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Pictured in the 2700 sq m cool store (L–R): Eastland Port general manager Andrew Gaddum, NZ Fruits director Trevor Lupton, managing director David Fox, chief financial officer Kent McGregor, and Eastland Port contracts project manager Mark Richards

From vine to vessel

Container export of kiwifruit is a step closer for Gisborne’s leading packhouse NZ Fruits, now that it leases an Eastland Port cool store.

“With kiwifruit cool storage now an option at the port, the region is strategically placed to export more kiwifruit than ever before,” says NZ Fruits managing director David Fox. “If it was a container port, we would use containers as well,” he adds. “At the moment, the kiwifruit that leaves Eastland Port is shipped out in pallets via reefer vessels only because there’s no container facility in Gisborne.”

Other fruit destined for smaller markets has to be trucked to Port of Tauranga and put in containers there. “Ultimately, NZ Fruits would prefer to be dealing with our container share through Eastland Port,” says Mr Fox.

There are also environmental reasons for wanting to move more export from Eastland Port, he adds. “One ship taking away 1000 pallets (or tonnes) of kiwifruit is equivalent to 41 trucks between Gisborne and Tauranga.” 

New Zealand’s shortest supply chain

Starting in early March, Gisborne’s kiwifruit crop is the earliest in New Zealand to be harvested. This year, local crops yielded 13,000 tonnes – up about 20% on last year. Half of it was packed by NZ Fruits.

Temperature-regulated storage space in the region is in short supply, says Mr Fox. “We’re thrilled to have signed a lease with Eastland Port for the use of its cool store facility to enable export of our horticultural products.”

The new arrangement, which has seen an old meat freezer retrofitted with state-of-the-art refrigeration facilities, has created what is possibly New Zealand’s shortest supply chain for kiwifruit. “In some cases, getting the product from vine to vessel may be only two days and 10 km,” says Mr Fox.

Last year, NZ Fruits processed 1.5 million trays of kiwifruit, with 850,000 trays leaving the region on four ships. 

With the growth in the local kiwifruit industry coupled with the release of more licences to grow the SunGold variety, NZ Fruits is looking to increase that to 2.5 million trays from existing growers over the next five years. 

“It’s important NZ Fruits can get its fruit efficiently to market. We prefer to use Eastland Port rather than trucking the fruit to Tauranga,” says Mr Fox. “Portside cold store facilities are so valuable, and not just for us. With fruit also being packaged in Opotiki, that product could be shipped through Eastland Port too. It’s cost-neutral which makes the port and our cool store strategically placed to attract fruit from the Bay of Plenty for shipping.”

Supporting customers’ needs

Eastland Port commercial manager Hayden Green says containerisation from the port is the goal. He says the port finds itself amid thriving economic activity throughout Tairawhiti, and is responding by supporting the relevant industries with transport infrastructure that increases supply chain resilience while reducing cost and time to market. 

“We’re underway with growth and expansion projects, and improving and creating underlying infrastructure, enabling a greater range of products to be exported,” he notes. “When coastal shipping and containerisation opportunities arise, we’re keen to support customers’ supply chain needs.”

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