Post Harvest

Transport to Packhouse

Onions are transported from the field to packhouse in wooden bins or bulk trailers. A number of packhouses are located on farm, while larger facilities are usually situated on dedicated sites central to the growing region.

Most growers plant onions on a number of properties – not just the property with the packhouse facility.

Packing Operation

Onions are held in field bins after harvest for a minimum of 10 days to naturally cure. Once cured, the onions are graded to meet export requirements; local market and waste onions are separated out at this stage.


Refrigerated cool stores are seldom used by onion packhouses, preferring to store onions in ventilated sheds, using ambient air temperature.

Coolstorage may sometimes be used to maintain freshness in onions stored for later season sale on the domestic market.


Onions are sent to the port of export by truck or train. Onions packed out of Franklin/Waikato are sent to either Auckland or Tauranga ports.

Hawkes Bay and Manawatu onions are sent to Napier port; Canterbury onions are sent to Timaru or Lyttelton ports.

Export packaging

There is a range of different types of final packaging used for export onions, including: 20 kg bags. Onions are put into 20 kg net bags. These are stacked on wooden pallets; suitable to fit the container they will be shipped in. 1.2 tonne bags – slings. These net bags, which can hold 1.2 tonnes of onions. They are placed on a wooden pallet for transportation. Export bins.

These are wooden in construction and carry either 700 - 750 kg or 1,200 kg of loose onions. Export bins are often reused in the local vegetable industry in the country of destination.


Most onions are shipped in ambient air temperature containers; red onions and some lines of brown onions are sent in refrigerated containers.

The journey takes 4 to 6 weeks. Innovations in ventilation of shipping containers to give good airflow through the onions whilst in transit, has improved crop outturns at market.

Repackaging in UK and Europe

At the destination port, containers are unloaded from the container ship and transported by road directly to a packhouse for unloading, storage and repacking Most brown onions are unloaded and stored in sheds at ambient temperatures until required for repacking.

The few red and brown onions that are transported in reefer containers are cool stored for up to 2 months prior to repacking.

Cool stores and packhouses in the UK use similar technology to those in New Zealand to repack onions into bags or crates according to supermarket, processor or restaurant use requirements.

During repacking the onions are tipped out of the packaging they were transported in and sorted to remove any onions that have deteriorated during the journey and packed into smaller bags (1 – 5 kg) for delivery to a retail distribution centre (RDC) across the Continental Europe.

New Zealand Onions Export Peak

Seasonal Export Graph