Question: How did you get into the temperature controlled distribution sector and what is your role within Noble Foods?
Answer: A tad strange to most but I was managing a Processing site and it had a major fire. Overnight we had to move 500,000 chickens and 300 people over 110 miles further north and this became a tad problematic and expensive. I was then asked to look at the Transport Operation and amalgamate all the Operations across the country. I found the constant change within the Transport operations a lot more enjoyable and challenging.
Noble Foods are the UK’s largest egg packer (probably better known as the Happy Egg company) so it was definitely the Chicken before the egg for me. I head up the Transport Operations for the Business which serves all the UK major retailers and collect from over 440 farms from Caithness to Devon. Our own fleet covers over 14million kms per year and employs over 200 drivers.
Question: Can you firstly tell us what temperature controlled vehicles that Noble Foods operates?
Answer: Noble Foods operates over 30 rigid temperature controlled vehicles where we endeavour to try and harmonise the temperature of the egg we collect to the same temperatures in our packing centres. We do this to avoid any condensation that may form on the egg as it is at Ambient temperature when it is collected off a farm (it can get very cold and quite warm within a few months). The condensation would be seen by our highly automated packing machines as a cracked egg and thus be downgraded. We run 125 single deck trailers that are used both for collecting the egg and delivering into the UK retailers. We also have 10 double deckers that are predominately used for deliveries into one UK retailer.
Question: What has been the most important technical development in your temperature controlled bodies and refrigeration systems in recent years and how has it impacted on your operations within Noble Foods?
Answer: Undoubtedly, it has been the on-line telematics and how these have been deployed onto the fridges’ systems. The Business operates twin evaporators and we can carry both frozen, chilled and plus 12 products, so the ease in which we can obtain the thermographs has really simplified our Operation. I am sure many of your operators will remember the days of trying to download a fridge in the wind and rain, but the new system means this information is available in real time at the point of delivery. This is an important part of our end to end process control.
Question: Are you using telematics across your fleet currently? If so, what advantages do you see this gives your clients?
Answer: Telematics now form the major source of information for our Transport business: we have Driver ID, reliable fuel information and track and trace which serves to monitor how our vehicles are being driven. The main difference in our business is that if we have a harsh braking event it will result in a significant amount of breakages on the eggs so we use the telematics system to monitor how our drivers are driving to a finite level.
Question: Customer needs are constantly changing, so what are you finding is now the biggest request from your customers?
Answer: Cost is the major issue – we are treated as a commodity and price is unfortunately king! The amazing fact is that all the customers believe chilled transport can continually be cheaper and they truly undervalue the work that temperature controlled operators do to such an extent that they expect the temperature controlled prices to be comparable to Ambient costs.
Question: What environmental measures does Noble Foods incorporate to ensure best practice?
Answer: The Business has a full Environmental charter that requires every department to monitor their environmental impact. We have developed the fleet to have 40% dual fuel with LPG which both reduces CO2 and improves costs. We also monitor in real time the drivers driving style to ensure we are minimising their environmental impact. We have invested heavily into having a modern and fuel efficient fleet but the systems have to work- which means they have to be managed. The Telematics systems play a key role in monitoring them. Wind power and Solar are utilised across the business, but you don’t see many of these on a truck!
Question: Since the Brexit decision, have you noticed any changes with your business?
Answer: It is clear that we have had a large number of staff return to their native country as the value of the Euro as increased against the £. Obviously, our feed prices have increased with the £/$ exchange rate. Inflation and price rise may be words we would not like to use but it is happening which is forcing more internal reviews to evaluate any potential improvements we can make to improve the overall performance of the Business. In our commodity market it is difficult to pass the costs on to the major customers so we have to be more efficient.
Question: Lastly, would you like to share any news/ views about your company that you feel would benefit the TCS&D readers?
Answer: I truly believe that the chilled refrigeration sector undervalues its contribution to the overall food supply chain. We probably have better control of temperature on a vehicle travelling at 50 mph than most food processors have at their manufacturing sites! The investment into technology and modern transport equipment is key to keeping the supply chain robust in terms of performance and cost. Having worked in the sector for over 20 years it isn’t surprising that you see all the same faces each year, however, we are all looking a little bit older and more fatigued- the few times we do get together results in a good old moan, however, what we offer the wider UK supply chain is a tremendous reliability in terms of finite temperature control and a delivery performance that the ambient operators envy!