The post-harvest sector’s role in the NZ kiwifruit industry

The NZ kiwifruit industry has at its heart over 2000 growers who produce world-class kiwifruit for export to the world. Zespri markets this fruit worldwide on behalf of growers, but an essential part of the industry sits between Zespri and growers.

The post-harvest sector meticulously packs and cool stores the fruit, sometimes for many months, to ensure the highest quality outcomes for growers. Though it may sound straightforward, this process is, in fact, a marvel of precision and care. Dealing with a living, breathing product that is constantly changing and maturing requires a level of expertise and dedication that is truly impressive.

Unlike Zespri’s activities, the post-harvest sector is not regulated, so there is active competition between post-harvest entities, ensuring a competitive price for growers. This competition, far from being a hindrance, is a testament to the sector’s resilience and commitment to delivering the best outcomes for growers.

Discover why the post-harvest sector is the unsung hero of the NZ Kiwifruit industry, playing a pivotal role in ensuring that only the finest, top-quality fruit reaches the global market.

Delivery logistics

The process of getting our kiwifruit to where it needs to be involves a network of trucks nationwide, particularly in the Bay of Plenty. Some growers take on this task themselves, while others rely on the crucial services of logistics companies, highlighting their significant role in the industry.

From March until June, you will see bins of kiwifruit being transported to the packhouses fresh from harvest on the orchard. Through to November, you can see kiwifruit being delivered in refrigerated transport or containers from the cool stores to the port where it is entrusted to Zespri to export and market it. Most kiwifruit is exported through the Port of Tauranga to around 50 countries!

Kiwifruit packed among other fruits

Packing and storing

Kiwifruit is carefully graded for quality and defects, packed into packaging according to size, and labelled as ready to be delivered to the market. The technology involved in this process is not just impressive. It’s astounding and continuously evolving. From increasingly sophisticated grading cameras to near-infrared technology that allows operators to see defects within the fruit, packing systems are now highly evolved and automated.

This means that jobs within the packhouse are becoming more skilled, with systems less reliant on unskilled labour. Robots often complete Palletisation and product movement in the more sophisticated packhouse operations, a clear indication of the industry’s commitment to technological advancement.

Cool storage is not just about loading pallets of fruit into a cool store. Cool stores are also increasingly automated, with some being run completely by robotics, and no people are required to move the pallets around. EastPack completed the first of these, a five-high cool store, meaning pallets are stacked on racking up to 14 meters high.

As the volume of Sun Gold kiwifruit increases, more innovative solutions are required to manage the fruit’s peak. Controlled Atmosphere or CA storage is one of those solutions. Traditionally used for bin storage of green kiwifruit before packing, various post-harvest companies are trialing ways to bin store Sun Gold kiwifruit to manage the crop’s peak, and some even improve storage outcomes for the fruit.

During cool storage, fruit is closely monitored to ensure the best storage outcome, allowing fruit to be shipped many months after it is packed. Kiwifruit is checked for quality before loading out to make sure that our customers and consumers in the markets get the best fruit possible.

Our company, Tirohanga Fruit, is a shareholder of the EastPack Limited cooperative, New Zealand’s largest post-harvest entity, with world-class packing and cool storage facilities that offer a quality service to give growers the best possible return for their fruit.

The importance of cooperatives to the kiwifruit industry

In New Zealand, we are big on cooperatives, and I believe that is because we embrace the old-fashioned Kiwi way of doing things for the common good. It is also great business and great for our economy.

According to the 2021 PWC New Zealand Co-operative Economy Report, the top 30 cooperatives in NZ contribute approximately 13% of NZ’s GDP, compared to Australia, where their top 30 contribute 1.3% to their GDP. They also state that in a country of five million, 1.5 million are members of those top 30 cooperatives and 75% of all cooperatives in NZ are in the primary industries.

Cooperatives are some of NZ’s most enduring and sustainable business enterprises, operating according to cooperative values and principles. Committed to the growth and empowerment of their people and the communities they operate in, they look for sustainable ways to make a profit in our increasingly volatile world. They embody resilience, keep environmental and social responsibility at the heart of their business, and promote a long-term approach.

two hanging kiwifruit

The role of cooperatives in the kiwifruit industry

So, what place do they have in the kiwifruit industry? Cooperatives make a significant contribution to the economy of the Bay of Plenty, but what is so special about them?

They exist for the benefit of the owner members or shareholders, and profits are returned to those shareholders, ensuring profits stay within the community. Shareholders invest their money into assets where they are actively supplying fruit and have control over the business. The idea is that together, we are stronger than when we act alone.

Zespri Group Limited

Zespri Group Limited is NZ’s third-largest cooperative, according to the 2021 PWC report, and operates under cooperative principles despite not technically being a cooperative in the true sense of the word, as currently shareholding isn’t compulsory to supply Zespri.

It is 100% owned by past and present growers and is grower-controlled, with grower suppliers voting for key decisions and appointing the five Grower Directors on the Board.

Zespri is currently working to align shareholding better to supply. The core values of guardianship, personal connections, and results-driven demonstrate Zespri’s purpose to help people, communities, and the environment thrive through the goodness of kiwifruit.

EastPack Limited

EastPack Limited is a 100% grower-owned cooperative that has become the largest player in the postharvest sector of the NZ kiwifruit industry. According to the 2021 PWC report, it is number 21 among the top 30 cooperatives by revenue.

It is governed by a Board comprising six grower directors elected through a democratic process by grower shareholders and up to three independent directors appointed by the Board.

Working for the growers that own it, the cooperative focuses on delivering a quality service and maximising the return to growers for their fruit. Consistently innovating for efficiency and performance to minimise the impact of increasing cost pressures to deliver the best outcomes for its grower shareholders, EastPack truly has its growers at heart.

Tirohanga Fruit’s mission

At Tirohanga Fruit Company, we are not just proud shareholders and suppliers of EastPack and Zespri. We are dedicated to upholding the cooperative spirit that strengthens our kiwifruit industry.

Join us in supporting sustainable practices, empowering our communities, and driving the success of our industry. Our mission is to look after our people and the land while growing great quality food products and providing value for our stakeholders

Together, let’s cultivate a brighter future for New Zealand’s kiwifruit sector.