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Thinking ahead

Thinking ahead

01/05/2012 | Channel: Logistics / Packaging, Food & Drink

A major new distribution centre is a significant step forward in NFT's ambitious plans

Suppliers of short shelf life products such as chilled food and drinks face a particular logistical challenge in getting their products from the factory to sales point quickly and efficiently. With over 30 years of experience in this fast-moving industry, NFT is well versed in the different types of logistical solutions that can be applied to time critical requirements.

David Frankish, CEO at NFT, explains how the company has evolved into the market leader it is today: “NFT has built a reputation for delivering time critical logistics solutions, starting back when we were part of Northern Foods. Since 2006, we have been an independent business, backed by our management team and Phoenix Equity Partners.

“We are a very different company today from our starting point and we’re proud of the fact that we’ve retained the great aspects from our history (people, experience and reputation) and successfully combined these with the innovative changes required to provide fully systems-controlled time critical logistics solutions. In fact, NFT has grown from £1 million turnover in 1979, to £152 million in the year to March 2012.

“We don’t expect all our customers to be the same, so we don’t provide a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Individual customer needs and requirements are taken into account and bespoke solutions are developed for each client. For example, new manufacturing customers are provided with full operational and IT support during start-up, making sure that deliveries are accepted first time, every time by the retailers.

“NFT has seven UK locations covering the whole of the mainland as well as carefully selected partners for Irish deliveries. This means we don’t have to use pallet networks and can keep subcontractors to a core number of tried and trusted quality partners - so our customers’ products are safe in our hands.”

NFT focuses intently on its core services of warehousing and distribution of chilled food and drink products. “We provide the intelligent link between manufacturer and retailer,” adds David. “Our [manufacturing and retailer] understanding enables us to create value through the enhancement of supply chains by offering comprehensive and innovative solutions to meet the most demanding and complex challenges.”

This means customers return to NFT because their needs are placed at the heart of its business. “It is our constant thinking ahead through investment in infrastructure, systems and people that enables us to identify improvements within customers’ supply chains and to work with them to add value,” confirms David. “We evolve our processes continually to drive excellence. Our proactive, key account management and systems intelligence provides a level of supply chain visibility, which we consider to be unique in our market.”

NFT’s systems give manufacturers and retailers complete transparency of their order, from collection, to picking at depots, during transit and when the delivery is received and ready to invoice. This is especially important in chilled, when customers often demand varying shelf life dates to reflect demand and promotional activity. The system includes the latest in-cab transport management, which monitors driver performance (to improve safety and reduce environmental impact of the vehicle). It also links to the Customer Relationship System, which allows customer service staff to keep customers fully informed.

Maintaining this kind of state-of-the-art operation requires strategic planning and investment, an approach that NFT has embraced with a strap line of ‘thinking ahead’. Since 2009, the company has invested over £20m in technology and infrastructure solutions, which includes the opening of a new £2 million depot in Manchester in 2011. “As NFT’s business in the North West grew, the previous depot at Whitefield didn’t have the space to meet demand,” says David, explaining the thinking behind this move. “To increase space available in the region, we took out a ten-year lease on our new Middleton site and invested £2m in refurbishing the warehouse and office accommodation.”

It is clear that NFT is determined to continually improve its operations, and this means investment into technology as well as facilities: “IT delivery is customer centric and we are constantly investigating how our IT solutions can add value to our customers through data capture and knowledge management,” notes David.

“Our strategy requires investment in secure, flexible, vertical solutions integrated using standard Microsoft and web technologies to connect with as many types of devices as possible. These solutions cover operations, customer service, BI and KPI delivery and are deployed to customers via a new Sharepoint (web) based portal.

“We constantly challenge ourselves to predict how the commercial, environmental and technical developments will impact the supply chain. We then implement changes within our infrastructure and processes, which will drive excellence and reassure our customers that we are a step ahead of the market.”

When dealing with high volumes of perishable goods, efficient planning and effective communication play a critical role in the successful fulfillment of orders. “Attainment of market leadership in chilled primary food and drink distribution is hard won,” concludes David. “To ensure we stay ahead of the competition we are driving change constantly by challenging our business processes to maintain high levels of quality and efficiency.”

Services Chilled distribution