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NZ packhouse technology notches up firsts with asparagus producer

New Zealand fresh produce software provider Radford Software has onboarded leading Australian asparagus producer and distributor Raffa Fields to implement a packhouse system entirely remotely.

Customer success manager Royce Sharplin said the partnership represented two key firsts for Radfords – a move into the asparagus sector and the first remote implementation of its packhouse solutions, due to the global pandemic.

“This reaffirms that our strategy to diversify into wider fresh produce sectors to complement our traditional kiwifruit, apple, citrus and avocado markets is on the right track,” Mr Sharplin said.

“It would have taken a lot of trust to implement our systems from afar. Go-live last August followed a condensed timeframe from scope to delivery, achieved by a strong partnership with an enthusiastic and proactive team from Raffa Fields.”

He said “out-of-the-box” traceability, grading and inventory management solution, FreshPack and quality control-focused application FreshQuality were launched at Raffa Fields’ Victorian packhouse in time for the 2021 spring harvest.

Radfords’ product owner Nick Eggmann said FreshPack had evolved in the years since its development to be “produce-agnostic”, allowing any producer to adopt it without customisation beyond minor configuration to suit individual workflows.

“More than 80 fresh produce packhouses around the world are now using FreshPack. As it is off-the-shelf, the only modification made for Raffa Fields (after go-live) was to integrate scales to record weight crates at the time of receival,” Mr Eggmann said.

“Traceability was a key objective for Raffa Fields. They needed a system that provided good inventory and stock control from harvesting to distribution and helped them move away from handwritten notes and duplication of data.

“Raffa Fields really needed our solutions to work. They could see the benefits and worked hard to help us make it happen. There was a certain onus on the Raffa team to ensure they had done the testing and knew how to execute the process so when asparagus arrived at the packhouse, there were no surprises.

“The biggest challenge for us was not being on the ground at crucial stages of the 12-week project. We had to rely on information provided to be correct – everything from the layout of the packhouse to how the business worked. It required constant and clear communication and documentation. Raffa Fields’ willingness to invest in the process made the project successful,” Mr Eggmann said.

Software provides opportunities for growth

Family owned and operated Raffa Fields is one of the three largest asparagus producers in Australia. Annually, it produces some 2,000 tonnes of premium asparagus in the Koo Wee Rup region for domestic and export consumption and distributes imported asparagus during its off-season.

Sales and operations manager Rosalee Raffa said the software had transformed packhouse operations and created multiple efficiencies, saving the sales and logistics team up to five hours a day.

“Two years ago we began supplying direct to Coles, which gave us the opportunity to also run an import program.

\Between this and our local production process, our custom-built software solution was not keeping up with our needs. By April last year, we were in dire straits and asparagus season was approaching. We were looking for an end-to-end solution that could handle a complex and specific product process from harvesting the raw product to final sale,” Mrs Raffa said.

“We went to see FreshPack in action at Priest Bros. Orchards, Victoria and they couldn’t speak highly enough about the software and Radfords.”

Raffa Fields was undaunted that Radfords had not worked in the asparagus space, she said.

“We saw it as an opportunity to be the first (in asparagus) to adopt its technology.

Everything Radfords said at the start, has been backed up with action. They were very upfront about our August deadline and how they would make that happen. They broke it down into measurable tasks and met all the deadlines.

“Importantly, Radfords supported our business as it was, and the software fitted like a glove. If anything, they adapted their processes to suit us. We prioritised the project over everything else because we recognised the
importance of having it go-live for the harvest.

“It has eliminated manual processes and allowed us to focus on the job at hand, rather than be prohibited by an inflexible system. We’re now able to use our time to analyse the data, rather than spend that time trying to extract it,” Mrs Raffa said.

Radfords is now implementing an EDI (electronic data interchange) to streamline the ordering process between Raffa Fields and one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, Coles.

Related: Radford scores Aussie contract

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