Rockit Global Limited has unveiled its brand new facility – gifted the name Te Ipu, by local iwi Ngāti Kahungunu – giving the board, shareholders, business partners and dignitaries a first look at the technological innovation within its walls.
Millions of tiny apples will leave the 21,000m2 packhouse, coolstore and global offices - located in Irongate, Hastings - this year, each one packed into the signature Rockit™ apple tubes. With demand continuing to grow exponentially across America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Rockit Global CEO Mark O’Donnell says expansion into a revolutionary, digitally advanced, fit-for-purpose facility was a worthy investment. “This is a magnificent moment for everyone involved with Rockit Global,” says Mark. “It’s not only a place to call home for our hundreds of growers, investors, staff and industry colleagues, it’s an innovation hub and place of ideating, exploring and excelling.”
120 permanent staff work in the building, as well as 300 contractors during the busy harvest season. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a major role in ensuring efficient sorting, packing and storage of the PremA96 miniature apple variety, for which Rockit Global holds the exclusive world rights.
Apples are washed and dried automatically before a specialised conveyor scans the fruit, determining size and colour and checking for any anomalies. Software can also sort the apples into manual or automated packing lines. “Using robotics to pack our apples has significantly grown our capacity,” explains Mark. “Automated packing helps reduce our reliance on finding staff for what have typically been harder roles to fill, and we’re optimising workers’ time.”
This year, he estimates that over 100 million apples will be packed and shipped out of Rockit Global’s headquarters. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “By 2025, we’re expecting that figure to swell to over 400 million apples,” Mark says.
Elsewhere in the packhouse and coolstore, lithium-powered forklifts – rechargeable in just 25 minutes – zoom across the floor carrying pallets of apples. And machinery to manufacture Rockit’s own tubes – a vital component in maintaining the very highest food safety standards for export – sits on the mezzanine. “This means we only manufacture what we need – no waste – and that we can trial innovative new packaging, including promotional and sustainable options.”
Speakers at the opening ceremony, held Tuesday 1 June, included Rockit Global Chairman John Loughlin. He says it was critical to the board that whatever the next step for the organisation globally, its home should remain in New Zealand, and in the Hastings district. “We were founded here, we’ve matured here, and we belong here,” says John. “We are committed to employing from this region, and continuing the legacy we’ve built as an energetic, exciting, forward-focused global business, rooted in Hawke’s Bay and surrounded by the very orchards in which this company began.”
GM Global Marketing, Julian Smith, also revealed fresh branding for Rockit™ apples, explaining that a reimagining of the logo and colour palette helps to widen its appeal overseas. “We’re still instantly recognisable, but we’ve evolved our brand personality, story and position in the market so that we truly stand out,” he says.
A “brave, innovative and cheeky” new logo, packaging and design will roll out globally on 1 July 2021, partnering with heavyweights PacMan (part of the Namco family) in greater China. “We involved the entire company in bringing our new brand to life – it really reflects who we are,” Julian says. “Our goal is to become the world’s most loved apple and we believe our contemporary and appealing new brand will help drive consumer demand in global markets.”
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst and Chairman of Ngāti Kahungunu – Ngahiwi Tomoana – also took key roles in the blessing and opening of the site. Te Ipu, meaning a bowl that provides sustenance, is now the name that the stretch of Irongate Road land, on which Rockit Global sits, will be known.
Mark O’Donnell says it’s an incredibly proud day in Rockit Global’s history. With projections for dynamic year-on-year growth looking to further catapult the Rockit™ brand into new markets – beyond the 30 countries in which the miniature fruit are currently sold – he’s delighted to be leading a talented and enthusiastic team, who are happily settling into their new home.
“We have a number of ambitious projects just around the corner,” he says. “There’s a suite of new on-orchard technology to fully roll out, new countries to access, hundreds of hectares of plantings to facilitate both here and overseas as demand grows, as well as a further expansion of Te Ipu, earmarked for 2023. The footprint of the land should allow us to double the size of our packing area and finished goods storage.
“We are laser focused on the future, and on continuing to extend ourselves and our reach. It’s a truly exciting time for Rockit Global, here at the very forefront of what’s fresh and innovative.”
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