Listen, respond and deliver

Listening, responding and delivering to exceptional standards. These are the traits that have allowed Fowler Welch to become a supply chain supplier of choice for major retailers and manufacturers across the UK. Established in 1994, the company today boasts nine strategically located depots, covering a combined space of approximately one million square feet, each possessing its own dedicated team that help to provide a flexible, cost-effective and reliable service for ambient and temperature controlled products. With 450 Euro 6 modern vehicles at its disposal, the company is able to cover some 57 million miles of road each year.

“Historically, Fowler Welch was very much a consolidator of fresh produce, distributing to retail and wholesale markets,” begins Fowler Welch’s Chief Executive Officer, Nick Hay. “In more recent times, and by building upon our heritage, we have developed a much broader range of products and services. Developing expertise in areas that utilise the same kind of chilled infrastructure that we became an expert in operating, we have gradually increased the amount of warehousing activity we provide on behalf of food manufacturers.”

Key developments in the last decade or so include the introduction of an ambient business, based in Manchester, in 2006, and the establishing of a joint venture alongside Direct Produce Supplies (DPS) in 2014, which has resulted in the company providing a linked fruit packing service from its distribution sites. Even more recently, in 2016 to be exact, Fowler Welch developed a sophisticated partnership with Dairy Crest, which sees the company operating all of Dairy Crest’s transport out of its Nuneaton facility.

“Looking back, 20 years ago Fowler Welch could very much have been defined as delivering a fresh produce consolidation service. While this is still very much a core facet of the business, in 2017 we see ourselves much more as being food supply chain experts,” Nick adds. “We now specialise in more than just packing and are far more sophisticated in terms of trying to provide our customers with added value, whether this be by providing bespoke fleet solutions or by introducing new ways of working with people. An example of the latter can be found in our relationship with food re-distribution charity group FareShare. Our partnership with FareShare began in August 2016, and in the first 12 months we have helped to donate enough food to provide one million meals for charities supporting vulnerable people. This is a hugely rewarding example of what can happen when a company like ours shifts from being just a distribution consolidation business into a true supply chain expert, providing different solutions for different challenges.”

A team of ‘great people’, a ‘can do’ culture and a proven track record for being a reactive business are just a few of company’s strengths that Nick points to as being the reason for Fowler Welch’s competitive edge in its field. “Our hard work over the years has allowed us to accumulate a strong, healthy balance sheet, which gives us the ability to invest for the long term,” he says. “One thing we do not do is take short term decisions and this has paid off for us massively to date.”

In addition to its obvious dedication to providing an unmatched quality of service to its customers, Fowler Welch has also placed innovation and delivering greater energy efficiency at the core of its activities. By focusing on the miles per gallon (MPG) performance of its vehicles, the company has been able to increase its MPG by 12.5 per cent, which has contributed to a reduced carbon output of 14 per cent in the last five years, which is a great achievement.

In a further development, it was recently revealed that Fowler Welch would be undertaking a major environmental road test of a selection of tractor units, following the previous addition of 76 trailers and 72 units to its multi-temperature fleet as part of its ongoing investment in sustainability practices.

This investment will see 11 Scania units and 37 MAN units delivering to and collecting from all the major food retailers each week. Alongside these units will be another six vehicles from each major marque, Volvo, DAF and Mercedes that will be put through a rigorous comparison process. A head-to-head will take place as each manufacturer is marked on MPG, both tank-to-tank and telematics, whole life cost, and uptime, as well as driver acceptance and after sales support. The initial results of this assessment will contribute to decisions made during the company’s vehicle replacement programme in 2018. Commenting at the time of the announcement, Nick said: “Across the business we have a real focus on driving down carbon emissions by a combination of adopting innovative technology and investing in better, more carbon-efficient equipment. This benchmarking exercise is the latest move in our holistic approach to our environmental impact which is saving over 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.”

The company also makes a concerted effort to improve the actual utilisation of its fleet. “A good example of this can be seen in our work with Tulip, one of the UK’s leading food producing companies,” Nick describes. “Tulip’s products are transported on very specific pallets, which initially we found we could not double stack within our standard trailers. In response to this we choose to introduce a bespoke ‘jumbo’ trailer, which is slightly taller and has a system of bars that drop down from the ceiling, creating a ‘double deck’ effect. We have since introduced a number of these trailers, which has helped reduce the mileage on those specific loops by 80,000 miles a year, which again has a significant, positive impact on carbon emissions.”

Environmental awareness also extends into Fowler Welch’s manufacturing operations, where it has contracted Linde Material Handling to supply a national fleet of more than 180 lithium-ion fork lift trucks and associated warehouse equipment. “Within the next 12 months, 100 per cent of our warehouse fleet will run on lithium-ion batteries,” Nick comments. “The benefit of this will be two-fold. In the first instance, it is yet another example of our determination to reduce energy consumption. Secondly, we find that one of the biggest causes of workplace accidents and personal injury in this line of work is the changing of batteries on fork lift and pallet trucks. With these new trucks the battery does not need to be changed at all, rather you simply plug the truck into a plug socket to charge the battery. So this will have a massive impact on the welfare of our people as well.”

Looking towards the immediate future, while rightly remaining very positive regarding his own company’s fortunes, Nick is still aware that the next 12 months has the potential to bring with it a number of complex challenges that Fowler Welch will have to overcome. “We are looking at something of a perfect storm brewing on the horizon, what with rising inflation, increases in the living wage, changing legislation as it relates to pensions and, of course, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit,” he says, before spelling out how the company can overcome these issues. “Talking to, and working with, our customers, listening to their issues, collaborating to find resolutions to these and resolving them in a timely, cost-effective manner is going to be key to weathering the aforementioned storm. Our mantra of listening, responding and delivering is as true as it has ever been. We need to take on board what our customers are doing, be willing to be innovative in finding a response to their concerns and then delivering that in a successful manner, much as we have done in the past.”

Fowler Welch
Nine depots across the UK
450 Euro 6 modern vehicles
57 million miles covered per year