2019 reviewed

London, UK: As 2019 draws to a close, Global Cold Chain News looks back at the highs and lows of the year.

Brexit dominated the political and business climate throughout 2019. The government had set 29 March as the departure date, then delayed this to 31 October in the face of parliamentary failure to pass a Brexit deal.

Parliament’s opposition to the deal eventually led to the then prime minister Theresa May’s resignation. Boris Johnson took over as prime minister in July 2019 and renegotiated parts of the existing deal.

The backstop was designed to protect Northern Irish trade but a major point of contention with Brexiteers has been replaced with new customs arrangements. Once they take effect, the UK would be able to sign and implement its own trade agreements with countries around the world.

The revised plan effectively creates a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This means some goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would have to pay EU import taxes although these would be refunded if goods remain in Northern Ireland.

NFT Distribution, part of EV Cargo, started the year by upgrading its fleet in January 2019 with 40 new Schmitz Cargobull tri-axle refrigerated trailers and also put 82 Renault Range T460 6×2 tractors with sleeper cabs into service

As for the rest of the deal, much remains largely unchanged from the one negotiated by May. Known as the withdrawal agreement, it includes:

  • the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU
  • how much money the UK is to pay the EU (initially thought to be £39bn).

There are also changes to the political declaration, which sets out plans for the long-term relationship between the UK and the EU. It says this would be based on a free-trade agreement.

In January 2019 Montracon reintroduced refrigerated trailer making at its Doncaster factory, part of the £4.5m upgrade at the site that includes a new semi-automated shot blast and paint shop

Johnson then called an election for 12 December in a bid to break the parliamentary deadlock.

Brexit has been a continuing saga of warnings about trade disruption, delays at ports, and a threat to logistics. The Freight Transport Association, Road Transport Union, RHA, and other transport bodies issued a series of warnings about the dire consequences of a no-deal exit and complained of government efforts to gag publicity and discussion.

In April, Reynolds, a fruit and vegetable supplier, added an all-electric Renault Kangoo van converted by CoolKit and fitted with Carrier Transicold’s ultra-slim Neos 100

But there have been some lighter moments, provided in the main by the former secretary of state for transport, Chris Grayling. His department, as part of plans to prepare for a no-deal exit, chartered a ferry company that did not, and had never operated, any ferries to provide a Brexit emergency service from Ramsgate, a port no longer capable of taking ferries of suitable size.

More worrying, was a study published in July by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and Statista that found that only one in three logistics firms have established a team to work out their Brexit strategy, and only one in five have made use of external help.

In April Nagel Langdons ordered 205 Scanias for its temperature-controlled distribution fleet

The market
Brexit aside, cold chain operators were generally bullish, at least in public. When Cold Chain News published its annual ranking of UK operators in June the bosses of the Top 25 temperature-controlled operators were upbeat about prospects for 2019 after 2018 proved a mixed bag financially. And early indications are that 2019 may be a solid year financially for most operators. French operator Stef has turned in a consistent performance with third quarter turnover up 6.7% to €886.9m.

In September, McCulla Ireland reported turnover up by 8% in the past year to almost £26m, The company’s pre-tax profits jumped by 22% to over £1.6m. The firm said it was “satisfied” with the performance over the year and the directors believe the infrastructure is now in place for a period of “sustained organic growth”.

April saw Culina add eight new Renault T460 6x2s to its fleet, supplied by BRS on contract hire including maintenance and expected to do 160,000km a year

In November Fowler Welch reported profits up 23% to £2.7m in the half year to the end of September. However, Fowler Welch’ revenue fell slightly by 3% to £86.4m, primarily due to the closure of its ambient operation at Desborough, Northamptonshire, but “with no associated impact to ongoing profitability”.

Logistics firms involved in cold storage, including NewCold, Buffaload, HSH Coldstores, Cold Move and Transkold, have all told Cold Chain News in 2019 that they believe that the sector will grow in the medium term.

This is according to the Coldstore Guide, produced by Cold Chain News in association with the Cold Chain Federation. The guide lists operators in the UK and Ireland, along with their cold storage capacity and other services.

The CV Show in the spring of 2019 saw Thermo King and Frigoblock show a prototype hybrid fridge for undermount application on trucks and drawbar trailers on trial with Castell Howell Foods

Jon Miles, country director at NewCold, believes that the cold chain sector is likely to continue to thrive. “Frozen food continues to outperform other categories and a focus on food safety, and quality as well as value will, I believe, continue to see the market grow,” said Miles. He said that the company was “currently looking at possibilities to add storage in the UK, which would have a target date towards the end of 2020, but nothing is confirmed yet.”

