always a risk when you try something new - it's going to have its challenges. I'm not saying it had none, that's just the nature of doing new things, but we were really really happy with it and said 'hey, it's time for number 2 and if you look at our other sites, definitely, we will need more coolstore in the future and I'm thinking its a blueprint.


''I'm thinking it wil be the way forward and I think there's a lot of people looking it.
Someone's always got to be first and it's a bit exciting and a lot of fun.

At a cost of around $10 million, the new coolstore represents just a fraction of EastPack's recent investment.

''Over the last four or five years we've spent about $125 million on infrastructure and a lot of that has been spent on the sites close to Te Puke.

There has been massive investment in the Washer Rd plant which was little more than an overflow store five years ago.

''Now that's a site that has two graders in it, one's the largest in the Southern hemisphere - and at a punt it would employ between 500 and 600 people.''

Investment is also set to increase.

''We'll be spending more that what we've spent in the last four year in the next four years by some margin because the growth of gold kiwifruit is ramping up quite significantly.''

The new coolstore is expected to be operational in April.