Inka Pallets transform Ridgeview’s harvesting efficiency

Ridgeview Wine Estate, one of England’s premier sparkling wine producers, approached Inka Pallets before the 2021 season, with a project focused on reviewing its harvesting methods to improve processing speed and efficiency; to help stay commercially competitive, and operationally scalable in line with ambitious growth plans. Since it began production over 25 years ago, the estate’s winery had always been set up for harvesting grapes into traditional hand-held picking crates, placed on wooden pallets. However, this method involved a significant amount 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.

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 were therefore keen to find a solution that could also help mitigate these rising costs, by improving the tonnage of fruit per vehicle. But only on one, all-important, condition; 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. 

Thankfully, Inka’s expert team were able to come up with the perfect solution to meet, or even exceed, all of Ridgeview’s criteria – and in dramatic fashion. Inka’s PB1000-450C shallow plastic pallet box – a robust, stackable, pallet-sized container, with an impressive 450 litre capacity, and smooth internal surfaces, would prove to revolutionise Ridgeview’s harvest operation across every given metric of value, including: reducing labour time, reducing manual handling processes, increasing processing capacity, reducing packaging waste and significantly lowering 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 – a jump from eight tonnes of grapes per vehicle using crates up to a whooping 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!”

Inka general manager, James Tidman, said: “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. And 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-19 pandemic, and recently the impact of the Ukraine crisis, not to mention the ever present impact of climate change. But 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.”

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 during the last eight years has carved out a growing niche supporting food and farming companies with solutions to improve processes, and reduce costs and waste.

Inka general manager James Tidman and Ridgeview’s vineyard and estate manager, Matt Strugnell

This story was taken from the latest issue of Vineyard. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports for winemakers and growers in Great Britain, read our latest issue here and subscribe here