The consequences of Brexit are tricky to predict, given the uncertainty, adds Miles. However, his assumption is that the cost of importing food from Europe will be more expensive than it is currently “for a period of time”.

“Logically, there could then be a benefit in producing and storing more food in the UK than is currently the case. But I could be wrong…”

Buffaload also predicts continued growth in the sector. The company has acquired a chilled 18,680sq ft site at Newark and it also has planning permission for new construction at its Cambridgeshire depot, although a completion date has not been set. Buffaload believes that environmental concerns will take a bigger role than Brexit in the sector, as companies strive to achieve the government’s targets in carbon reduction. “Clean technology for chilled warehousing will come to the forefront,” Buffaload said.

HSH Coldstores, which also believes that there will be continued growth in the cold chain sector in the medium term, is looking into an additional 4,000 extra pallets of cold storage capacity. The company hopes to have this completed by the fourth quarter of 2020.

May sees CoolKit deliver five all-electric Renault Kangoo ZE vans with Carrier Transicold’s ultra-slim Neos 100 fridges. Set to perform within a chilled temperature range of 0°C to + 3°C, they offer a payload of 408kg and have lithium-ion batteries to provide power for the fridges

Meanwhile Transkold is in the process of “looking into expanding our operation, within the next two-three years”. On the issue of Brexit, Transkold says: “With Brexit so close, I feel that there will be a panic again and companies will start stockpiling again. This is great for cold stores, however this also means that capacity becomes a real issue due to the demand.”

Castell Howell Foods takes 16 new Atego 12-tonners, adding to its 100 mostly mid-size rigids. The new trucks have dual-compartment bodies by Gray & Adams and Frigoblock fridges to carry frozen and chilled Castell Howell Foods Euro Commercials Atego

Cold Chain Federation chief executive Shane Brennan told BBC’s Newsnight that frozen and chilled warehouses are “full to bursting”. He was responding to queries about the storage of unsold lamb in the event of a no-deal Brexit. “No-one in government has spoken to the industry about where they’ll put the lamb if they buy it,” said Brennan.

According to the Food and Drink Federation’s latest business confidence survey, 39% of respondents said that a decline in the availability of warehousing was having an impact on their business in the second quarter of the year.

June sees James Hall & Co, a Spar wholesaler, add a Gray & Adams urban reefer to its fleet. The 11.4m double-deck trailer has a JR Industries electric rear shutter door, tandem-axle ‘wheel box’ chassis, Thermo King Spectrum multi-temperature fridge, and 1,500kg Dhollandia column tail-lift

Acquisitions featured throughout the year. Agro Merchants, a US-based operator but with substantial European operations, bought Transmode based in Paulsboro, New Jersey. In 2017 Agro bought UK-based Grocontinental, Polish operator Poland Services Transport – Logistyka, and Portuguese operator Cold Land as part of a major European expansion of its coldchain business.

In June Northern Ireland logistics firm Derry Refrigerated Transport acquired Brennan Refrigerated Transport in Waterford, adding five lorries to its existing fleet of 60.

But Brexit is already taking its toll in this industry. In November trailer manufacturer SDC Trailers consulted with its staff about possible redundancies due to the uncertainty of Brexit and other economic concerns. SDC, which employs over 800 staff in England and Northern Ireland, says that the economic factors have led to a “slowdown” of capital purchases from retailers, logistics firms and others. A company statement said: “We have had to respond to this slowdown in demand by entering into a period of consultation with our employees with the unfortunate likely outcome being a number of employees being made redundant.

July sees Lunar Freezing become the first company in Scotland to take Carrier Transicold’s new flagship Vector multi-temperature trailer fridge. It is on a 13.6-metre Gray & Adams trailer transporting fresh fish from Peterhead to Germany, Holland and the UK

The Freight Transport Association warned about the growing skills shortage with logistics businesses struggling to fill job vacancies as the number of EU nationals immigrating to the UK for work continues to plummet. According to the report, FTA’s Logistics Skills Report 2019, sponsored by Manpower, declining EU net migration has contributed to a 43% rise in job vacancies in the transport and storage industry over the past 24 months.

July sees Gist retrofit 120 reefers with Schmitz Cargobull’s TrailerConnect telematics. Gist already operates 54 Schmitz Cargobull units, factory-fitted with the system, and upgraded the rest of the fleet with TrailerConnect to extend the depth of data delivered by the smart trailers

Some of the larger temperature-controlled contracts awarded in 2019 include Bidfood winning a deal with NHS Supply Chain: Food for its multi-temperature work. The contract will run for two years, with the option to extend for a further two years.

