If you’re looking to rise above the competition, what better way is there than to fly over them? Using this method is how PML and its managing director Nick Finbow have kept business soaring, amid limited space in sea freight and the looming spectre of Brexit.
A family-run business, PML has dedicated the past 16 years to operating within the perishable goods supply chain. Starting with a 743m2 warehouse, the company has grown over the years to where it now controls 5,945m2 of temperature-controlled storage space a stone’s throw from Heathrow airport, operating to as low as -18°C.
Its primary method of shipping is air freight – last year handling 38,000t of produce coming into the UK alone – but it has seen significant growth over the past year in sea freight, which has tripled.
Finbow joined the company six years ago as business development manager before transitioning to the role of managing director. Having spent more than 20 years in supply chain and logistics, he slotted naturally into the perishables market, which is dependent on the just-in-time model for deliveries of food and ingredients.
That model is the reason why PML has focused on the use of air freight. When customers in the Middle East require meat to arrive within 72 hours of slaughter – a prerequisite for it being classed as halal – or cheeses need to be in stores to maximise their 75-day shelf-life, flying the product becomes the most logical way to get it to its destination.
“The product demands a fast route to sale and air freight is the only option,” Finbow points out. “If you’re exporting to places like Asia or Australia [via sea or land freight], it would just take too long – the shelf-life would have passed by the time it had arrived.”
Technology plays a major role in the implementation of PML’s supply chain, particularly in its sea freight operations. The company has recently partnered with measurement and control systems provider Sensortech to allow real-time tracking and temperature recordings in its containers.
“A customer can log-in and see, at any stage of the route, [the temperature of the shipment],” says Finbow. “I don’t think you can get much more advanced than that.”
Such technology is only of benefit if PML has the space to ship its customers’ products. “At certain times, we see terrible capacity issues and all that does is push the prices up,” he adds. “You could buy a container for £2,000 today, but if the vessel becomes full and you try to get it on there later, they’ll just keep ramping up the price.
“The only person suffering is the end-user or the customer. Either the cost of the product goes up or they just don’t ship – it’s as simple as that. With space becoming more and more restrictive, capacity will be a major issue going forward.”
One of the biggest challenges to the future of PML’s operations – as for many in the industry – will be the impact of Brexit. Should the country end up in a no-deal scenario, Finbow is quite confident PML has the right measures in place to mitigate the fallout.
“We’ve worked very hard with the Fresh Produce Consortium and we’ve been in discussion with the HMRC [Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs] and our customs systems providers as well, and we are in a very good place,” he explains. “We’ve got certain things put in place in case of a hard Brexit that will allow our customers to import product into the UK.”
Steering clear of Calais crisis
Clearly, PML’s air freight business won’t fall foul of the same Dover/Calais border issues as its sea freight operations. However, it has devised a sea freight solution only its customers are privy to, which would negate fears of two- to three-hour queues.
While PML looks to be on top of its game when it comes to Brexit planning, Finbow suggests the same cannot be said for others in the industry. He bemoans the general lack of preparedness exhibited by certain members of the perishables industry.
“If you look at the fruit and vegetable people who import, they seem to be really ahead of the game; they engaged early in discussions and took [the prospect of a no-deal] seriously. Other sectors seem not to be geared up so well,” he continues.
“Even today, I was talking to somebody and they didn’t really understand that, if there’s a hard Brexit, they will need customs entries done to get their products out of the country – and we’re two months away from a theoretical no-deal Brexit, which is frightening.”
Negative Brexit press
Not helping the matter is the negative press surrounding Brexit planning. In Finbow’s eyes, industry leaders who bewail the lack of clarity surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU and tell stories of a country racked by severe shortages in food and drink are doing little more than scaremongering – especially comments made decrying the untimeliness of the 31 October exit date. “I’m sure companies will have looked into this and made sure they have their contingency plans in place,” he says.
“I’m sure there is more than enough chilled warehousing within this country to handle [supplies for Christmas]. Apart from your fruits and vegetables, the majority of the stock is on the shelves and in stores four months before Christmas these days. It’s all in there early.”
With a cool, collected head on his shoulders, Finbow believes he is well-placed to lead PML past Brexit and into the future. That future involves further expansion into the US, as more business comes and goes through the west coast down into Mexico.
To support this, a new purpose-built temperature-controlled warehouse is likely to be on the cards as, in Finbow’s words, “even though we have 5,945m2, at times it feels like 604m2.”
Perishable Movements Ltd
Head office: Heathrow, UK
Revenue: £24.4m for the 2017–2018 financial year.
Primary business: Air and sea freight for the perishable foods industry.
Warehouse space: 5,945m2 of temperature-controlled storage space operating to as low as -18°C.
Accreditations: BRC Food, BRC Storage and Distribution, IATA and BIFA.
Nick Finbow: Joined the company as business development manager in 2013. Prior to his appointment at PML, Finbow served as operations director for Hellmann Worldwide Logistics. section for 12 years.