In 2004 Jesse started pan European pooling company Contraload. Polymer Logistics began in Israel and expanded into Europe and the US, producing, selling and pooling small foldable fruit and veg crates seen in supermarkets. In 2019 Polymer was acquired by American crate pooling company Tosca. In 2020 Tosca acquired Contraload.
Jesse Sels, President EMEA at Tosca, speaks to Warehouse & Logistics News.
What are your best-known products/solutions/services?
Our “wood look” crate is a plastic foldable crate for fruit and veg but it has a wood look so from a distance it looks like a wooden crate. It’s foldable, it’s very CO2 friendly and it can be washed and used for 5-10 years, then recycled back into the same product. From a marketing, visual point of view it looks great in a supermarket and from a pooling point of view it is very efficient. We also have a range of plastic pallets. The latest acquisitions are two pallets. One is NeRa, a nestable, rackable pallet. This is a brand new revolution. It nests so you can put 2.5 times as many empty in a truck. It also racks with more than 1000kg so it is a heavy duty pallet. The second pallet we are developing is a pooling quality pallet made out of fully recycled material, which is a first.
Which industry sectors are your customers in and which ones are growing fastest?
We supply a broad range of retailers and their fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers. We also supply meat producers. Pre-packed meat and fruit goes into our crates which goes to the retailers. In the UK we also transport eggs in packs of six and 12 in our bins to retail outlets. Upstream we have customers like Nestle, Kerry Ingredients and Unilever. They get their ingredients and their packaging on plastic pallets into their production. There they can take everything off, they make their product and then we pick up those pallets and bring them to their suppliers. All these major companies are using our plastic pallets for their inbound flow. For their outbound flow, we are trying to convince them to use our plastic alternatives towards the supermarkets as well.
What are your most recent product innovations?
Besides NeRa, we have launched an IoT platform together with a partner Sensorless, who designed the platform, where we are technology agnostic. So we can connect any type of tag, be it a 2G or an NBIOT, to our platform to track and trace assets. The innovation is what do you do with the data. For example, retail outlets have promotional actions at the end of the aisles. Teams that go around the country to double check whether the retailer has put this in the right spot. By tracking it with technology, you know it’s at the right place so instead of going round the whole country, you can manage from a distance.
What are the major trends and developments affecting your category and your customers, and how are you responding?
Brexit and Covid created logistical challenges in the UK. By using reusables which nest, folding together and taking up less space, you will need less transport and storage space. Storage space, property prices and rentals are getting more expensive in the UK. The less space and transport needed the better. Innovations like NeRa mean you can put 2.5 times as many empty pallets on a truck, saving one or two trucks with empty material coming back.
Can you tell us about any recent customer contracts and how you helped the customer meet their challenges?
Aldi Ireland have outsourced their crate pooling business to us. In Ireland we are setting up our wash plant in Rathcoole. We are switching that from their old nestable crates to a collapsible, foldable handheld crate. We are putting in a wash plant which is energy beneficial. There are water saving mechanisms in there. We have produced all the crates in our factory in Israel and we have delivered them.
How does business in 2021 compare to previous years? What’s your strategy for succeeding in the current climate?
The first effect of Covid was a big increase in business. Suddenly you had a peak in demand in retail and producers for retail, who are our customers. We did see a dropping in the away from home business. But overall in the first 12 month of the pandemic, we performed better than average. Then it went back to normal and we went back onto our 20% growth path. We did have an effect from Brexit. That is because we supply a lot of pallets and bins into food producers and hygiene producers like Procter & Gamble. There has been a shift of production to Europe.
What’s the latest news from your company?
The latest news is we have signed a big contract with a retailer in Turkey. We have set up Tosca Turkey so that is a big step forward and a new geography for us.
Can you tell us about any areas where you’re currently making technical advances eg safety, sustainability, environment?
We are switching a lot of our own depots to a fully RFID managed system, equipping all our crates, bins and pallets with RFID tags. Tosca Asset IQ, our IoT platform, has been a big investment which is hopefully going to propel us into the next 10 years.
Are you investing in staff training and skills development?
The two companies, Polymer and Contraload, had separate programmes. Over the next 6-12 months a Tosca programme will be launched, harmonising procedures. We have an IoT academy and are launching a new ERP system. Pooling will shift to a new internal system, requiring a lot of training. In our wash plants we continuously train people in new products and processes because suddenly our wash plant which was doing pallets is now also doing crates. We used to have one person in each company and now have a team of 16 people writing and implementing training programmes.
Are you taking part in any major trade shows?
We just took part in one in Birmingham. We have done a few small ones in France and Belgium. The big one next year is Fruit Logistica in Berlin. We will have a big stand there. We will be at Interpack with a big stand.