Waikato's BBC Technologies is to build a $14 million new research and development centre and aims to grow its technology team by up to 125 staff in the next three to five years.

An innovator and exporter of technology support for the global small soft fruit industry, the company plans to increase total staff from 175 to 300 in that time, with new technology development to set the pace of growth over manufacturing.

BBC, a regular on the Tin200 annual list in recent years, hopes for a building start on the new 5500sq m centre near Hamilton airport next year, after outgrowing its current headquarters nearby in less than six years. The new build will comprise a 2500sq m R&D base and a 3000sq m manufacturing centre.

Chief executive Geoff Furniss said the impact of Covid-19, "a significant global economic threat", on its overseas customers promised to be the biggest challenge in the next five years.

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"It'll be like learning to run with a limp."

Climate change is a challenge and an opportunity, he said.

"We're seeing farmers being able to operate in new parts of the world with changing genetics and weather patterns."

The company, which employs around 45 people in its offshore markets, is likely to post revenue of around $52m this financial year, up 10 per cent on the previous year despite the pandemic. Nearly 100 per cent of its revenue is from exports to 39 countries and a 60 per cent global market share.

The company invests up to 9 per cent of annual revenue in R&D.

Founded by Waikato's Furniss blueberry farming family in 2000, the technology business of BBC was bought by Norway's Tomra company in 2018.

BBC Technologies chief executive Geoff Furniss. Photo / Supplied
BBC Technologies chief executive Geoff Furniss. Photo / Supplied

The blueberry farming business remains in family ownership with Furniss' father Greg running four farms at Ohaupo south of Hamilton, an operation started in the 80s, and at Ngatea on the Hauraki Plains, in Southland, and a new farm at Waipu in Northland.

Furniss attributes BBC Technologies' growth to an "institutionalised" deep understanding of its customers' needs, particularly that of berry operators, who need to get their product to the consumers on time and in top quality.

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"I think that development process has really resonated with our customers - the right price, the right performance and delivered on time."

Growth on the manufacturing side would be modest.

"The real future of the company is in developing new technology."

Furniss agrees that given the Norwegian buyout, BBC Technologies could base its new growth drive and R&D centre anywhere - barring the Covid-19 limitations.

"Absolutely, but the Waikato has a strong connection with agriculture and horticulture and we have a really good team here. It allows people to have a great quality of life while delivering great technology.

"It's home."

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BBC's berry science programme is ongoing and claims to have compiled the most extensive collection of berry samples and data in the world.

It provides information about berry maturities, growing conditions, seasons and weather conditions to growers around the world.