It’s only mid-morning, but Ross Eggleton has already chalked up more than two hundred miles on his way to our meeting at NFT’s recently-opened state-of-the-art chilled distribution facility in Tilbury, Essex.
“The one thing us supply chain people constantly fail at is getting our own logistics right,” he quips, having started the day at 5am after journeying down from his home in South Yorkshire. “However, there’s no getting away from the fact that this job does require a significant time on the road.”
Given that NFT operates 16 distribution sites across the country, that perhaps isn’t surprising. But, having just been appointed chief executive at an eventful time for the chilled and fresh food third-party logistics provider (3PL), there seems little doubt that Eggleton feels the hours spent travelling across the UK are well worth it.
On the back of the opening of NFT’s £25M quayside food distribution hub in Tilbury in April 2016, Eggleton is on a mission to better understand the needs and challenges of food manufacturers. This, he believes, will enable NFT to offer more added value within what is an increasingly margin-squeezed supply chain.
With a £200M+ turnover, NFT’s heritage lies in food manufacture, having formed as part of Northern Foods more than 30 years ago. Eggleton, however, is keen to dismiss the notion that the company “understands manufacturing simply because it came from manufacturing”.
A key priority for 2018, he says, is to build “deeper relationships” with NFT’s customer base, in order to understand their requirements.
“We need to demonstrate that we’ve got the capability to do more for people across the wider supply chain than push product from A to B at a sustainable price,” says Eggleton. “We need to spend longer with customers, and understand what hurts them, and what can really help them.”
NFT’s capabilities (Back to top)
When it comes to showing NFT’s capabilities, there’s probably no better example than Tilbury.
By having the 2,140m2 site located quayside, Eggleton says NFT is able to reduce end-to-end supply chain costs and add to product shelf-life.
“When goods come in through a port, they quite often have to be housed in intermediary locations before being moved to secondary distribution outlets – but here at Tilbury we reduce cost, time and complexity by removing that second stage,” he explains.
“For the customer, this can reduce working capital in stock. They should also be able to add an extra day on the life of the product.”
With a throughput of around 800,000 cases a week, capacity at Tilbury is currently around 50%. Rather than being focused purely on building capacity, Eggleton says a more important goal is to find the right strategic customer fit for the site.
This includes a mix of retailer and manufacturer partnerships, both long and short-term, with the ability to cope with any spike in demand brought about by seasonality or promotions.
“We can also use the site as a relief depot for our wider network, as it was for our Daventry operation before Christmas. So, having a lower capacity provides opportunities in other areas.”
Growing volume at Tilbury (Back to top)
Despite these advantages, building volume at Tilbury remains important for NFT in the months ahead. Central to this, Eggleton says, is the development of multiple temperature regimes within the chilled storage facility.
“We are currently working on temperature regimes – and part of that includes investment in more flexible space. That might mean we can offer 4,500m2 at 7°C, and then 3,500m2 at 3°C. If you can only provide one of these, you rule out a huge part of the marketplace.”
According to Eggleton, being all things to all people is an essential part of life as a modern 3PL. Having spent a number of years in logistics roles at Morrisons (see box), he acknowledges that from a retailer point of view, being strong on price, range and availability are now “expected norms”.
And with the rise of convenience and online shopping, and an ever-more fractured marketplace, it’s more important than ever for manufacturers, retailers and 3PLs to understand each other’s requirements.
“You only have to look at how online shopping, even via the traditional retailers, has added pressure to the supply chain,” he says.
“A home delivery usually requires a store person to pick items from shelves before the store opens. To enable this to be possible, the store will need deliveries even earlier in the day than usual.”
While he is unable to confirm whether overall retailer-manufacturer relationships have improved in recent years, he believes there is a desire for all parties within the supply chain to work more collaboratively.
‘Joining up the entire supply chain’ (Back to top)
“Whether it’s for better working capital, better availability, raising food provenance, or cutting food waste, there is an increasing realisation that these things are only possible by joining up the entire supply chain.”
And Eggleton believes that collaboration also needs to exist between 3PLs. “Through a freight exchange, we work with other UK hauliers on backhauls,” he explains.
Reducing the 40% of vehicles that have an element of empty running in them, according to Eggleton, can also help mitigate the increasing problem of a shortage heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.
“Again, with manufacturers, it doesn’t always have to be that if we manage their finished goods coming out of the facility, we also can help them with, say, raw ingredients into their manufacturing plant,” Eggleton says.
The potential impact of Brexit on the food drink and industry labour market in general hasn’t been overlooked by Eggleton either.
“It’s a subject that we are staying close to. And I guess for the industry, in a larger context, labour shortages is one of the obvious areas of risk.”
More positively, Eggleton says he has received feedback from companies further down the supply chain that anticipate an increase in UK manufacturing, post-Brexit.
“Tilbury is mainly an import facility, but if volumes shift we can use the site as much for export. So we do offer quite a bit of flexibility.”
Ultimately in Eggleton’s view, however, Brexit is another reason why a spirit of collaboration is now essential in the supply chain.
“Rather than a transactional relationship, there appears to be an eagerness by an increasing number of manufacturers to work on areas of added value, and make longer-term investments.”
And that can only be positive for the industry.
Meanwhile, watch our exclusive video interview with the NFT boss, as he explains how his business can bring benefits to food manufacturers as well as the wider supply chain.
JOB TITLE: Chief executive, NFT Distribution Operations
DOMESTICS: Recently engaged. Three children from a previous marriage.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: By his own admission, Eggleton’s CV is dominated by logistics operation roles. He has moved between in-house retailers and third-party logistics providers (3PLs), starting at Asda in 2000, followed by a stint at Lloyd Fraser Group in 2005.
Eggleton gained the majority of his retail experience at Morrisons, which he joined in 2008.
There, he rose through the ranks to become group logistics and supply chain director, before leaving to become chief operating officer at NFT last June. In September, he was elevated to deputy chief executive, and on January 1 he became chief executive, replacing David Frankish, who took up the vice-chairman post.
AWAY FROM WORK: Most of Eggleton’s spare time is spent with his family and children. “I try to get the kids away from the Xbox and Playstation, and get them doing outdoors activities, such as fishing and biking.” He is also a keen Nottingham Forest FC fan.