Packhouse Development in South Africa: Providing some security in a volatile Agro-Industry

-by J. Hanekom
The last decade has seen tremendous growth and development in the packhouse and agro-processing sectors. Not only has the number of packing facilities increased, but the operations and composition of packing facilities have completely transformed, to meet the market and new external demands. Feroqs Consult, a member of the MBB Group of Companies, has been at the forefront of this transformation, gaining valuable insight into the intricate workings of the modern packhouse through the design and implementation of various packing facilities.
What has driven the focus in Packhouse Design?
Fruit export markets follow cyclical trends and are influenced by various factors, i.e. price (supply and demand), production volumes, quality and logistics. Some strong runs in export prices were experienced in the last 7 to 8 years, which meant better margins for Farmers, who were already producing good, export-quality fruit.
Markets opened up globally, with exports increasing to the EU, the Far East, Middle-east and the USA. In the 2021 season, South Africa exported ±2,599 million tonnes of citrus and ranked as the second largest citrus exporter in the world (behind Spain with 3,712 million tonnes). However, 2022 saw a somewhat dismal year for fruit producers and exporters, with low prices, high input costs and major logistic challenges being experienced.
Local market trends and consumer behaviour have also changed over time. An insistence on fresh, good-quality products available at leading chain stores, meant a higher demand for value-added packing. Some strong brands developed in this time, providing export quality products on local shelves. A stronger export focus combined with more sophisticated local markets required a stronger commercial approach at packing entities to stay competitive while dealing with a high-value, perishable commodity. Larger-scale Farmers, Co-operatives and Commercial Agro-entities increasingly focus on Packhouses to secure a bigger part of the fruit and associated produce value-chain.
Factors Impacting Packhouse Design

During the due-diligence process of a new Packhouse development, various factors are considered, which have a bearing on the facility design:

Management Consolidation

Packing facilities play an increasing role in the marketing of the final product due to their strategic position in the value chain. The visually impressive process gives suppliers, marketers and end-users insight and assurance of management protocols. One can view the complete flow from the raw to the final product in a short space of time, in a compact location. The packhouse therefore commonly accommodates a wide spectrum of employees and services providers, often including Farm Managers, Production Management, Marketers, Quality Control and Compliance Officers, Maintenance Managers, Financial Management and Executive Management.

Type and Combination of Commodities

Certain commodities can be packed on the same packline, while others cannot. A volume and pack window analysis will determine this possibility. In collaboration with technical support from Packline manufacturers and Designers, an assessment can be made to design a bespoke solution for specific requirements. Some specific export/import regulations and requirements must be considered due to possible contact and contamination occasions during the packing process.


Packhouse buildings and processes are increasingly required to comply with various regulatory & statutory, quality and safety requirements. Most National and International Chain Stores have extensive quality and food safety quality assurance procedures and policies, which get audited regularly. Exporters are required to be inspected by external certification Agencies, like the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) and GlobalGap. Specific amenities must be provided for the inspectors, based on the volume and frequency of inspections required.

Statutory compliance critically impacts Packhouse design. With the advent of wall-to-wall Municipalities, Packhouse buildings must be submitted for approval in compliance with National Building Regulations and Local Municipal by-laws. Packhouses are commonly built on Farmland and traditionally, Farmers were reluctant to have buildings and structures go through formal building plan approval processes. Insurance companies increasingly insist that proof must be provided of approved building plans, occupation certificates and especially, fire compliance.

In packing facilities, product traceability plays an important role in food quality assurance. Produce must be traced from the orchard to the end user for quality to be monitored during the complete product life cycle. Appropriate stations must therefore be included in the design process for registration, weighing and label printing, which is integrated with the complete packhouse management system.

Logistics, Flow and Throughput

This aspect is dealt with during a detailed volume and throughput analysis. Potential bottlenecks in the flow of the packhouse must be identified and addressed accordingly to increase efficiencies and reduce losses. This coincides with the packline design and process evaluation. Some commodities require pre-cooling, drenching or de-greening, which adds steps to the process. Other commodities may have stringent cooling regimes, for which sufficient space must be allocated during the turn-around process.

Distance from the source and distance to the market, both have an impact on the extent and flow of receiving and dispatch capacities. Box flow is an integral part of the packing process. Receiving and stacking off flat stock, unfolding and staging of boxes as well as distribution of the unfolded boxes to the packing stations must be coordinated for efficiency. A Box store and Box folding facility have a high fire risk, which requires appropriate fire detection and firefighting measures designed by a competent person, often a Fire Engineer.

Process Flow

Choosing the right Packline and product handling equipment

Manufacturers of packline and sorting equipment continue to push the boundaries in providing the latest technologies available to increase efficiencies. This drive supports the industry in providing a better quality product in the market. The aim is to achieve maximum cup fill and pack-out. Choosing the right combination of sorting and packing equipment, coupled with other peripheral equipment like, tippers, box folding, scales and pallet handling solutions can be a tedious process.

Sorting equipment generally grades fruit according to:

  • Size and weight
  • Blemishes
  • Fruit internals
  • Firmness and ripeness
  • BRIX

Various factors must be considered when considering product handling equipment, which includes:

  • Orchard yields and picking windows
  • Average fruit size and weight
  • Sizer capacity and speed
  • Active pack time, considering pack shifts, batch changes and downtime
  • Tipper and palletizing volumes
  • Manual vs Automated packing (or combinations)
  • Budget
  • Manufacturing and installation lead times
  • Marketing windows and logistics

Other Considerations

Choosing the land:

Land rights and constraints, soil conditions and access all play a significant role in deciding on an appropriate piece of land to develop a Packhouse. Some land formalisation processes may impact timeframes for the implementation of construction activities, which ultimately impact the time when income can be generated from the facility. Site slope may have a severe impact on bulk earthworks volumes, logistics and stormwater management, and the orientation of the buildings may impact their temperature control. A holistic approach is required to consider the combined impact of all these factors to optimise the design.

Access to Services:

Access to reliable sources of Water and Electricity is an important consideration in deciding the location of a packing facility. To reticulate services over long distances is not only costly but can cause delays in starting construction or operations. Obtaining traversing and servitude rights and connecting to or upgrading bulk electrical supply points often take considerable effort and time.

Packing processes sometimes require heating. Access to a reliable and economic source of heating is therefore an important consideration. Storage and distribution of different options may trigger formal approval requirements, depending on volume and type.

Effluent management is increasingly becoming an important factor, due to stricter and more comprehensive legislation as well as audit & compliance requirements. Water supply treatment, grey and black water treatment and waste management require infrastructure, which needs to be sized and designed according to flow and buffer capacities.

With the ever-increasing cost and irregularity of electrical supply, Packhouse operators are increasingly considering alternative sources of electricity. The cost of infrastructure can often be offset by the loss of production and income. Irregular or poor quality of electrical supply can have a devastating impact on expensive equipment and proper protection measures are advised to be implemented.

MBB and Feroqs Consult in partnership – Providing turn-key Packhouse Design and Implementation solutions.

Feroqs Consult is a Consulting Services firm and part of the MBB Consulting Services International (MSI) Group of companies.

Feroqs Consult has, since 2014 been involved in various packhouse design and implementation projects, including Greenfields as well as Alterations and Additions. Our services include planning and implementation of project deliverables, acting as Quantity Surveyor, Principal Consultant and Agent to the Employer.

We aim to provide a world-class one-stop solution for Packhouse & Process Planning and Implementation.

This is executed by:

Should you have any questions or wish to know more about packhouse design and the solutions we offer,  please contact your local Feroqs or MBB office.