T&G Global chief executive Gareth Edgecombe:

‘COVID pandemic could put NZ horticulture out in front’

T&G has had to innovate fast to overcome upheavals caused by the Covid-19 crisis, but the abrupt changes have seen some benefits too, said chief executive Gareth Edgecombe.

The start of lockdown in late March couldn’t have come at a worse time for T&G Global. It was peak season for harvesting, packing and shipping its produce, particularly apples, its main crop, to consumers at home and abroad.

Deemed an essential service it was fully open for business. But it had to innovate fast to overcome upheavals caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

“Right from day one all of our main operations have continued,” says Gareth Edgecombe, its chief executive. “But significant change, and the abruptness of change, was a lot to get used to. We had quite a drop in productivity initially but we found ways to improve it.”

Worried that normal container shipping services might be disrupted, for example, T&G made its first-ever ship charter. The vessel, loaded with containers of apples it picked up at Nelson and Napier, is on its way to Europe now. The shipping cost per carton is slightly higher than scheduled container services, but chartering is bringing supply chain benefits which T&G will explore for next season.

Responding to the crisis, T&G’s 3000 staff here and aboard have become better connected and more engaged, Edgecombe says. They’ve learnt now to “cut to the centre of issues quickly,” to make and act on decisions with less than full information, and to meet short-term demands while working on longer term needs of the business.

“The great discovery for us is how remarkable the benefits have been to productivity, connection and moving the business forward.” Staff and company are determined to build on these gains with pace and agility as life becomes somewhat less pressured, he says.

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