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

Royce Sharplin, customer success manager for Radford Software, said the partnership represented two key firsts for the company – 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,” said Sharplin.

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

Nick Eggmann, Radford’s product owner, 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.

(l-r) Royce Sharplin and Nick Eggmann of Radfords Software.
(l-r) Royce Sharplin and Nick Eggmann of Radfords Software.

“More than 80 fresh produce packhouses around the world are now using FreshPack, and 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,” explained Eggmann.

“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.” 

According to Eggman, the biggest challenge for the team 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 successful,” he continued. 

Software provides opportunity for growth

Family-owned and operated, Raffa Fields is one of the three largest asparagus producers in Australia. 

Annually, it produces some 2000 tonnes of premium asparagus in the Koo Wee Rup region for domestic and export consumption, and distributes imported asparagus during its off-season.

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

Rosalee Raffa using FreshPack.
Rosalee Raffa using FreshPack.

“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,” Raffa said. 

“By April last year, we were in dire straits and asparagus seasons 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. 

“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.

“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,” said Raffa. 

“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.” 

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.

Asparagus at Raffa Fields’ packhouse.
Asparagus at Raffa Fields’ packhouse.

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