In the first ever NZ harvest where the volume of SunGold kiwifruit has surpassed that of Hayward green, nearly 1200 staff at Trevelyans have worked longer hours each shift to help the packhouse through the season’s peak.
General manager James Trevelyan says to cope with fruit volumes at peak harvest in April-May – amid the declared labour shortage in the Bay of Plenty – he asked the staff to work longer hours so they could keep their scheduled days off.
“We usually run 10 shifts in a 20-hour period and this season we’ve run eight shifts – as we didn’t have the numbers for the last two shifts.
James says the kiwifruit industry is changing very quickly and his company is looking at how it can wisely improve efficiencies in both labour and infrastructure.
“During the last two years our company has invested more than $12 million into our plant at Te Puke to meet future demand.
“The bulk of that money has gone into coolstorage, software development and trial work on how to deal with the increase volume of fruit that is coming.”
James says their major challenge is managing the two weeks of peak volume of SunGold fruit each season.
“We could have spent $12m and built another packhouse – but when you only need it for two weeks the investment didn’t seem wise.
“There’s an old saying from a Japanese friend of mine that you’ve ‘got to use your mind before you use your money’. So how do you solve this in another way?”
Instead it was decided the money would be better spent on aiming to smooth the demand curve of fruit requiring packing in such a short time period.
“So the investment has been on development of a concept where we’re trying to increase people’s work rate and remove the peak of the curve of fruit requiring packing immediately.
“What we’ve done with Hayward fruit is taken the highs and lows out of packing demand – and given staff a smoother, more consistent rate of work.”
Now they’re trying to do the same with SunGold fruit by coolstoring fruit and packing it at a later date – to smooth the demand curve and keep workers in continuous employment.
“The major issue is the labelling of SunGold fruit. Zespri requires 90 per cent of fruit packed is labelled.”
So since last season a clear plastic barrier has cordoned off an area of the packhouse – and refrigeration units stationed outside pump cool, drier air into the ‘bubble’ so gold fruit can be sent through to be labelled inside the area without a dew forming on the skin.
“When you pull fruit out of coolstorage and it’s been sitting at a low temperature on a muggy day, moisture will form on the fruit surface,” says James.
“When you stick a label on a Hayward fruit – the label actually sticks to the fur. With SunGold having no fur, this doesn’t work. Hence, we struggle to hit those 90 per cent labelling rates. So the investment has been playing around with – how do you make this work?
“We we’re doing trials with Hort16A years back but now we’ve got serious about it with SunGold. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands last season trying to solve this – and about another $600,000 this season.
“Now we’ve got a feel for where we’re going – on a busy week we’ll tuck fruit away in a coolstore and now [in mid-May] when SunGold has just about finished and Hayward is not quite ready to pack we’ll open the coolstore doors and just run the fruit through [to label and pack it].
“This allows us flexibility with how we provide continuous employment for staff but also with the end-product as well – if we have quality concerns we can advance the shipping of the fruit.”
With the industry volumes forecast to rise to 115 million trays of SunGold in the next five years, James says Trevelyans could potential be packing 11 million trays of that volume.