Halo champions race for perfectly fresh produce
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more committed to delivering the best possible fresh produce supply chain service than Gavin Knight, Managing Director of the new Halo multi-temperature product handling facility at DP World London Gateway.
Gavin Knight’s formal career with fresh produce began in 1990, straight from achieving his HNC in Agricultural Marketing and Business at Harper Adams University, although his exposure to the sector started ten years before this.
“My father ran the largest vegetable cooperative in Lincolnshire, which supplied all of the UK multiplies,” he explains. “I followed in his footsteps and quickly became hooked on the work, probably because it’s so fast-paced owing to the nature of perishables.”
It is this race to maintain product freshness, despite journeys spanning thousands of miles, that drives Gavin in his mission to challenge inefficient supply chains and minimise the carbon footprint of fresh produce logistics at every stage possible.
Halo embodies this vision. The new state-of-the-art multi-temperature, product-handling facility offers 110,000sq ft of frozen, chilled, ripening and processing space. Located within DP World London Gateway just eight miles from the M25 and A13 it is being heralded as a ‘game-changer.’
Scheduled to open in late October Halo is expected to deliver reductions of up to 48-hours in the supply chain process. Retailers are already enthralled by the potential financial savings and the environmentally-beneficial reduction in ‘food miles’ being proposed.
“Halo is simply the leanest independent, added-value service for the chilled, fresh and frozen food industry,” Gavin continues. “It’s a great facility which happens to be next to a port in an ideal location for nationwide distribution.
“Over the last few decades fresh produce has gone through a journey, driven by the multiples who exerted their considerable buying power and created a product oversupply. Now they are looking at a partnership-based approach and want to streamline supply chains to achieve faster and fresher products at better and more reasonable prices.
“Once you realise you can’t buy any better all you can do is improve the movement of goods, which is the exciting bit for Halo. ‘How do I get produce from A to B, and then on to the consumer in the best and most cost efficient manner?’
“Historically, a container would come into port and then be shipped to a fresh produce centre in Lincolnshire or Kent. There it would undergo added value before being transported to its point-of-sale. We’re removing the middle-leg by keeping the container in port and then adding value with chilled storage, grading, ripening, packing, labelling and delivery.
“Some 85% of southern hemisphere product comes through this port from South America, South Africa and Australasia, which equates to 50 per cent of the UK’s annual fresh fruit supply. This is how we’ve found ourselves at DP World London Gateway.
“Our parent SH Pratt Group has always aimed to create the leanest supply chain for the fresh, chilled and frozen food markets. We like to be seen as innovators who disrupt, and simply by placing an added-value facility at the port of entry Halo is reaffirming this reputation.
“In order to achieve this we’re fortunate to have been able to look at the entire supply chain with a clean piece of paper because we don’t have any legacy buildings or capital expenditure holding us back.
“Fresh produce is always going to be challenging because you are trying to deliver the product in the best possible state while nature actively works against you.
“Our operations thrive on careful planning and collaborative agreement. No matter what the obstacle, everything in the chilled chain has to stay within a carefully-controlled atmosphere to maximise yield, flavour and quality. In any other industry you can buy something and six-months later it turns up. Fresh produce on the other hand is comparable to a running tap because it can’t stop.”
The concept seems like simplicity itself, but in such a highly competitive market it is Halo that has recognised and grasped the opportunity, which certainly says something for the organisation’s agility. With this in mind how long will it be until a competitor mimics this location and approach, and what does the future hold for the fresh produce sector?
On the first point Gavin is somewhat circumspect. “I believe we’ll see a competing chilled facility at this port within a year. Innovation is evolutionary so at the moment a lot of our customers are buying from multiple facilities throughout the UK. We’re saying consolidate your volume and utilise this concept instead. First we’re building awareness. Next, people will adopt it.
“So where do you go from there? Well, it’s great to be here but you have to deliver effectively so our haulage partners, Kingsman Services, are dovetailing into our redistribution network with highly competitive rates.”
On the question of what the future might hold for innovation in the fresh produce sector, Gavin adds: “There’s always nervousness about change. You have early, mid and late-adopters and we’ve seen all of these to date, but overall the interest in Halo has been phenomenal.
“This is also true for our approach of putting fewer conventional refrigerated containers into the country, meaning there will be more lorry drivers available for backfill loads. The early-adopters are pushing us to grow operations as soon as possible, and we’re having conversations with the leading supermarkets who want us to create additional hubs. This is evidence enough the concept is right.
“I’m very confident in our ability to deliver a best-in-class operation and welcome all-comers from industry to visit us and experience the positives of Halo for themselves.
“We’re also realistic about agility and the perishable nature of agricultural products. It’s vital to appreciate that when it’s taken years to successfully grow products, exporters and importers are naturally passionate about how their goods are taken care of. We strive to promote trust and transparency because this business is all about having and sharing the right information.
“DP World London Gateway has spent £1.4 billion on infrastructure to date, making this the fastest growing port in Europe, and the third fastest growing in the world. It’s also the quickest and most automated operational port in the UK serving 2,000 vehicles with an average container turnaround of 35 minutes. Fresh produce isn’t the only thing moving at high speed here and October 2018 can’t arrive soon enough for us.”