Since 1960 Dutch entrepreneur and now Central Otago legend Con van der Voort has nurtured a family built pip fruit business, CAJ from small beginnings into an innovative market leader.
Con van der Voort and his family have always been forward thinking and have had a bold vision for their business from the start. Hard work and business acumen have seen CAJ grow exponentially and in 2019 they installed cutting edge technology from New Zealand and Holland into their Packhouse as part of a four-stage development. The state-of-the-art systems allows the team to pack fruit to the highest possible standards. It also allows the workforce to be more efficient and work smarter.
The upgrade of the packhouse facility is the third stage of the development vision for the business. Stage one of the project was to upgrade the staff amenities as CAJ believe their staff to be their biggest asset. The second stage was to extend the shed and canopy to enable the next stage of the project to run smoothly. The third stage was to upgrade all plant, equipment and infrastructure and the fourth stage will be to automate more of the palletisation process, which will come on line in the near future.
But let’s go back to the beginning, where CAJ all started. In 1952 when Cornelius (Con) Adrianus Josephus (CAJ) van der Voort was 23 years of age, he immigrated to New Zealand from the Netherlands. He immediately started work in Lawrence as the Hospital Gardener and it was here that he met Eileen Goodlet who he would later marry. After working at the hospital and then for Eileen’s father who owned the local garage, Con ventured into fruit growing.
It was in 1960 when Con and Eileen moved to Ettrick to run the 23ha apple orchard known as Nithdale Orchard. Con’s background as a market gardener helped, however he had no apple growing experience. Eileen didn’t have any previous horticulture experience either but his neighbours kindly educated him in the skills which would stand him in good stead during the early stage in his career.
The van der Voort operation has grown over the years under Con’s leadership, now being an orchard operation of around 400ha’s, with 300ha’s of this planted in apple trees.
Con is a strong believer in family and today, daughters Toni and Jackie are heavily involved in the operation. While Toni takes charge of administration, finance and employment, Jackie manages the packing facility. The operation has experienced several challenges, alongside the normal industry challenges of frost and hail, to having a fire rip through the packhouse in 2000, just as the harvest season started.
Con has always personally been involved in all aspects of the apple growing industry including several years as a Director on the NZ Apple and Pear Board.
In 2012 Con was a recipient of the Bledisloe Cup, this is the industry’s highest recognition and honour. At the NZ Apples & Pears Conference in 2019, Con was presented with the New Zealand award for Outstanding Contribution to the Pip fruit industry.
Con continues to be an active and present CEO of the business, there is not a day that passes in the season you will not find him out in the orchard’s checking on the fruit or in the packhouse discussing the latest global apple news.
1960 Purchased Nithdale Orchard and Packhouse and started Pip fruit growing
1965 CAJ purchased Fruitvale Apple Orchard
1977 Loose fruit submission to NZAP Marketing Board
1983 Developed an apple orchard in Earnscleugh – Hollandia Orchard
1985 Purchased Southern Orchards, apple orchard
1988 Started packing in a new Pack House facility on Moa Flat Road
1990 Developed an apple orchard at Dumbarton – Dumbarton Orchard
1994 Purchased two mixed Orchards – Roseburn Orchard & Remarkable Orchards
2000 Packing shed burnt down
2001 Rebuilt packing shed on existing site and commenced packing
2009 Purchased a mixed orchard at Dumbarton – Elderslea
2010 Shed Extension to include stacking platform and strapping machine
2011 Upgraded 4 lane Sizer to 6 lanes
2012 Purchased a mixed orchard in Dumbarton - Dunrock
2016 Purchased bare land in Earnscleugh for orchard development
2016 Stage 1 shed development – staff amenities
2018 Stage 2 shed development – shed and canopy extension and new in feed canopy
2019 Stage 3 installation & commissioning of new plant & equipment
2020 Roxdale Cannery was purchased at Coal Creek, Roxburgh so apple wastage could be processed