Three experienced Bay of Plenty kiwifruit operators, Jan Benes, Craig Lemon and Andrew Darling, came together to form JACE Group Limited in 2003 (the initials stand for Jan, Andrew and Craig Enterprises). They were later joined by Steve Saunders.
After establishing Apac (Auckland Pack and Cool) in 2006, the directors were keen to develop a base closer to home. They purchased an existing packhouse on Aerodrome Rd, Mount Maunganui, in 2009, and put their foot down to expand Mount Pack and Cool as rapidly as possible. It wasn’t long before the facility was completely full, with growers queuing up to work with Mpac’s highly experienced team.
In 2016 work began in earnest to relocate, and the largest single site in the Tauriko Business Estate (65,000m²) was secured to build a new state-of-the art facility. Every detail was designed with efficiency, sustainability and performance in mind and it’s the most technologically-advanced greenfield packhouse the Bay of Plenty has ever seen.
Today Mpac spans 35,000m² and still has plenty of room to expand. That’s just as well because the company’s growth since 2009 is staggering – volume has grown from 2.5 million trays at the Mount to over 12 million trays at the Tauriko site.
The directors are immensely proud of how the business has thrived, having developed a solid reputation among growers for trust, respect, integrity and all-round excellence.
Many Mpac staff have been with the company from JACE Group’s inception, contributing to a strong family culture and a desire to get the best out of one another. Relationships are at the heart of our business and ensure staff care about every individual grower and piece of fruit as if it’s their own.
In addition to Mpac, JACE Group own four other subsidiary companies which cover the entire supply chain of kiwifruit from the orchard to the consumer. They include Apac (Auckland Pack and Cool Limited), Gro Plus, Southern Orchards Limited, and Kiwi Green New Zealand Limited.
Jan is one of the original founders of Apac, Mpac and their parent company, JACE Group. Originally from the Czech Republic, Jan arrived in New Zealand as a teenager and initially enrolled at university to study business and management. But a short break to pick kiwifruit one season and earn some money saw him ditch the books in favour of working fulltime at a small packhouse and cool store facility in Katikati. From there, his career in post-harvest took off as he secured increasingly senior roles with Bridgecool and later Seeka before striking out on his own.
The only constant in the kiwifruit industry is change – a challenge that Jan fully embraces. He describes the industry as like ‘putting the pieces of a puzzle together’ and is driven by the thrill of competition and value of working alongside people he knows and trusts.
While he doesn’t believe in treading on others to get ahead, he knows the kiwifruit industry is full of opportunities if you look, and work hard enough, to find them.
Craig Graduated from Auckland University with a Master’s Degree (Msc Hons) specialising in kiwifruit science. Craig has 35 years’ experience in the kiwifruit and avocado industry in Executive and Director roles.
Craig specialises in kiwifruit and avocado orchard management, research and development and administration. Craig is also a grower of kiwifruit and avocados in the Bay. Craig’s main areas of focus within the JACE Group of companies are Kiwi Green New Zealand, Southern Orchards Ltd and the China project.
Steve has over 28 years of experience and expertise in the New Zealand horticulture industry across the following disciplines: growing, management, financial management, innovation, new product to market, postharvest ownership, international experience in the export of horticultural products (including pollen and pollen application systems), project management and JV partnerships. Steve is owner and Board Chairman of Robotics Plus Ltd and the Plus Group. As an active angel investor, he has been appointed as a director of a number of other emerging start-ups and holds key board positions with Priority One, Enterprise Angels, Icehouse and a recent Crown appointment to Landcare Research. Steve is also a shareholder and director for Newnham Park Innovation Centre, the home of many award-winning innovation-focused companies.
Sitting at the helm of Mpac/Apac, Jan believes his role is to teach others; making sure the next generation are learning everything they can about kiwifruit and post-harvest operations. His approach is that a good manager should always be a great teacher and try to make themselves redundant so they’re ready to take on the next challenge.
Jan’s ambition, drive and passion for kiwifruit has taken him from orchard picking in between his university studies, to eventually managing a packhouse and being appointed General Manager Operations for Seeka. In 2007 he moved to Auckland to take charge of Apac and today he oversees our entire post-harvest operation.
Among Jan’s key strengths is his ability to listen, watch and observe others, and the fact he never takes no for an answer. His financial skills and in-depth analysis helps him to make the right decisions on behalf of the business.
Jan enjoys motorsport, jet skiing, fishing, boating and hitting the slopes in winter. Jan’s two children, Sarah and Anthony, have both followed him into the industry making Mpac/Apac a true family affair.
General Manager – Operations
Brendon joined our company in 2012 and brings a wealth of knowledge to his role built over his 15-year career in the kiwifruit industry. His experience spans the entire sector – from growing to post-harvest, Zespri, grower relations and entities, and a variety of governance positions.
As General Manager Operations for both companies, Brendon is responsible for all operations, partnering with our growers and our team to achieve a high-performing grower pool with consistently higher than industry average returns year-after-year. He’s also in charge of our grower entities, MGL and AGL, and grower payments.
Brendon has been intimately involved in Mpac’s state-of-the art post-harvest facility from the concept stage through to detailed design, construction and implementation, ensuring it’s fit for purpose and geared for future growth.
His vast experience allows him to contribute to all areas of our business and he’s at his best when under the most pressure and striving to achieve the impossible.
He loves the fact that every season is challenging for different reasons and he’s always focussed on getting better results for our growers and the company each year. He values the people he works alongside as much as his individual role – being part of developing a team and seeing employees progress through the company brings him a great deal of personal satisfaction.
General Manager – Finance
Nathan has been in charge of our finance team since January 2019. He is proud to bring an ‘outsider’s view’ of the kiwifruit industry to the table, and uses his exceptional reporting and financial modelling skills (including business intelligence tools) to manage all aspects of our finance and administration department. He is responsible for overseeing our cashflow, accounts receivable and accounts payable, reporting, insurance and financial modelling.
Nathan worked as a chartered accountant for many years and was previously GM Finance for Downer before joining Mpac. He embraces the fact that no two days – or kiwifruit seasons – are the same, and likes to overcome challenges with strong teamwork and perseverance. In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf and going fishing.
Grower Services Manager
Tim grew up in Te Puke among kiwifruit pioneers and loves the frenetic “pressure cooker” pace of today’s industry.
After leaving school he initially worked on kiwifruit orchards before moving into post-harvest packhouse and cool store roles. Tim then managed his family’s renowned kiwifruit tourism business, Kiwifruit Country, before joining the police force. After 14 years on the beat he moved to Papua New Guinea as a safety and security advisor.
He eventually returned home and began working for Mpac in January 2017 – firstly as a Packing Operations Manager before moving across to our Grower Services team which he now manages. He oversees crop procurement and is the interface between our packhouse and growers.
Tim’s excellent communication skills and ability to act under pressure help him to achieve outstanding results for our clients. He enjoys problem solving, meeting people from all walks of life and the ‘can do’ attitude found in the kiwifruit industry.