Since 1974, the Pike family have been pioneers in undercover growing with a sharp focus on developing and enhancing growing techniques. The business is one of continuous improvement, keeping up with the latest technology, and is today widely regarded to be New Zealand’s best producer of fresh herbs.
Jim Pike started growing cucumbers, capsicums and eggplants in the family's first one-acre greenhouse in the Henderson Valley. The transition into fresh herbs was instigated by son Charles, in 1980, after a trip to Europe where he was inspired by the amount of herbs he saw on supermarket shelves.
Today, the main growing operation is situated in Parakai, near Helensville, with a team of professionals led by Managing Director Ken Rogers with support from Marketing Manager, Brigitte Hannett. The operation has five hectares of indoor space with consented plans to extend the facility a further 1.7 hectares by 2022.
“We have 25 varieties growing in different environments,” says Brigitte. “The best sellers are coriander, basil, mint and parsley.”
“We move three tonnes of fresh herbs every week between our 25 cut and 21 living varieties.”
Ken explains that the herb growing business is a very technical process these days. State-of-the-art glasshouses give Superb Herb complete climate control enabling them to produce crops all year-round. Their modern growing environment also allows them to produce herbs without using herbicides and very few added nutrients while maintaining a high level of quality control.
“The standard way of growing herbs is in pots in gullies which requires a lot of manual handling,” says Ken. “In the past we would have staff seed into trays with two people packing and another person in a forklift palletising and storing. The plants would then be spread out onto the floor and watered by hand.”
“We now have a system where almost all of our herbs are untouched until they’re harvested.”
“The automation at the front-end has a placement robot on the back of the seeder, with one person responsible for keeping the seeder running.”
“We are able to track every step from our control room. For example, the system lets us know the relative humidity and makes adjustments accordingly.”
“Each table has a number plate guaranteeing accurate traceability all the way through the process, from seeding through to harvest.”
“Compared to the traditional way of growing, this set-up is safer, cleaner and more efficient.”
There is excellence everywhere you look, from an automated system tilting the screens in the roof to maintain the ideal growing environment through to robot spacers placing the plants with millimetre perfection.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is the relentless focus on quality,” says Brigitte. “We’ve always seeded our own pots, so we have control of the quantity and quality of seeds we use.”
Ken has a background in marketing and operations from senior roles with Fonterra and Pernod Ricard while Brigitte has more than 20 years international experience in branding and marketing.
“Brigitte and I started at a similar time around six years ago when the business had just expanded into the Parakai site which was set up by the previous owner to grow orchids at the time,” says Ken.
“We approached it from a production and efficiency angle and said, right, we have to get some new processes going here, modify some of the systems and use market data to help drive decisions.”
“Jim and his son Charles have always been forward-thinking and the development of the new, automated greenhouses, was just another big step forward for us as a business.”
“If you think about it, we’re actually running a factory. We have a strong focus on LEAN manufacturing and are less of a traditional nursery.”
“That has meant retraining our staff in more interesting roles as well as attracting a different type of employee. We have a compliance manager and a supervisor who has come from a manufacturing background to support our teams with production and efficiency.”
“We’ve created a technical development team to help Brigitte, which is led by Charles Pike.”
“Charles is a great ideas guy and he’s now got experts to work with, such as a mechatronics specialist and a plant scientist.”
Brigitte highlights that sustainability is also a huge focus for the business.
“Our teams work non-stop to be sustainable, from the way we manage our use of water, reuse pots through to the packaging materials we use,” says Brigitte. “We’re lean on waste.”
“We are investing in sustainable food production systems for the future,” adds Ken. “It’s continuous improvement right the way through.”
“We are selling our herbs to the four corners of New Zealand, and all the way to Hong Kong” adds Brigitte.
“The MG team are very good to work with, particularly the team in Christchurch, and Wellington and Procurement Manager, Nigel Bridge.”
Photo: L to R: Ken Rogers, Brigitte Hannett and Nigel Bridge