Back in 1994, a small chilled operator set up on one site and with one client, generating a turnover of £7 million in its first year. 22 years on, that same operator has 50 depots across the UK and Ireland, services around 285 customers and has a combined turnover of £450 million. That company was – and still is – Culina Group.
The facts and figures about Culina alone are impressive, but since acquiring Great Bear Distribution on 1st March 2016 they have become even more remarkable. Between them, the various arms of the Group serve blue chip food and drink producers including Nestle, Unilever, MARS and Tetley, plus original client Muller.
As well as both chilled and ambient warehousing and transportation, Culina’s key services extend to contract packing and bonded storage for the likes of Moet & Chandon champagne and chilled consolidation and logistics for around 60 customers, delivering into leading discount retailers Aldi and Lidl.
As well as acquiring Great Bear, 2016 saw the opening of an additional 280,000 square feet of warehousing at Peel Ports’ brand new tri-modal base, Port Salford National Import Centre in Greater Manchester, with a further 480,000 square feet due to come on line at Markham Vale – just off j.29 of the M1 – in December, giving an overall storage capacity of approximately 760,000 pallets.
Culina Group manages to store, pick and deliver around 450 million cases per annum and, between chilled and ambient, runs around 560 trucks and 1500 trailers – all of which must be managed and maintained.
The man responsible for the upkeep and ongoing safety of this equipment is Group Fleet Manager Mark Matkin, who has seen the number of vehicles in his charge almost double as a result of the Great Bear expansion. Keeping on top of the safety aspect in particular has never been of more importance and, as with any haulage operation undertaking a high number of trailer changes, the danger of miscoupling incidents occurring is ever present. Matkin, however, has found a solution in the form of Fontaine’s 150 SP fifth wheel plus TechLock system.
“I’ve been using Fontaine for the last four years now, having switched from another supplier” Matkin explains. “The main reason came down to back up – I’d worked with Fontaine in a previous job and knew just how good their support team is, coming out at a moment’s notice if we have any issues or problems.”
It was precisely because of past issues in Matkin’s previous role that he became aware of Fontaine’s TechLock safety coupling system, which works by ensuring the jaws on the fifth wheel do not spring shut unless there is secure contact between the shaft of the kingpin and the jaws themselves.
“TechLock is good because it does the job without complication” Matkin explains. “With the old system, drivers would go under the trailer just skimming the kingpin, hear the jaws fire over and see that the dog clip could be fitted, but when they lifted the suspension up the king pin was sitting on top of the jaws rather than within them.”
The specification of TechLock as standard, combined with a robust and thorough driver training program and strict enforcement of best safe practices means Culina no longer experiences any miscouples. “The TechLock system takes out the elements of distraction or haste” Matkin says.
“Culina’s chilled and ambient fleets are now 100% Fontaine, while on the Great Bear side we’re up to around 95% already, and climbing” he continues. “As well as the safety aspect, it really does come down to the quality of Fontaine’s aftersales support for me. Others may have upped their game, but Fontaine have always had that good representation and they do a great job for us, keeping us up-to-date with changes and concerns as well.”
“All in all, it’s an unbeatable package that we are staying with for the long term – including TechLock. It’s one of those things that’s a no brainer!” Matkin concludes.