Blueberry tech firm sold to Norwegian giant

27 February, 2018

A fruit technology manufacturer in Waipā has been bought by a Norwegian giant.

A $66.9 million acquisition of BBC Technologies - a family-run producer of sorting and packaging machines for small fruits - was announced to the Oslo stock exchange on Tuesday. The deal with Norway-based TOMRA Foods, and the deal will have BBC Technologies grow its already $34m per year in exports.

BBC Technologies chief executive Geoff Furniss​ said it was the end of an era for the company which started out in a tin shed in Ōhaupō.

BBC Technologies began in 2000, after Furniss' parents Greg and Alison invented a blueberry grader for their farm, Blueberry Country. The company now exports $34 million per year of machines that sort and pack blueberries, cherries and other small fruits by colour, softness and defect. It employs 150 people in countries including New Zealand, Chile and the United States.

A software system which tracks fruit from harvest to point-of-sale, called Freshtracker, has also been acquired by TOMRA.

"There was a drive at ownership levels and within the family to find a better home that's more aligned with the potential the business has," Furniss said.The company sought a buyer seven months ago, and received a "large number of enquiries". 

"We recognise it's an end of a era ... but I think it's exciting. We're a pretty ambitious bunch of people here, we've got big ideas and dreams, and it's nice to find someone we can partner with and chase them down together. We've already had commercial benefits, with common customers seeing the relationship as being strong and making additional purchases we wouldn't have otherwise expected. It seen as a really positive sales push."

Under the arrangement, BBC Technologies will become a division of TOMRA and Furniss will remain in charge. There are no expected changes to the company's operation. 

TOMRA Foods chief executive Mike Riley said BBC Technologies was simply "the best in the business".

The Norway-based company, which manufactures sorting and packing machines for food, recycling and mining industries, boasts 95,000 installations in 80 countries and a 2017 revenue of around $1.2 billion. TOMRA has a track-record of purchasing New Zealand horticulture technology companies, it purchased Auckland-based pack-house automation systems manufacturer Compac in 2016.

"There's no doubt in our mind BBC Technologies have the best solution for the berries space. It's something that was built from the ground up, aimed fairly and squarely at the market. We could've had a go at it ourselves at Compac, but we just don't understand the berries business," Riley said.

Between the two companies, TOMRA will have 500 people in New Zealand working in horticulture technology.

"I think that speaks volumes for New Zealand and just how good we are at this."

- Thomas Manch, Stuff

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