Otago apple grower sold to Auckland company

Central Otago’s largest apple grower has been sold to an Auckland company.

CAJ, which has operated in Ettrick for more than 60 years, was sold earlier this year to SI Orchards Ltd. The sale was confirmed by CAJ directors Jackie van der Voort and Toni Birtles.

Dutch entrepreneur Con van der Voort and his wife Eileen moved to Ettrick in 1960 to run the 23ha Nithdale Orchard.

While Mr van der Voort had a background in market gardening he had no orchard experience. However, that did not deter him and with the help of neighbours he grew the business. In the end he owned about 400ha in Ettrick and Earnscleugh, 300ha of which is planted in apple trees on eight orchards.

The company declined to comment.

In 2020 the company bought the former Roxdale cannery, near Roxburgh, to process waste apples.

Ettrick pipfruit growers CAJ has been sold after more than 60 years in the ownership of Con van...
Ettrick pipfruit growers CAJ has been sold after more than 60 years in the ownership of Con van der Voort, who started the business. PHOTO: RUBY SHAW
His daughters Ms van der Voort and Mrs Birtles both work in the business and Mr van der Voort, 95, is still involved in the daily running of the business.

The new owners, SI Orchards Ltd whose shareholders, according to the NZ Companies Office, are Aucklanders Wade Glass and Paul Southam. They have had interests in forestry, sawmilling and soft furnishings.

Mr van der Voort arrived in New Zealand from the Netherlands in 1952. He started work as the gardener at Lawrence hospital, where he met Eileen Goodlet whom he would later marry. After working at the hospital and then for his father-in-law, who owned the local garage, Mr van der Voort ventured into fruit growing and never stopped.

In 2000 the Ettrick packing shed burned down and was rebuilt the following year. The business continued to expand and in 2019 new technology was installed which increased the pack house production by 60% along with an automated grading system to improve consistency, while retaining staff numbers of 85-90.