Wattie's in desperate search for staff with record demand

Sean Hogan
Source: 1News

The frontline in the fight to keep us fed begins on the tomato fields in Hastings.

Twelve tonnes of tomatoes leave the Hawke's Bay fields around every 15 minutes.

Wattie’s Hastings agriculture manager Bruce Mackay says they are one of the most useful fruit for the brand.

"These end up in canned tomatoes, all of the canned variants - whole peeled, chopped with onions and capsicums and tomato paste - which becomes the base ingredient of your backed beans, your spaghetti and your soups and your sauces," Mr Mackay said.

They'll be canned with the rest of the crop, such as beetroot, corn and other fruits at the company's Hastings plant.

This week, it produced 1.6 million cans in just one day as Kiwis stocked up on the staples at the supermarket.

But with strict new Covid-19 safety procedures it can't perform at its peak.

Wattie’s managing director Neil Heffer told 1 NEWS they’ve had to adapt quickly.

"Social distancing and the new protocols we have put in place have definitely put pressure on the workforce for sure. It's an incredibly difficult time because we are so busy."

Even the timely business of crop harvesting has been tweaked.

"We just have to adapt because when we planted, we planted to a schedule to supply the factory ongoing. Now we have protocol that have effectively slowed us down to a certain extent," Mr Mackay said.

The majority of the 1000 Wattie’s staff that work in Hawke’s Bay work at the factory in Hastings and they desperately need over 200 more.

There are also staff shortages at their Christchurch and Auckland plants.

"Those range from a number of roles from engineers to electricians to processes because of the extra demand we are seeing at the moment, and those are a mixture of both seasonal and permanent staff,” Mr Heffer said.

The Christchurch and Hastings District Councils are working with the Social Development Ministry to potentially recruit people made redundant as a result of the lockdown.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazelhurst told 1 NEWS it’s a priority as a number of businesses in the region start laying off staff.

"I know that some of our communities have lost their jobs so our focus is looking at ways we can move people from one industry to another and make sure everyone stays in employment," she said.