Fresh idea bears fruit for MAXtend

red grapes

A small Victorian venture capital experiment has borne fruit for Mitsubishi Australia, growing into a multinational business that is now run as an independent division.

Sanjay Savur heads Melbourne-based and Mitsubishi Australia owned MAXtend, which helps exporters of fruit and vegetables keep cargo fresh during long ocean voyages.

“To send fresh produce by sea you need to be able to keep it fresh for five weeks or even longer,’’ says Savur. “And it must still arrive with enough shelf life to travel through the distribution and retail chain.

“Some cargo such as citrus or grapes can travel well with refrigeration alone, but others such as bananas or avocados, for example, can deteriorate quickly even when refrigerated.’’

MAXtend supplies a complete Atmosphere Control Service which includes an add-on control unit for refrigerated shipping containers that automatically controls the oxygen, carbon dioxide and ethylene levels within. This allows perishable produce to be transported much further and over a longer time period, yet still arrive fresh.

Freshness and flexibility

Savur says sensitive produce can be transported in specialised controlled-atmosphere containers that generate their own gas. But what makes MAXtend’s service unique is that their atmospheric control units can be quickly fitted to any standard refrigerated container for a single voyage, and removed at the other end.

“With our service, exporters or shipping lines can just call us as and when they need us, we have a network of agents in ports around the world who can quickly fit our equipment for a single voyage, and remove it at the other end.’’

Victorian connection

MAXtend was originally planned as a regional business servicing Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, but has gone global since realising the strong international demand for their service. The company conducts all R&D, assembly and quality control of its equipment in Melbourne, and Savur says they worked closely with the Victorian government to develop the technology, after commercialising it 20 years ago.

“At the start, in the late ‘90s, we worked with the then Department of Primary Industries in Victoria, and the Institute of Horticultural Development. They helped us evaluate the technology, and check its efficacy for different types of cargo.’’

Hi-tech niche

Savur says they are constantly developing and upgrading their technology, and recently added GPRS technology, which enables them to monitor shipments anywhere in the world.

“That has added a new dimension because we can better assure customers of quality,’’ says Savur. “Now we can monitor cargoes and take counter-measures during the voyage if things are going wrong, which our customers really appreciate.’’

MAxtend imports some sensors, but otherwise almost all components are manufactured by suppliers in Melbourne, and Savur says the city’s electrical components industry is highly competitive and competent.

“At the outset, the Victorian Government recommended manufacturers to us for components such as control units and valves. And the suppliers they recommended to us back then still supply us today.

“Our equipment is niche, it is not high-volume. A business like ours needs small quantities made to a very high standard, very reliable, and that’s exactly what Melbourne does well.’’