A North Wales food wholesaler is on course for record sales this year after investing £500,000 in an ingenious hack to increase storage capacity.
Harlech Foodservice – which has premises in Cricieth and Chester – has increased the capacity of its giant freezer by 25% after reconfiguring the racking with narrower aisles and adding an extra row.
As part of the plan the company also bought “bendy” forklift trucks that can navigate the tighter spaces.
As a result, the capacity of the freezer has been increased by 270 pallets to a total of 1,100.
The package of measures includes installing a new, more environmentally friendly refrigeration system to keep the temperature in the freezer at a constant -21C.
All told the initiative will lead to an annual reduction of more than 111 tonnes in CO2 emissions as well as generating significant savings on the energy bill.
According to joint chairman Andrew Foskett, the investment is part of Harlech’s long-term growth strategy.
Turnover is set to hit an all-time high of £38 million this year, which is well above the previous, pre-pandemic record of £32 million.
Amongst other things it’s being fuelled by Harlech’s biggest ever Food Expo held recently at Venue Cymru in Llandudno where the company saw record sales of £600,000 and crowds of more than 2,500.
Mr Foskett said: “The scheme to increase the capacity of our freezer is part of our long term expansion plans and is necessary to cater for the surge in demand that we are seeing.
“Thanks to our loyal customers enjoying our competitive prices and excellent service, we are seeing double digit growth compared to the volumes we were seeing before the pandemic.
“Our customers in Wales and in the North West of England are showing great resilience in the face of a challenging environment in hospitality and and we are on track for a record year in 2023.”
Operations manager Ian Evans said that increasing the storage space in the freezer had worked on a number of levels.
He said: “It became clear that we needed more freezer capacity but we dismissed the idea of building an extension, not only because of the cost involved but also because it would have increased our carbon footprint at a time when the price of energy is spiralling.
“Instead, we’ve reduced the width of the aisles from 3.2 metres to 1.8 metres, put in an extra row and trained the staff to use the new bendy forklift trucks to enable them to work in a narrower environment.
“In addition, we’ve installed LED lighting and updated half of our refrigeration plants which will save us up to 40% on our energy costs.
“The work that we’ve done already is going to save the equivalent of 60 CO2 equivalent tonnes a year with plans to do a further 50 tonnes.”
The expansion plans are being driven by managing director David Cattrall.
He said: “Sales have been growing really well in the last 12 months or so which is down to the support of our customers as well as, growth in the education and health sectors which has been a new focus for us and quite honestly, we were running out of space.
“We have been using third party storage to help ourselves work through the year which obviously adds costs and complexity.
“The beauty about moving to these narrow aisles is that you’re freezing less air and your energy is going into stock which holds the temperature better. It’s actually cheaper to run a fuller freezer than an empty freezer.
“The upshot is that we’ve gained in the region of 25% more stock in that same space for less cost, so thinking outside the box in this way made a lot of financial sense.
“By increasing capacity by 25% and reducing energy costs we can continue investing in competitive prices for our customers.
“It’s involved a significant investment, particularly when we’ve come out of a pandemic, but we’ve been able to do it because of the support we’ve seen from the customers that has given us the growth that’s created the need and allowed us to invest and lay the foundation for long term future growth over the next 10 years or so.”