Kiwi Produce – exemplifying everything Kiwi
From an interview with Geoff Oliver (pictured on far right, with wife Nicky Oliver, receiving the Bennetts Proactive Supreme Award from Lance)
Arriving at Kiwi Produce’s packhouse in Paengaroa is like a breath of fresh air. Surrounded by flowering trees and lush orchards in the full bloom of summer weather, the packhouse staff are a friendly bunch, and greet me with big smiles and words of welcome. Even owners Geoff and Nicky Oliver’s black lab Molly wags her tail in greeting. Displayed proudly at the front desk, amongst other awards, are the two recently won Te Puke Business Excellence Awards 2016; the Bennetts Proactive Supreme Award, and the Zespri Agriculture/Horticulture/Industrial Award. Standing within the bustling packhouse, it is my job to find out more about what makes this business such a stand out.
Talking to Geoff, I get the background of how they got here. The couple built up this business themselves from nothing. Thirty years ago, Geoff and Nicky planted the kiwifruit themselves during the day, whilst packing kiwifruit at night. At that stage, the packhouse was a small shed, which also doubled as their home – with their first child sleeping in a cot in a small room off the main packing area. “Our children grew up with the business,” says Geoff. “They all had their turn picking and packing. They learnt some great life skills and earned a bit of pocket money as well.”
The children have all grown up and left home now, and the business has also come a long way. Long gone are the sleeping quarters, and after more than fourteen extensions the packhouse now includes multiple packing and office areas, eight coolstores, packing and storage rooms, plus meeting and lunch rooms, and employs up to sixty staff during peak packing season. In addition, in the local area surrounding the packhouse are the eleven orchards which Geoff and Nicky manage. And unlike some packhouses, Kiwi Produce are operational twelve months of the year; as well as packing kiwifruit, the company takes advantage of their facilities during the fruit’s offseason by also packing avocadoes, feijoas, kiwiberry, citrus, passionfruit and other subtropical fruits. What started as a little family business is certainly not little anymore.
An array of products Kiwi Produce’s innovation is responsible for cover the board room table. They are for both local and international markets, and include products like dried gold and green kiwifruit, kiwifruit jams and conserves, frozen fruit products, prepacked punnets of kiwifruit in various sizes, and even a kiwifruit spoon (the KiwiScoop) designed by Kiwi Produce to make eating kiwifruit and other fruit much easier. They also offer fruit packs delivered to local businesses, under the brand KiwiFresh Direct.
As Geoff talks about the products, it is clear that his passion for kiwifruit is equally matched with that of innovation. “I especially enjoy product development – the thinking of what is possible and what will work in different markets,” explains Geoff. Indeed, this is reflected in their decision to process only class 2 and 3 kiwifruit. “Class 1 kiwifruit is (necessarily) very standardised, with strict guidelines about sizing and packaging for export. We find class 2 and 3 more interesting, as we have more leeway to adapt different types of packaging, processing, and other ways of presenting the fruit to the customer. There is more room for innovation.”
When talking to Nicky about her role in the business these days, she laughs and says good-naturedly; “my role is mostly to keep Geoff under control.” She explains; “I do accounts work, but mostly Tracey (their long-time Sales Manager) and I work with Geoff to make his ideas happen.”
Tracey Jamieson’s seventeen year tenure at Kiwi Produce is reflective of that of many of their staff. Geoff explains that, like Tracey, many of their staff are long-standing members of the company; “our Packhouse Manager, Keith Batten, has also been an integral part of our team for fifteen years”. And indeed, from the welcome at the front door, to the greetings called out from staff as I was being shown around the premises – it did feel very like a family company – encompassing everyone from the staff to the resident dog.
In the same way that a business is all about the people who embody it, Geoff believes that everyone’s role in the community is important, and that we all must do our part. “We have a real focus on supporting local Te Puke businesses.” Not only are Kiwi Produce sponsors of Maketu and Eastern Region Coastguard, but Geoff is an active member of Maketu Coastguard himself. “I do it because one day it will be a member of our staff who is out there (in the water) in trouble.”
As well as Coastguard, Kiwi Produce also supports IHC, Paengaroa School, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, Maketu Fire Brigade and Variety Club. And this culture of community involvement, and looking after people, has clearly filtered from the top down; the walls of the staff room are adorned with leaflets and messages about Christmas foodbank donations and earthquake appeals that team members have put up.
With my visit to Kiwi Produce at an end, it is very apparent how deserving this Paengaroa packhouse is of the coveted Bennetts Proactive Supreme Award at the Te Puke Business Excellence Awards. For them, business is clearly about enjoyment of the job and the people they work with. Because of their passion for kiwifruit, product development, and people, this has translated into a thriving business with a great culture, which produces a stellar array of innovative products for local and international markets. This company certainly puts the ‘Kiwi’ attitude into produce.
For more, see our earlier post: Kiwi Produce wins Bennetts Proactive Supreme Award