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Tropical fruit importer Utopia has installed a fleet of Atlet lift trucks at its processing and distribution centre in Spalding, Lincolnshire. Moving some 2,400 pallet-loads of incoming and outgoing goods each week, the Atlet pallet transporters and reach trucks have substantially improved Utopia's materials handling operation and expedited its delivery service; in some cases it now takes less than three days for goods to make the journey from the grower to the store shelf.

Utopia's previous lift truck fleet had grown piecemeal over the past few years, with models from different suppliers and with varying terms of contract. “Much of the equipment was no longer adequate for the job,” says Logistics Manager Ian Davis. “We had to draw the line and move to a single-supplier arrangement.” Three truck companies were invited to tender for the new truck fleet. Utopia says it opted for Atlet not only for the renowned quality of the trucks and their driver-friendliness, but also for the overall standard of service offered by the company.

Utopia deals in tropical fruit and vegetables, including 'exotics' such as physallis and dragon fruit, sourced from around the world. It supplies the UK's leading supermarket chains, as well as food service companies. The 50 sq m storage facility in Spalding comprises a number of different zones, with varying temperatures, from 2oC to 14oC including blast-chilling facilities, in which the produce can be stored and, if required, ripened at carefully controlled rates. The configuration of the zones can be modified depending on what type and volume of produce is passing through the warehouse.

The Atlet pallet transporters are used for off-loading incoming containers (all goods arrive on pallets) and handling loads around the warehouse. The trucks are also used to assemble orders and load delivery vehicles. Utopia has four Atlet Piccolo PLL pedestrian pallet transporters, extremely compact trucks ideal for working inside containers, and four Presto PLP ride-on transporters, which are well suited for longer travel distances around the warehouse. The Piccolo PLL trucks are also used for working in the packing plant.

Two Atlet UNS Tergo reach trucks are used in areas of the warehouse that are equipped with three-level, 9m, racking, with goods picked from the ground floor locations. One of these areas includes a section of drive-in racking.

Utopia receives orders, by EDI, from supermarket customers every morning, and the goods are picked and ready for despatch by mid to late afternoon. Orders vary hugely in size, from full pallets to single cases, as they do for other retail customers. Most of Utopia's food service customers, who use the company's produce in pre-prepared salads and desserts, receive complete pallets.

There are several other fruit importers clustered in the Spalding area, and several are long-term users of Atlet trucks. During the tendering process Utopia canvassed their opinions, and found that they were unanimous in unreservedly recommending Atlet. “The general consensus was that Atlet is the market leader in warehouse trucks, especially reach trucks,” Ian Davis reports.

“But Atlet's approach was different to the other truck manufacturers we dealt with. Atlet were interested in much more than simply selling trucks; their attention to detail was fastidious, more like a consultant than a supplier, and more focussed on material handling solutions. The company analysed our whole handling operation, and was particularly helpful in proposing options which we hadn't considered ourselves, such as installing drive-in racking to make better use of available space.

“It also makes much more commercial sense to use a single supplier, with just one point of contact and one contract. And the general opinion in the industry is that Atlet's after sales service support is second to none.”

Utopia's lift truck operators were especially pleased to see the back of the old mixed-make fleet. “The change of trucks lifted their spirits considerably,” says Ian Davis. “They are particularly fond of the UNS Tergo reach trucks with its driver-friendly features such as its finger-light steering and tilting seat.”

Each week Utopia is receiving around 1,200 pallets of produce, with the same amount being despatched. But during peak periods – for example the cherry season (a fruit in which Utopia specialises) and around Christmas – the throughput more than doubles.

“There is ever-increasing pressure from all customers, particularly the supermarkets, to shorten delivery times,” says Ian Davis. “Now in some instances the goods are taking just three days to travel from the grower to the supermarket shelves. This makes efficient and flexible materials handling absolutely critical, and the Atlet trucks have met the challenge admirably.”

Paul Forster
Atlet Limited
Tel: 01844 215501
Fax: 01844 219220
website: www.atlet.co.uk

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