New era packhouse takes shape at The Lakes

Mpac Directors Steve Saunders, Craig Lemon and Jan Benes look over the plans for the company’s packhouse with site manager Karl Smith from Form Construction.

The most efficient and technologically advanced greenfield packhouse to be built in the Bay of Plenty for years is now nearing completion at The Lakes near Tauranga.

The leading-edge facility, built by Mount Pack & Cool Ltd (known as Mpac), is described as a “triumph of technology and design” and will support the Bay’s booming kiwifruit industries. It will also fuel competition among local post-harvest operators to offer the best possible service, facilities and pack price to growers.

Mpac managing director Jan Benes has personally overseen the design with the aim of creating the most efficient packing line possible. Once complete, it will almost double the company’s capacity, allowing it to pack 10 million trays of kiwifruit per season.

“Our new packhouse sits on an elevated 65,000m² site adjacent to SH29 – it’s the biggest single site in the entire Lakes development and puts us in a prime position to look after our current growers and cater for the forecast growth that lies ahead.”

Smart design

The new packhouse will cover an area of 25,000m² and will feature a packaging conveyer running directly above the fruit packing line to keep everything close together, but discreetly out of the way.

“Health and safety is also a key consideration in our design. Our staff will be kept away from machinery and mobile plant, and our forklifts will move in a single direction to avoid collisions,” Jan says.

Over a dozen Frenchmen arrived on site to install a state-of-the-art MAF Roda packing line and other related equipment. The family-owned French company is renowned for its advanced technology and reliability and was the first-choice supplier. “The new packing lines will consist of an eight-lane and two-lane sizer, both incorporating the latest Globalscan Electronic Sorting systems. The eight-lane machine will incorporate Near Infared Technology,” says Jan.

“We have future-proofed our plant design so new technology can be added on as it becomes available without having to reconfigure or modify our set-up.”

Construction of the new facility has been split into two stages, both of which will soon be finished.

Stage one comprises multiple new coolstores, pre-coolers, a plant room, electrical switchboard room, forklift charging area, transformer bay, loadout office, container loading dock and charter vessel loadout canopy.

Huge efficiencies

Stage two features new controlled-atmosphere coolstores, packing area, mezzanine floor for packaging storage and construction, office area, staffroom, two lifts, a bin tip area, a bin curing area and a delivery canopy.

“Everything is optimised, and all movements have been minimised, to create huge efficiencies which will allow us to deliver top quality fruit and sharp pack prices,” says Jan.

“Most packhouses are smoking hot in March and freezing in May. But this packhouse will have a controlled temperature from end-to-end which will eliminate problems caused by humidity such as fruit labels not adhering properly.

“We’ll also have a 1600m² curing room which can hold 6000 bins. Other operators store their freshly picked fruit under a canopy for a couple of days but we will cure ours in a controlled environment where heat and humidity won’t affect their condition.”

Environmentally friendly

The entire site will run on extremely low levels of energy. “Our new refrigeration technology will be twice as efficient as what we have at present and it will also be more environmentally-friendly. This packhouse is phase one of our Lakes development and we’re considering installing solar panels and a rainwater catchment in our future stages.”

Site works began in June last year and around 60 builders and tradesmen from construction company, Form Construction, have been working hard on site over summer.

Form Construction site manager Karl Smith says approximately 850 tonnes of structural steel and 7000m³ of concrete will be used in the build.

Mother Nature has already thrown a few challenges into the mix, including heavy rain and high humidity in early February. But industrial fans, heaters and tarpaulins were all put to good use to dry out and finish the packing area in time for the new MAF Roda machine to be installed.

“We’re currently on track to deliver early access to vital operational areas required for processing to start in accordance with this year’s fruit season,” Karl says. “As a company we are very proud to be associated with a build that will be a world-class facility in the kiwifruit industry.”

Up and running

Once the new packhouse is open and fully commissioned, Mpac will vacate its current site on Aerodrome Road. Jan says all staff will transfer over and the operation will immediately be up and running – no extra staff are required and everyone’s already fully trained.

Until then, Mpac’s Aerodrome Road packhouse will continue to run as normal so there is no risk to growers if construction is delayed for any reason.

“Our staff are looking forward to the move and have had a huge input into the new design – from its configuration to the decor. Our new central location should still allow us to attract seasonal staff who won’t have to travel out to Katikati or Te Puke to find work,” he says.

In October last year Mpac announced a merger with several other well-respected players in the kiwifruit industry in order to unlock a set of commercial synergies in preparation for the forecast growth that lies ahead.

Mpac, along with Auckland Pack & Cool Ltd, GroPlus and PollenPlus have all been amalgamated under a single ‘umbrella’ company but all will continue to operate under their individual trading names.

Collectively, the new amalgamated company currently packs 9.2 million trays of kiwifruit, and manages 560 hectares of privately-owned and leased kiwifruit orchards.

Jan says MPAC’s new Lakes facility signals a strong commitment to the kiwifruit industry, and to growing the company’s post-harvest market share.

“We’re confident this will be the most efficient packhouse in the Bay of Plenty. It’s been exciting to see the physical building emerge and we’re looking forward to it meeting the future needs of all our clients.”


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