The global success of Rockit™ apples has led to a $17 million investment into land development and a state-of-the-art food packaging facility in Havelock North. Minister for Economic Development, Hon. Steven Joyce officially opened the new multi-million dollar food facility this month.
Havelock North Fruit Company managing director Phil Alison said world-wide consumer demand, which is up 700% from 2013, has proved a fruit such as an apple can be marketed as “a premium snack food.” He explains: “We’ve packaged miniature apples into tubes and created a premium price snack food, rather than apples that sit in a box at the supermarket. I had a vision to create a global retail brand and through government support and investor funding we now have global license arrangements in over 30 territories and are blasting Rockit™ apples to the world,” Alison said.
Eighty seven people are employed at the environmentally sustainable and energy efficient Rockit™ food packaging facility in Havelock North and on 153 hectares of orchards throughout Hawke’s Bay.
In the last six months Alison has appointed over 20 fulltime staff at the head office in roles such as finance, sales and marketing, logistics, facility management and project management. Over 90 seasonal staff have been employed as post-harvest technicians, a new role, Alison hopes will also lead to careers within the sector. Havelock North Fruit Company partnered with EIT Hawke’s Bay and Ministry of Social Development to develop a pre-employment course, which has provided jobs for more than 20 previously unemployed locals.
In 2004 Havelock North Fruit Company Managing Director Phil Alison saw an opportunity with a new variety, called PremA96 at the time, which no other grower or fruit marketer could see. He says: “I wanted to create a premium food brand that wouldn’t look out of place in display at the checkout counter as a healthy alternative to chocolate and chips. Obesity is a major health issue and by packaging the apple in a tube and creating some excitement around the brand, it’s now a formidable alternative.”
Rockit™ apples are marketed in six tube sizes; a three piece, four piece, three versions of five pieces and a six piece and are available in supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom, fresh produce stores in Taiwan and across USA and Asia as well as New Zealand supermarkets and boutique food stores.
Original development work was instigated by Plant and Food Research and Prevar, which develops new apple and pear varieties. Alison said to meet growing demand he needed additional expertise and funding. Rockit™ received Government support from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise for market development and Callaghan Institute for technical support for growing techniques and post-harvest storage.
He then also raised money via Tauranga-based Enterprise Angels. “There is no angel organisation in Hawke’s Bay, so I went to Tauranga and pitched to some funding angels and some liked what I had and could see the same opportunities,” says Alison
Some investors were appointed to the board of Havelock North Fruit Company, providing valuable expertise in governance, finance, law, product development and technology advancements.
Alison says significant growth is forecasted over the next five years with more key innovations planned in-line with the current company strategy. “It is very true to say that the opportunities are larger now than ever before. Rockit™ will push the boundaries and intends to ‘shake-up’ the ‘Healthy Snack Market’ globally,” he says.