Fowler Welch clinched a new contract with Wensleydale Creamery to provide bulk storage for its maturing cheese, as well as distribution services between two of its manufacturing sites in Hawes and Ripon, North Yorkshire. Fowler Welch also picked up a contract with Delamere Dairy to handle product delivery in the UK. Fowler Welch will handle stock collection, order processing, picking and distribution of the dairy’s Marks & Spencer business.

September sees VMS Fleet Management add 37 Isuzu dual-compartment 7.5 tonne reefers for its rental division in a £2m deal. The Isuzus N75.190 have GAH fridges on a mix of Coolertech and Polar bodies

Reed Boardall had its distribution contract with Whitby Seafoods renewed. This involves collecting frozen finished product as well as raw materials from the Whitby site, storage at Reed Boardall’s Boroughbridge coldstore and final delivery.

Wincanton secured a contract from Morrisons for distribution from three of Morrisons’ warehouses to its stores. The five-year contract will see Wincanton manage all transport and related operations from the three locations.

2019 was a year for technological development, most especially in the growing shift towards electrically powered truck refrigeration, electric vehicles, and growing use of telematics.

August sees Dale Brothers add 10 new Schmitz Cargobull reefers, three with meat hanging systems. The meat handing trailers were built and delivered in 12 weeks. Dale Brothers had initially ordered four multi-temp and three mono-temp trailers, each with Schmitz Cargobull’s TrailerConnect telematics. But Dale won new business to transport lamb products to French markets and needed to modify the spec. Schmitz Cargobull used short-term production slots at its Vreden factory in Germany to supply the additional units in time

Volvo Trucks announced it is to sell its FL and FE electric trucks in selected European markets with production planned for March 2020. Initially trucks will be available in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands, with further markets – including the UK and Ireland – to follow later. Electric trucks offer huge potential in urban areas with reduced noise and no exhaust emissions. The Volvo FL Electric is 16 tonnes gross while the FE Electric is 27 tonnes, Volvo said.

In November Thermo King launched its new T-Series Hybrid and UT Hybrid fridge for trucks, drawbar trailers and high-loaders that allow transport companies to operate in restricted, low-emission urban areas while lowering operating costs at the same time by switching between diesel and electric mode.

Frigoblock alternator and inverter-drive technology allows switching the power of the nose-mount T-Series Hybrid and under-mount UT Hybrid refrigeration units between diesel and electric as required or necessary. This enables operation in inner cities, residential areas and low-emission zones with the refrigeration unit’s diesel engine turned off.

August and Manchester, UK-based Lineage Logistics takes 41 Schmitz Cargobull reefers for wholesaler and supermarket contracts. The trailers join a 500-trailer fleet, mostly Schmitz

Francesco Incalza, vice president product management and marketing at Thermo King, talking to Cold Chain News said Thermo King’s goal is to offer low-to-zero emission transport refrigeration products with a flexible, power-agnostic architecture for truck and trailer products.

“Today, we lead the industry in electrification and offer the largest range of zero, low-emissions solutions in all segments of the market. By 2025, 65% of our product portfolio will be electrified and by 2030, 95% of our portfolio will be electrified to include our truck, trailer, marine, rail and air solutions,” he said.

In September Ryder supplied NewCold Advanced Cold Logistics with 15 new Daf XF480 tractors on contract hire. Driver comfort was a key considering in the spec, says NewCold

Recognising that cost of operation are a key concern for operators he stressed that operating the in-hybrid mode can deliver substantial fuel and emission savings. “The SLXi Hybrid trailer solution, when compared with standard diesel, multi-temperature unit offers a reduction of 5,000 liters of fuel per year and emission reduction of 13.500 kg CO2 (standard multi-temperature unit running a multiple drop schedule and requiring 3.5 litres of diesel per hour, multiplied by 2700 hours per year). Our customers, even on routes where they are not entering low-emission zones, use the hybrid mode for the obvious bottom-line benefits.” he said.

Gist adds 21 Gray & Adams reefers to its 600 temperature-controlled trailer fleet in October. Its UK fleet has consisted of Gray & Adams trailers with BPW running gear for over 20 years. It is now using BPW for its telematics with BPW’s Idem telematics a standard fit for the past three years

He expects electric systems will match the price of traditional diesel units within a few years but even today, while the initial investment costs of electric solutions remain higher, operators recognise it’s the total cost of ownership that has an impact on their bottom line, he said.

