A new state-of-the-art coolstore facility at Eastland Port in Gisborne means the container export of kiwifruit is a step closer for the region.
Local packhouse NZ Fruits is to lease the new coolstore, which has seen an old meat freezer retrofitted.
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The company packs kiwifruit, citrus, mandarins and persimmons for export and domestic markets, and employs 50 permanent and 250 seasonal staff during the key packing period of March to June.
NZ Fruits managing director David Fox said with cool storage now an option at the port, the region was strategically placed to export more kiwifruit than ever before.
"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. If that was a container port, we would use containers as well."
Other fruit destined for smaller markets had to be trucked to the Port of Tauranga and put in containers.
"Ultimately NZ Fruits would prefer to be dealing with our container share through Eastland Port."
He said there were also environmental reasons for wanting to move more export from Eastland Port.
"One ship taking away 1000 pallets (or tonnes) of kiwifruit is equivalent to 41 trucks between Gisborne and Tauranga."
Starting in early March, Gisborne's kiwifruit crop is the earliest in New Zealand to be harvested. This year local crops are expected to yield 13,000 tonnes, half of which is packed by NZ Fruits.
Fox said temperature regulated storage space in the region was in short supply.
"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 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 kilometres."
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 licenses 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."
He said port side cold store facilities were also very valuable for the surrounding horticulture industry.
"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 coolstore strategically placed to attract fruit from the Bay of Plenty for shipping."