Our New Laboratory in Mt Maunganui is Officially Open!
Last year, Zespri International Limited announced that Hill Laboratories had won a three-year contract to provide maturity clearance services.
The annual kiwifruit harvest is a mammoth task, and each year Zespri contract independent suppliers to carry out fruit maturity clearance services. The purpose of this service is to quickly and accurately determine when the fruit can be harvested – with fruit quality and taste management being an important aspect of measurement.
For the 2021 season, Zespri decided they wanted to build a resilient and reliable service in this area – by bringing in a number of new providers to deliver the work.
This is where Hill Laboratories comes in - their service involves sending sample teams out into the kiwifruit orchards to collect representative samples. With the samples collected, they are transported back to the new Hill Labs laboratory in Mt Maunganui for rapid analysis, where the team are looking for a range of quality-related parameters.
Five months ago, there was no laboratory in Mt Maunganui. This left Hill Labs facing the massive challenge of establishing a new 1000 m2 laboratory in a very short timeframe.
This lengthy process involved securing a site and working through planning and then consenting with the very helpful team at Tauranga City Council. Once approval was granted, work on the fit out began, which included a substantial power upgrade to ensure that 250 kVA from the mains and 350 kVA from a generator could be delivered to support the daily lab operations. Thankfully, the teams at ZB Homes, Bay of Plenty and Eclipse Electrical were there to ensure this all came together seamlessly – always going the extra mile to make it happen.
There was also recruitment to consider – as new staff would be required to handle the increased workload. This process began in October 2020 and only recently concluded in February 2021.
New employment opportunities saw 70 Seasonal Sample Collectors and Team Leaders hired to collect kiwifruit samples from Auckland through to Opotiki, including the Waikato.
45 new VW Tiguans were acquired from the Ebbett Volkswagon team in Hamilton to ensure the Samplers could get to and from the orchards safely and efficiently, and four new vans were also acquired from Ebbett VW and Ebbett Toyota to ferry samples from collection points back to the laboratory. A three-tonne tipper truck has also been purchased and modified, to allow the lab to dispose of the large daily volumes of kiwifruit material leftover following the testing process.
There has also been approximately 150 Seasonal Lab Technicians and Supervisors hired, who will be based at the new laboratory. Many of these hires are students from Mt Maunganui and Papamoa High Schools, who have been employed on a part time basis.
Workloads were considered when hiring students – to guarantee there will be no impact on education, and Hill Labs are assisting students with school drop-offs, as well as providing breakfast for those working the early morning shift before the school day begins.
Alongside all of the physical set-up, there has been a considerable amount of software development across the entire workflow – both field sampling and laboratory testing – along with interfacing the Hills software with Zespri’s new bespoke ‘MCS’ system. This huge task was carried out by the internal team of talented Developers at Hill Labs, who stepped up to the challenge last year when they were required to pivot their focus and take on this vital project.
After months of effort carried out by an incredible team, the laboratory is now open and operating for business.
Jonno Hill, CEO Hill Laboratories, says, ‘This has been the most challenging project we have ever undertaken, and I am thrilled at how well it has gone. Zespri have been great to work with, and our suppliers, in particular ZB Homes BoP, Eclipse Electrical and Ebbett VW have really pulled out all the stops for us under intense time pressure. I was also thrilled at how responsive and supportive Tauranga City Council were during the consenting process – a relationship that was helped through the support of Priority One’.
‘Perhaps most of all, though, I am extremely grateful for the massive effort put in by many hard-working people within the Hill Labs team. This project had the potential to cause substantial disruption within our business, but through the hard work and diligence of many, we have managed to deliver the project on time and within scope - with minimal impact being felt across the rest of the business.
‘Of course, for Brad Stevens and his team centred in the Bay of Plenty, things are only just kicking off in for what is always a very challenging period for maturity clearance service providers at this time of year. It is great to know our operations are in such capable hands, and we all look forward to seeing this new part of our business excel and thrive this year and into the future’.