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Bluelab Doubles Employees Despite Pandemic Affected Supply Chain Issues

TAURANGA 19 March 2021: When the city of Wuhan entered lockdown in January 2020, it forced a Tauranga-based company into a make-or-break situation. Rather than accepting defeat, Bluelab rallied, transformed and then impressively responded to a rapidly growing global market during significant supply chain challenges.

With a reputation for innovation, the award-winning team at Bluelab were already poised to capitalise on the global focus on plant-based diets and concern about climate change with their suite of state-of-the art monitoring and control equipment for hydroponic and commercial plant growers worldwide.

But with a critical components manufacturer located in the Covid-19 epicentre of Wuhan, and an upsurge in global demand for food and medicine which relies on hydroponics, Bluelab was entering an uncertain future.

Greg Jarvis, CEO of Bluelab, says the pandemic impacted their supply chain almost immediately.

“I remember when the news broke that Wuhan was going to become the first city in the world to enter a COVID-19 lockdown on 23 January. By this point, we had all heard about the virus, but that announcement - as well as the email from our supplier confirming that we wouldn’t receive components for many months - made it all the more real.”

Faced with unprecedented disruption, Bluelab’s team made a conscious decision to use the pandemic as a catalyst for change in every part of their business.

“In June 2020, we launched our new purpose: the art of growing for a healthier world. In response to an increasingly locked-down world, we turned to technology as our solution by significantly bolstering our digital offerings to help pull down the barriers to Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), making this sustainable growing method much more accessible,” says Jarvis.

Hydroponics and Controlled Environment Agriculture CEA allow growers to grow more crops in less space without being dependant on weather conditions. Both climate change and the pandemic have increased the popularity of this production method as it enables crops to be grown closer to markets with lower usage of transport, water and pesticides.

“Expectations for the population to grow by 40 percent to more than 9 billion by the year 2050, have raised the global question of how to grow more food with less water. With agriculture responsible for 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals, efficient and sustainable water use is needed for our own generation and future generations.

“CEA enables more crops to be grown with less impact and in new places. When compared to field agriculture, CEA is much more productive per square foot and uses up to 95 percent less water. We believe in the art of growing for a healthier world,” says Jarvis.

Bluelab was classified as an essential business and were able to continue operating, albeit at a reduced capacity, throughout local lockdowns. They utilised the first nationwide lockdown as an opportunity to ensure office staff were set up to work safely and comfortably from home says Jarvis.

“We considered everything from desk, monitor and chair set-up to the technology that enables remote collaboration. Now, as a result of those efforts, one announcement on our internal communication channel can see most of our team working from home. It’s provided great flexibility, especially as we continue to face intermittent lockdown restrictions.”

Maintaining their workflow and their New Zealand-based manufacturing operations enabled Bluelab to expand rapidly to meet growing market demand. A recent refit of their premises in Tauranga reflects that growth.

“In 12 months, our team has doubled in size, revenue is up 88 percent we doubled our warehousing, found new supply chain partners and launched a new purpose, brand, ecommerce store, CRM and integrated software suite to power the business,” says Jarvis.

They have doubled the floor space of their office and adopted an open plan office layout to foster collaboration. The new interior design features custom designed tables and plant walls and a modern kitchen. And while the refurbishment was initially driven by expansion, Jarvis notes that it has also been critical to staff wellbeing.

“Looking after our staff is the most important part of anything we do. Attracting and retaining top talent means we can help more customers find success in controlled environment agriculture so that we can all live in a healthier world.”

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