And the growth in electrical power is also evident in vehicles. Equipment manufacturers are expected to increase investments in technologies with demonstrated ability to decrease supply chain complexity and increase efficiency, according to analysis by Frost & Sullivan’. Transport, which is at the core of supply chain logistics, is undergoing a transformation with the help of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and telematics, data analytics, and blockchain.

“The rapidly rising use of telematics and IoT in CVs is generating vast data sets, which need to be utilised effectively through Big Data analytics,” said Vineeth Purushotham, Research Analyst, Mobility.

In November Narrow Aisle made its 10,000th Flexi warehouse truck. John Maguire, managing director, Narrow Aisle, (pictured) said: “Since Narrow Aisle pioneered the concept of articulated warehouse trucks, articulated VNA technology has come squarely into the intralogistics solutions mainstream and, in the process, Flexi has become a world-renowned brand.”

“Urban restrictions and emission regulations across the globe are enabling last-mile delivery innovations that will increase the uptake of electric CVs,” Purushotham said. “Medium- and heavy-duty CV OEMs such as Volvo, Scania, and Daimler are investing heavily in innovations in electric/fuel cell powertrains. Light CV manufacturers, on the other hand, are collaborating and partnering with technology companies and logistics providers on urban delivery innovations.”

November sees Krone’s telematics package standard on its Cool Liner refrigerated trailers. The ProPlus Cool system monitors the location of the trailer, status of the door, operating data, cooling temperature, fridge performance, coupling status as well as error messages from the brake system

Telematics and communications also leapt forward in 2019. Truck and reefer trailer makers now all offer telematics packages and most offer retrofits to any make of trailer as well. Schmitz Cargobull has led the field in this area but other trailer makers are following suit. Krone’s telematics package became standard on its Cool Liner refrigerated trailers in 2019.

Krone Telematics KSC ProPlus Cool system monitors the location of the trailer, status of the door, operating data, cooling temperature, fridge performance, coupling status as well as error messages from the brake system. Britain’s biggest coldchain operator Gist has retrofitted 120 reefers with Schmitz Cargobull’s TrailerConnect telematics, turning each one into a ‘smart’ trailer so the operator can proactively monitor its performance on the road. Gist already operates 54 Schmitz Cargobull units factory-fitted with the system and upgraded the rest of the fleet with TrailerConnect to extend the depth of data delivered by the smart trailers.

As the year draws to a close, 3 Distribution puts six new Volvo FH 500 tractors into service in its 24-vehicle fleet. “Our company purchases all vehicles outright and we’re looking at Volvo trucks as a long-term investment, with expected retention periods of up to 10 years,” says Patrick Finch, managing director, 3 Distribution

One of the drivers for technological change is growing awareness and commitment to environmental issues. The big players are already setting the pace: Kuehne+Nagel plans to be CO2 neutral by 2030. As a first step, all less-than-container-load shipments will be CO2 neutral from 2020 onwards. Kuehne+Nagel’s Net Zero Carbon programme leverages three fields of action: detection, reduction and compensation of CO2.

And cites throughout Europe are introducing air quality controls, making operation of diesel-fueled vehicles more and more difficult but providing huge incentives to using electric trucks. Most van operators intend to use electric vans in their fleets this year, according to the Freight Transport Association’s Logistics Report. It says that 71.4% of van operators intend to use electric vehicles.

The Logistics Report was launched in association with Santander Corporate and Commercial Banking. Denise Beedell, policy manager, vans and urban, Freight Transport Association said: “FTA and its members are fully committed to reducing their carbon emissions wherever possible; we are not surprised, therefore, that so many intend to use electric vehicles in their van fleets but they will need assistance from government to be able to do so.”

Chereau has handed over its first hydrogen refrigerated trailer (Road project) to the French transport group Malherbe for final tests. This is the last phase of a large-scale, three-year collaborative €5.5m project. Chereau’s Road project has a double objective: reduce the environmental impact and improve the operating conditions in terms of ergonomics and safety. Road project innovations include lightening of the chassis; aerodynamics; new generation insulation; management improvement of the different electrical systems; and, hydrogen reservoirs, the fuel cell, the power converter and the emission-free refrigeration unit.

Electric Assisted Vehicles and Solomon Commercials launched in December 2019 the world’s first temperature-controlled eCargo bike. The EAVcool Cargo is designed for the urban transport and delivery of chilled or frozen goods. It is a purpose-built, zero-emissions, environmentally focused quadracycle which measures 2m by 1m wide, weighs 120kg and can carry a 120kg payload


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