Todd Muller returns to his roots at Apata

Todd Muller visited the Apata pack house on Thursday. From left, Shaun Vickers, Todd Muller and Stuart Weston.

Packing and stacking kiwifruit is a potential backup plan for the National Party leader’s semi-retirement.

Todd Muller has been offered a position at the Apata Group Limited pack house in Whakamarama, after a visit to the site on Thursday.

Muller says packing the fruit brought back memories because his very first job as a five-year-old was packing kiwifruit.

“If they were too small they went to the cows and if they were slightly bigger they went to the local market.

“The industry has moved on since then. Just seeing here the scale of capital investment and the professionalism was very impressive.

“They said they’d keep me on if I wanted to ever come back in my semi-retirement.”

Apata managing director Stuart Weston says it's nice to have Muller visit the site because his family have been part of the fabric of the business.

Muller’s late father Mike was one of the founders of Apata in 1983 and Muller was CEO in 2006.

“It’s bitter sweet to see Todd back here doing what he’s been born to do, it would be nice for his dad to be round to see that.”

Stuart jokes that because Muller is tall he’s good at stacking boxes because the pallets can get quite high.

Muller visited the post-harvest kiwifruit and avocado supplier to speak with staff and see how it is going after lockdown and if COVID-19 has affected the business.

“Most New Zealanders are unemployed but they don’t know it yet.

“We have an extraordinary crisis in front of us and our caucus is totally focused on developing an economic recovery plan that works for New Zealand families and gives people surety about their future,” says Muller.

National’s priority is to open up the economy as fast as possible and direct foreign investment is absolutely critical, he says.

The government should also prioritise a trans-Tasman bubble to help with economic recovery, says Muller.

Stuart says the kiwifruit season has gone remarkably well for Apata although drought has impacted fruit size but it has been a vintage year so from a taste perspective it’s outstanding.

“The drought will suppress some of the yields particularly in different areas, different regions respond better or worse to the drought conditions. But we’re nowhere like the pastoral farmers that have really done it hard.”

He says the business has had to adapt quickly with the COVID-19 health and safety and social distancing protocols.

“It took us about two days to reset the entire business and then we were up and running again but it was a scary time. We resumed and we're continually evolving.”

Stuart says kiwifruit sales this season have been great because the high levels of vitamin c create demand for the fruit.

“You've got this nutritionally dense super food, in a bio-secure wrapping so everybody wants it.”

The visit is Muller’s first as National leader after he won a leadership challenge over Simon Bridges last Friday.

He says he has absolutely loved his first week but what counts is the election results on September 19 where New Zealanders will decide which parties have the best recovery plan for the country.

Muller has also taken on the small business portfolio and is outlining part of National’s plan for small business today.




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