As a grower, it’s no longer about just growing the best fruit. Consumer and retail demands for safe quality produce is increasing, and produce brands looking to secure 365 day supply are increasing globalization efforts. This means that growers are in a great position to maximize their yield for greater returns. With greater export opportunities, it is vital that you send your fruit to a packhouse that enables you to make the most of these opportunities and allows you to maximize your return.
In this blog, I will discuss some key areas to consider when selecting the right packhouse to send your fruit to.
How does the packhouse ensure the quality of your produce is not downgraded? This is especially vital for more delicate fruit such as apples, kiwifruit, stonefruit and cherries. A piece of fruit is in its best condition at the orchard right before it is picked. Every step in the supply chain from there on has potential to downgrade the quality. A lot of hard work has gone into growing that piece of produce, from pollinating, planting, watering, feeding, thinning, pruning, spraying and harvesting, so you want to ensure your produce is being handled appropriately. All this hard work can go unrewarded if the quality is then deteriorated at the packhouse, leading to your yield and returns suffering as a result. Some growers like to take their produce to the packhouse and perform their own tests to ensure the facility is as gentle as it claims.
Tip: Go to the packhouse and look at the different fruit transfers along the line to ensure the fruit is managed in a delicate manner. Also look at the method of ejection, and make sure there are no high-speed fruit-on-fruit impacts during the ejection process. If you can, run a box of your own fruit across the line and inspect for cuts and bruises.
Capacity and reliability
Capacity and reliability are all important factors when selecting the right packhouse. The packhouse may have the latest technology, but also it’s important to ensure they have the throughput to handle the volumes of fruit that you send them, they are reliable, and their packing lines will be up and running as required. Fruit is a product of nature, and you cannot afford to delay your harvest because the packhouse isn’t ready or available.
Tip: Previous experience is a great indicator of reliability, but do they also maintain their packhouse before the season as well as during? We rely on technology throughout our line and wouldn’t be able to achieve all that we do without it. This technology must be maintained to continue to operate at optimal performance.
Quality and consistency
Do they have the technology that allows the quality of your produce to be measured accurately and consistently? Any high quality fruit that doesn’t make it into the highest paying box is a lost opportunity for both you and the packhouse. New technology is making sure every quality piece of fruit gets into the highest paid pack. Major advancements continue to be made in post-harvest technology, so it’s important to ensure you are benefiting from these advancements. Technology also allows data to be extracted and utilized by the packhouse and growers. Not only is this data allowing packers to find more market opportunities for fruit that traditionally couldn't be put into a box, but it is providing great feedback for growers to see how much of their fruit goes to class 1, 2 or 3 etc. This data is creating additional value for growers as they use it to refine their techniques across the orchard to grow more fruit to the premium standard.
This one is non-negotiable for any food provider. Does the packhouse take food safety seriously, and are they meeting current regulation standards? Have they implemented hygienic design, materials and procedures to ensure that every single piece of produce leaving the facility is safe for the consumer? Brand reputation and trust is vital, and if your fruit is contaminated the whole supply chain is impacted. We all have a responsibility to ensure safe hygiene standards are maintained from the moment the fruit is grown, all the way through to the consumer.
All these factors can add up to an increase in return to the grower. Selecting a packhouse can be a subjective decision, and at the end of the day trust is the most important factor where the relationship should be mutually beneficial to both companies. Once you’ve chosen the right packhouse for you and your fruit, you can focus on growing good quality produce and rest easy knowing that your hard work is being rewarded.