Innovative New Zealand apple company Rockit Global Limited is expanding into Gisborne.
The company is planting 20 hectares of its miniature Rockit apple variety this year and says this will create at least 20 jobs.
Rockit Global Limited (RGL) partnered with landowners in the Bushmere and Manutuke areas to plant the variety.
About three hectares was put in last year. More trees will be planted in late winter-early spring.
The move north of its Hawke's Bay base comes amid an exponential growth period for the company, which packs over 100 million apples a year from its new global headquarters and state-of-the-art packhouse in Hastings.
“With export markets crying out for increased supply of the sweet snack-sized apple and a need to manage the risk associated with having most of its orchards in one region, we went hunting for fertile new ground to break, and found it in Tairawhiti,” said Chris Hurrey, the general manager of Rockit Management Services (RMS).
“We have 40,000 RMS-managed trees ready to go in the ground this winter, filling 20 hectares just minutes from the city centre.”
“In New Zealand, we're prone to adverse weather events and environmental factors. It's important to diversify our crop and spread our risk across several sites.
“Due to the slight difference in climate, establishing an orchard in Gisborne also allows us to provide early fruit to export markets hungry for access to our product as soon as it's available.”
The 20 hectares already earmarked for Rockit was just the beginning, Mr Hurrey said.
“The company has signed up a further 45 hectares where Rockit apples will be planted this year to be managed by independent growers.
“We've been delighted with the support we have received from the region's growers.”
Mr Hurrey says growing conditions in the region are perfect for Rockit.
“Each growing area has different characteristics but we're expecting ripe, sweet fruit with good colour.
“Gisborne is a proven horticultural region — one we're excited to be a part of.”
Rockit's newest orchard will create a raft of senior and mid-level roles as well as a large number of seasonal roles, Mr Hurrey says.
“We're in the early stages of establishing a management team but we'll also need orchard workers. This will open up a lot of opportunities for seasonal labour, as well as full-time staff.”
Finding a skilled orchard manager is a priority.
“We're looking for someone who is great at working independently, self-motivated and disciplined — a person with a high level of horticultural experience. This is a prime opportunity for the right person.”
Gisborne fruit will be packed at Te Ipu, Rockit's 21,000 sqm packhouse and coolstore in Hastings.
“But if we get enough volume, we may look at establishing a second packhouse in Gisborne or Wairoa.”
Millions of tubes of Rockit apples — the globally trademarked name for the PremA96 miniature apple variety — leave New Zealand bound for 30 countries across the United States, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
“The brand is associated with flavour, colour and convenience, and is sold internationally in grocery stores, vending machines and even amusement parks,” Mr Hurrey says.
By 2025, Rockit expects to be picking and packing well over 400 million apples annually.
RGL chief executive Mark O'Donnell says developing new orchards, not just in New Zealand but around the globe, will continue as demand for Rockit apples grows
“A move into Tairawhiti helps support our growth but it's also a chance to put down roots in one of New Zealand's most beautiful regions.
“There's so much energy, innovation and enthusiasm in Gisborne, and it's already attracting an influx of highly-skilled people from around the country looking for a family-friendly lifestyle and more sunshine hours.
“It's really exciting to expand our business into Gisborne, thanks to the support of local growers, and we are thrilled to become part of the story.”