Sunfruit’s new packhouse, the largest of its kind in New Zealand covering 12,500m2, opened in May for commissioning, a month after the official apple season started with the company’s Royal Gala apple harvest already in full harvest.
Sunfruit managing director John Altham said commissioning the plant while harvesting a record crop was a big ask, but to do this while also starting a month later put it to the ultimate test.
The plant has the capacity to pre-size and pack for market two million cartons (100,000 bins) with leading edge New Zealand-first technology featuring electronic sorting and rapid packing robotics from Holland company Greefa.
"It’s certainly been a season to remember and celebrate. Everything came together, but as with anything new, we had to work through teething problems, and there were definitely some long days and nights. The pressure was on," he said.
"We’re embracing an incredibly exciting time in our industry as new automation and robotics come on stream. This is also seeing a transformational change from traditional lower skilled labour, to new higher skilled permanent jobs and more rewarding work," he said.
"Gone are the days when I could walk on to the pack-house floor with a spanner in my pocket ready to basically fix things when machines broke down.
"Now, we’ve got young bright members of our team eager to become technology experts, operating highly sophisticated plant, developing and honing their skills in ways I never imagined when I was their age," he said.