Ridgeview Wine Estate, one of England’s premier sparkling wine producers, approached INKA Pallets before the 2021 season. They had a project in mind that focused on reviewing their harvesting methods to improve processing speed and efficiency. This was to help them remain commercially competitive and operationally scalable in line with ambitious growth plans. Since they began production over 25 years ago, the estate’s winery had always been set up for harvesting grapes into traditional hand-held picking crates and placed on wooden pallets. However, this method involved a significant amount of time and manual handling at the winery during the harvest, as well as generating significant amounts of packaging waste from single-use pallet wrap and broken pallets.
A Pivotal Moment for Ridgeview
The timing of this review project came at a pivotal moment in Ridgeview’s business operation, as the estate had recently embarked on widening its network of contract vineyards for whom it was processing – with some new growers located as far as 150 miles from Ridgeview’s winery. The issue of transporting grapes during harvest had therefore become a dimension of increasing importance, with growing concern over the operation’s carbon footprint, not to mention rising costs, exacerbated by HGV driver shortages and increasing fuel prices. Ridgeview was, therefore, keen to find a solution that could also help mitigate these rising costs by improving the tonnage of fruit per vehicle. This relied only on one, all-important, stipulation; Ridgeview would, under no circumstances, ever compromise on the condition in which the fruit arrived back to the winery for processing – the quality of the grapes, their wine’s key ingredient, was everything, and needed to stay in pristine, uncrushed, condition.
INKA’s Innovative Solution
As solid plastic pallet box manufacturers, INKA’s expert team was able to come up with the perfect solution to meet, or even exceed, all of Ridgeview’s criteria – and in a dramatic fashion. INKA’s PB1000-450C shallow UK plastic pallet boxes are robust, stackable, pallet-sized containers with an impressive 450 litre capacity and smooth internal surfaces and would prove to revolutionise Ridgeview’s harvest operation across every given metric of value. This included reduced labour time, reduced manual handling process, increased processing capacity, reduced packaging waste, and significantly lower transport costs – all whilst keeping fruit quality tip-top!
Stacked safely up to four units high in a vehicle, without any additional need for single-use pallet wrap, the boxes allowed the vineyards to increase the fill of each vehicle by over 50% of fruit. This resulted in a jump from eight tonnes of grapes per vehicle using crates up to a whopping 12 tonnes of grapes per vehicle with the bins.
Together with its partner vineyards, INKA supplied nearly 500 of its innovative boxes to facilitate Ridgeview’s harvest.
Ridgeview’s vineyard and estate manager, Matt Strugnell, is delighted with the bins’ performance. He said: “They are working out really well. We’re extremely pleased with them, and we’re so glad we made the switch over.”
In terms of the grape quality, he also recounted his delight (and relief!) upon receiving the first delivery of fruit in the bins to the winery from a grower in Stowmarket, Suffolk; a journey of 150 miles. Matt recalls being “amazed by the condition the fruit arrived in, with hardly any juice or crushed grapes in the boxes at all, and with a massive reduction in tonne miles!”
An Enthusiastic Collaboration
INKA general manager, James Tidman, says “It was a privilege to work with Matt and his team on this project, and we’re delighted with the result they’ve enjoyed in their first harvest using our bins. I’m sure it will be the first of many because although the boxes are delicate with the fruit, they’re also just so tough and durable!”
“Viticulture in the UK is clearly a burgeoning industry, with plenty of opportunities for further growth and flourishing. Season after season, we hear from increasing numbers of vineyards, both new and established, looking for the right harvesting container for their needs.
“We appreciate that each vineyard has its own unique setting, size, and operational constraints, and so we supply a wide range of different harvesting containers, including competitively priced hand-held picking crates because it is still the right choice for certain vineyards. However, we do wish to challenge some of the more established wineries, still using crates, to really consider how a switch over to our shallow pallet bins could significantly improve their harvesting process and save them a lot of money in the coming seasons.
“Obviously, like all businesses, UK vineyards and wineries have had to face many unforeseen challenges over the last few years, from Brexit to the Covid pandemic, and recently the impact of the Ukraine crisis, not to mention the ever-present impact of climate change. When looked at the other way, I think these same worldwide issues will only stand to increase the UK public’s thirst and demand for quality wines produced from our own shores.”
A Sector-Wide Solution
INKA Pallets Ltd. is a specialist supplier of quality reusable picking and harvest containers to the UK’s viticulture and horticulture sectors.
Established in 1984, INKA Pallets has a long history of supplying plastic pallets and containers to businesses throughout the UK, but the last eight years have carved out a growing niche supporting food and farming companies with solutions to improve processes and reduce costs and waste.