Up and Up the Kiwifruit Ladder
How one practical learner left school and has worked his way up to become Coolstore Operations Manager at Mpac.
By Casey Vassallo
Nik Cavill hit a point in Seventh Form where he’d dread the day ahead – so he secured himself a kiwifruit packhouse job with Mount Pack & Cool (Mpac) and left Mount Maunganui College.
“I knew it was a job where they always needed people,” Nik says of the kiwifruit industry. “I ended up sticking with it.”
Nik began stacking boxes on night shift in March 2010, working 50 hours and six days a week.
The physical work appealed to him because, like many, Nik is a practical, hands-on learner, which ultimately aligned with the kiwifruit industry’s foundations.
“I learn things by doing things, not hearing or reading them,” he says.
Today, the 27-year-old is Mpac’s Coolstore Operations Manager. This year marks his 11th with the company – one of New Zealand’s most technologically advanced and efficient postharvest companies.
But it took a lot of hard work, commitment and motivation to get there.
After Nik’s first season, he went on Work and Income between gigs but returned to Mpac the following season to pick up where he left off.
This time though, alongside stacking, he took on more responsibilities, looking after fruit cassettes that label fruit, and sticking his hand up for anything that needed doing, including customer labelling, staying late, and helping new stackers understand the processes.
Nik then stayed on to do the repack season, which typically runs from June through to November.
“The company saw my commitment, and that’s how I started making steps toward obtaining permanent work,” Nik says.
Unfortunately, the work came to a halt when he got sick and had to take a few months off. As his body wasn’t yet ready to get back into manual labour, Mpac got him doing Electronic Data Inventories (EDI) (pallet carding each pallet with its own identity, batch changes and grower changes) for a few months until he was back on his game.
“It would have been easy enough to replace me, but Mpac saw my potential and offered me light-duty work,” he says.
“After that, I started working in the coolstore as a forklift driver and officially became a permanent employee.”
Nik ended up driving forklifts for over four years and obtained his CCP6 authorised training to load trucks and containers, and approve paperwork.
“From there, I stepped up again and started running the receipt of all the kiwifruit bins coming in from the orchard and started looked after all the Controlled Atmosphere (CA) rooms,” Nik says.
CA rooms are where picked fruit is stored in low oxygen (2%) with carbon dioxide (2% to 5%, depending on variety), which “puts the fruit to sleep, and keeps it living for longer.”
He became the go-to at Mpac’s Aerodrome Road site, running the yard for three years before being offered the Coolstore Operations Manager position, which meant taking on the company’s new Tauriko site too.
“They had the advert out there, but I never thought of applying for it until one of the bosses at Mpac asked me one day if I was interested in taking on the job,” Nik says.
After consulting with partner Maria (and mother to their four-year-old son, Martin) about the next step up in his career, and the further commitment it would require, he decided to take the job.
“It’s quite a busy role, but I enjoy a challenge,” he says. “Since I stepped into this position, I’ve created a pretty good core team of guys and girls.”
A typical day at ‘the office’ is non-stop for Nik. He’s always on the move and checking things are getting done.
“I still jump on the machinery and load trucks and containers when we’re short on numbers. I try to keep a consistent flow, with everything running as smoothly as I can,” he says.
Each season is different too, with new challenges and an ever-increasing amount of fruit.
“The first month of a new season is always fun,” Nik says. “You’ve got little hiccups here and there until any new staff understand how the site operates.”
“With the way the company is going, I can only see myself going up and up, taking on more and more,” he says of his future at Mpac.
“There’s a big future here, and that will only continue as the industry is growing rapidly, especially with SunGold kiwifruit.”
And with development and expansion comes job opportunities.
“I started by lifting boxes and proved I was capable of doing other things,” he says.
“Since I’ve been [at Mpac], I’ve been very well looked after. Jan Benes, the Managing Director, has always stood beside me and pushed me – I learn from him daily.”
Nik now passes on what he’s learnt to his team and regularly shares his story to show just where they can go if they apply the same work ethic.
“For someone that’s quite green or never been in a packhouse, they probably don’t realise how busy it can actually get,” he says.
“It’s a very fast-paced industry, so it’s not for someone who wants to lounge around,” Nik laughs. “But you’re never too young or old to learn, and there’s nothing to lose.”