Longview Packhouse

April 2009

An apple packhouse is rebuilt with fully integrated sorting and packing

This is a phoenix story about a packhouse which was burnt to the ground in 2005, and built from scratch with really high-tech gear including cameras and a stacking robot

Michael Caccioppoli’s father Frank has been orcharding for 30 years on this Longland’s Road site. His father was orcharding just up the road for 20 years before that, and his father, Michael’s great granddad Vicenzo started on the corner of Longland’s Road in the late 1800s. Vicenzo emigrated from Italy.

Before the fire a growers trust owned the coolstores; now the new company combines the packhouse and coolstores into one, and father and son Frank and Michael Caccioppoli, who are NZ born Italians, own 31-32% shareholding in the company. About 50% of the shareholding is made up of growers and there are about 40 shareholders. Now Michael is the site manager, running the shed during the day while Frank, who has a manager on his 29ha of orchards around the packhouse, runs the shed during the evening shift. Wayne has been working in the apple industry since 1982, and has been the general manager here since 2007.

Longview is a mid sized packhouse which exports its own fruit, and it’s a family business which has been corporatized with shareholders. Frank Caccioppoli has been involved in horticulture all his life cropping and growing apples and has a great reputation for packing fruit, winning the Reytemer Shield one year for packing. His orchards surround the shed, and he lives right next door. Michael, his son is around 33, and has an agribusiness degree from Massey with a focus on international trade. He really enjoys the processing side and says: “You wouldn’t catch me out in the orchard for more than a week.”

After the 2005 fire, the packhouse was rebuilt and started again in the 2006 season. It has a six lane pre-sizer, rapid packers and single lane graders. It has a fully integrated Compac computer blemish grading system which uses infrared and colour cameras to take 35 photos of each apple. About 90% of the fruit are graded by the computer cameras, which increases the accuracy of the job. If there are run changes it only takes one skilled person to organize that instead of telling 40 people. This new technology also makes sure packouts are very close to optimal, and Wayne says he gets a good box of fruit to sell. The computer system cost around $1.5million. He says its probably no faster than a conventional shed, but just uses less labour. Longview is the first packhouse to have this fully integrated system.

The packhouse also has a robot stacker for stacking pallets, which Wayne describes as mesmerising. It has moving arms and stacks 90% of the fruit, working through smokos. It cost about a million dollars, and replaced 10 to 15 people. It was built by JMP Engineering in Auckland. “We are the only people in NZ stacking apples with a robot.”

The new packhouse is a good working environment for staff: Wayne says the new technology minimizes labour, and takes out a lot of the difficult and boring jobs like stacking pallets. Instead of 40 people grading, only five people are needed now.

The company employs 200 staff during the season, with nine permanent staff. There are 65 people working per shift, with two shifts, the first from 7-5pm and the second from 5.30-11.30pm. They employ a lot of backpackers.

“It’s a good working shed, staff like working here. We attract a high caliber of staff, and a lot of people come back to work here. It’s quite a happy shed.”

This year all the staff wear name-tags, which makes it a lot easier for everyone. “We get down to that detail.” There’s a cook in the canteen to keep everyone fed.

The packing season runs for five months and they also contract pack as well for one other customer as well as packing their own brand.

Fruit is exported to the UK, the Continent including Germany and France, both the east and west coasts of the USA, and many countries through Asia from Taiwan to India. The only exceptions are Australia and Japan.

And, this season is going very well, the fruit is good quality, and it’s been a good season so far. About 750,000 cartons of fruit are packed from 43,000 bins.

Michael says the industry has had hard times, coming off a peak production of 21m cartons, down to 14.5m cartons. Last year there were 15m cartons produced, and the projections for this season are around 17.4million.

“Our biggest challenge as a processing group is getting supply. We need to grow our supply in the next five years.”