The fruits of new labour

Last updated 05:00 26/02/2013

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Hi-tech manufacturer Compac is bucking a trend in the New Zealand manufacturing sector, beset by a high and volatile New Zealand dollar, by hiring. 

The fruit and vegetable sorting technology firm, based in Auckland’s Onehunga, is on the hunt for more than 20 staff due to strong growth. Most of the staff are being sought for the company’s head office base, but some will be located in other areas of New Zealand and in offshore markets including Australia and the US. 

“It’s been very difficult for us over recent years. We’re exporters, we face challenges like other companies have. The exchange rate is a major issue for us,” says Compac HR manager Deana Barnard.

“We’ve held our staff numbers pretty steady over the past few years and we’ve really been focusing on getting costs down and getting more efficient. That’s really paid big dividends because now we’re winnning these big orders.” 

The company has a total of around 300 full time staff, including 150 in New Zealand, as well as employees in Australia, North America and China, and via joint ventures.  

The US is the firm’s biggest market, with strong growth also occurring in South America and Asia.

The firm recently installed the world’s largest citrus sorting plant in California, which can pack around 800,000 bags of mandarins a day.

Compac is also due to complete installation of the world’s biggest electronic cherry sorter, also in California, for cherry and apple supplier Prima Frutta in April.

The multimillion-dollar sorter will be able to handle 50,000 cherries a minute.

Compac marketing executive Nathan Soich says because of their small size, cherries are labour intensive to sort manually. Electronic sorting can more accurately sort the fruit for size, shape, softness, blemishes and colour, he says.

“After you get an electronic sorter your proportion of premium fruit in your crop goes up because you’re not throwing stuff away. So it’s all about improving returns,” Soich says.

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