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Keystone Distribution centre rises from the ashes

Following the massive Buncefield Oil Depot explosion in 2005 that devastated its previous depot, Keystone Distribution UK has returned to Hemel Hempstead with the opening of an advanced 22,800 m2 composite distribution centre.

Over 100 guests attended the official launch of the centre. They included the MP for Hemel Hempstead and Shadow Minister for Health Mike Penning, President and CEO of McDonald's UK, Steve Easterbrook, as well as Keystone's regional and global managers and local dignitaries.

The state-of-the-art 'composite' facility – which also safeguards 250 jobs – is the size of five football pitches and replaces Keystone's much smaller warehouse that was destroyed by the force of the Buncefield explosion – the largest explosion in Europe since the ending of WWII. This forced the company to immediately relocate over a third of its UK operations into temporary accommodation – all during the busiest period of the year.

As a key supplier to McDonald's, Keystone ensures the integrity of the supply chain from distribution centre to restaurant. McDonald's total product requirements – including cleaning materials and promotional items as well as food and packaging – are Keystone's exclusive responsibility. At the time of the Buncefield crisis, McDonald's was entering its peak Christmas season, where demand rises 40% above normal volumes. The loss of one essential distribution centre cut capacity by 40%, and McDonald's faced the prospect of closing 400 of its 1,200 restaurants at the busiest time of the year. Fortunately, no closures were necessary and business carried on as usual.

“The way the Keystone team responded quickly and worked with McDonald's to make many smart decisions under intense pressure is a credit to both teams,” recalls Steve Easterbrook, President and CEO for McDonald's UK. “It sometimes takes a crisis to realise what your true strengths and values are. Out of adversity created by the Buncefield crisis emerged a stronger relationship and a fantastic new facility.”

Says Keystone Distribution UK's Managing Director, Paul Pegg:

“During those last three weeks in 2005, we still managed to deliver over 2.75 million cases to McDonald's restaurants – quite an achievement. It took three months to fully establish our temporary network, and with the opening of this new distribution centre, we mark the closure of the Buncefield crisis, the full recovery of the Keystone business here in the UK, and for us the start of a new era. We're proud of our new facility and aspire to the highest world class standards of service to McDonald's restaurants in the UK.”

MP for Hemel Hempstead and Shadow Minister for Health, Mike Penning has been closer than most to the devastation caused by Buncefield. As a former fireman trained in handling refinery fires, he is well positioned to comment on the disaster. He says:

“No-one could have prepared for Buncefield, but it is a credit to Keystone that it didn't walk away. That could have been the easier option. But the company has returned bigger and better, renewing the special relationship it has with this area. By opening its new distribution centre, Keystone is preserving jobs and playing a major part in the regeneration of the Buncefield area.

“We pride ourselves on being a welcoming location for business and with a market-leader like Keystone making this kind of commitment we can demonstrate that we have what it takes.”

UK food and drink construction consultancy Meller acted as project and construction manager for the 46-dock distribution centre's development, making sure the new building was constructed in only 10 months and met Keystone's demanding operational and environmental requirements. Catering for 40 % more capacity than its predecessor, the new centre has taken advantage of the latest technologies and facilities.

All products are stored and distributed at one of three temperature regimes: -18ºC, +3ºC and ambient. Traditionally, a number of facilities would have handled temperatures individually, with many single-item deliveries being sent to customers on multiple trips. Composite distribution centres, working with multi-temperature chamber delivery vehicles, allow combinations of product to be delivered in one trip, so reducing delivery miles and making the most efficient use of the supply chain, serving more customers, more effectively and at a lower environmental impact.

“A supply chain is the heart and lungs of any organisation. The impact it makes across the whole business is enormous. Hemel Hempstead is a key distribution location that
enables us to efficiently service our client base, while the rebuilding provides us with vastly improved premises,” says Paul Pegg. “Our new facility here is our investment for the future. It demonstrates our commitment to McDonald's and the wider UK food industry. It also serves as our launch pad for innovation and enhanced performance in the future.”

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