The new Kiepersol-based packhouse was opened in March and has the capacity to pack around 4 million cartons of avocado annually using double shifts.
It complements Koeltehof’s existing packhouse, also based in Kiepersol, which has a capacity of approximately 1.2 million cartons and is currently undergoing a major five-year upgrade, according to company general manager Patrick Caetano.
He explained the company had been expanding at its original packhouse, but rapidly growing levels of production amongst the growers it works with had led to the need for a new facility.
“We’re going to upgrade the existing packhouse and then we’ve built a brand new one which is twice the capacity,” he told Fresh Fruit Portal.
“We’ve got a five-year plan for the upgrade due to the capital outlay on the new packhouse. So we have just started with a few upgrades, but the new one is very high-tech and it’s got all the modern machinery, cool room facilities and dispatching facilities.
He said everything was now running smoothly after the first two months of operation at the new packhouse, and it would be showcased at a launch event this Friday (May 19th).
Avocados are packed from the company’s own 87-hectare farm and 17 other growers, who collectively produce the fruit over around 1,250 hectares.
“They’re looking at probably another 250 hectares over the next one or two years, and a total of 500 hectares over five years,” he said, highlighting the production growth would come in tandem with the upgrade project.
“In the future we would probably be able to do about 5.2-5.5 million cartons should the need arise as we’re going forward with the expansion. Those are our projections based on feasibility studies.”
The improvements at the new packhouse include a larger packline, automatic bin tipper and a high-tech sizer developed in the Netherlands.
“We did look at cameras for the grading but they have not yet been perfected for avocados. Once they are perfected we will do camera sorting, but for now we like to use staff as it’s a way of giving back to the community and creating jobs for them,” he said.
The palletizing station is also automated, reducing the risk of injury to employees as they won’t have to lift heavy loads.
In addition, Caetano said the cool rooms can reduce the temperature of the fruit very quickly, shaving two or three days off the total time from orchard to final destination and increasing marketing opportunities.
Around 80% of avocados packed by Koeltehof are shipped to the European market, with the U.K. as the main destination. The remaining 20% is sold on the domestic market, including through retail chains like Woolworths.
The representative added the South African Avocados Growers’ Association was currently working on gaining access to the U.S. market.
European market ‘panning out’
This year a lack of supply in Europe had led to a “very strong” market and an excellent start to the export deal, he explained.
“That’s why we’re under immense pressure even though we have a new packhouse. But it was good because it made sure we were reaching our goals that we estimated we would reach,” he said.
“The market is now sort of panning out because Peru is starting to come in with very large volumes into that strong market, so it’s going to come down quite a bit.
“But we do cut back now for a while and then as soon as Peru stars going to the States we start pushing again from July onwards.”
He added that attractive markets for avocados were driving a huge increase in avocado plantings in South Africa.
“The trend we have seen is that macadamias used to return a bit more per hectare than the avocados, but now it’s changed over the last two years to such an extent that everyone is considering planting a lot more avocados due to that strong market,” he said.
“I think with Peru continuously sending to the States it opens up a big market for South African fruit in the European market.”