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‘The pandemic has fast-tracked the digitisation process’

Brent Melvin, CEO, Gallega Logistics, shares his views on the changing perspectives within the logistics and cold chain industry. Excerpts from an interview he gave to Charmaine Fernz of Climate Control Middle East…

| | Nov 19, 2021 | 10:23 pm
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Could you elaborate on the cold chain logistics industry in pre-and post-Covid scenarii?

We have witnessed consistent drive and an increase in the perishable cargo space. In a post-pandemic scenario, dynamics have shifted from brick-and-mortar towards online shopping. In a nutshell, what would have taken probably 3-5 years to evolve with online shopping behaviour has been severely fast-tracked by the COVID lockdown process. There are a host of new operators that have come into the online space. To cite two examples, Spinneys and Carrefour created their online shopping presence, despite that one could still go through an aggregator to purchase a product. So, it is quite an interesting dynamic, where different channels were made available to a big consumer base. The question that remains is sustainability. This is going to be a very interesting space to watch, because we do not completely understand the real dynamics.

How has the impact been on Gallega?

At Gallega, we operate in a B2B space and on behalf of the marketplace. We deliver to small retail outlets, which are still your traditional brick-and-mortar buildings. These include traditional trade, small-to-medium-size supermarkets and grocery outlets that are frequented by day-to-day shoppers. Interestingly, this middle class is buying online. This is purely a personal assessment in terms of the general market. However, we are very lucky as far as continuity is concerned. With supply chains, although there was a backlog, slow down and unavailability of certain products in a lot of areas, there was still consistency, and the market has not suffered much. The government, too, has been very quick to respond, react and maintain. There is a bit of normalisation coming into the industry.

Brent Melvin

How do you see technology driving the cold chain industry?

Digitisation and visibility of cold chains are emerging technologies. They have been fast-tracked as a result of the pandemic. Now, when we talk about technology and visibility, we are talking about different levels of the supply chain. If we talk about the B2B wholesale to retail space, it is one dynamic and certainly has more to do with food safety and security.

Moving downstream, there is the last-mile B2C, which is currently technology-driven. Today, everyone has an app and good websites. Then, there is the emergence of aggregators and several marketplaces. In short, there has been a massive education of masses towards digital shopping, particularly in the retail space and, more importantly, perishable cargo space. I do not think it will change.

What is of importance now is the sustainability of channels, and the quality of produce pushed through these channels. Governments have to regulate delivery mechanisms. To cite an example, if we take the bike environment, there is no level of cold chain integrity. This is due to a lack of monitoring, tracking and management of temperature. Delivery is ostensibly fast but uncontrolled and unregulated, and governments are starting to look into these deliveries. Then, you have van deliveries, which are a very different prospect. Here, one goes back to the traditional old-style tracking technology with temperature monitoring of vehicles, location tracking and route optimisation – some of the more robust technologies that have been in play in the past.

How does one effectively understand the process of tracking and regulation in a cold chain environment?

There are ways of control and reliance by the shipping line to sustain the cold chain and the integrity of the reefer container. The only way to monitor any excursion or incursion into the temperature would be with a data tracker or data logger inside the container in the reefer. There are different operators for these controls, once in a cleared environment and into the warehouse; then, of course, the whole cold chain is structured and managed to the retail outlets.

What new developments are you able to report at Gallega?

The emergence of the BuyGro marketplace is a food/FMCG marketplace, established by the Ghassan Aboud Group. It is one of the business silos within the entire group of companies. Gallega manages the cold chain, so particularly looking at the receipt of products from multiple vendors and suppliers in the market here to a control point, which is cold stores. We also handle the distribution, focussing on primary traditional trade, small restaurants, cafeterias, food outlets and HORECA trade, among many others. We have established a marketplace, plus an entire cold chain infrastructure that goes with it. There are two elements to the launch of BuyGro – one what it proposes and two a whole new culture and infrastructure for Gallega. Something that did not exist but was acquired and developed to meet the needs of the micro business.

Has the pandemic had any positive effects on the logistics and cold chain industry?

There have been positive developments, and the industry never goes back. This growth was driven by a couple of areas. Starting with the government, besides regulation, the UAE government is very conscious of food safety. The right and appropriate regulations are adhered to by logistics providers and operators in the cold chain business. We are moving ahead and are at par with many mature markets. There is also a trend towards digitisation. The pandemic has just fast-tracked processes. However, blockchain has not seen a big uptake, because it has its place in many areas. But, it is not the be-all-and-end-all and can be integrated. It can also be supported by other tools, as blockchain is dependent on multiple players taking up the same technology.

We have seen governments take up certain blockchain technologies for clearances but are not looking at particular items of food with expiry batches or lots in that same blockchain structure. We as an industry have the responsibility to make sure we check the expiry batches and lots while recording and maintaining transparent data sets. This can be shared with both the supplier and consumer at any time. We need to work with governments to align these kinds of advanced protocols to ensure that our industry is very robust and competes with the modern world. We also need to look at backup programmes in the event of power failures. What the pandemic has forced us to do is to adhere to these protocols more closely. Today, people are more sensitive about contamination of products, adhering to protocols and ensuring safe delivery without contamination.

Has there been an uptake of more technological advancements in a cold chain environment?

In my view, there is more development of existing technology into modern coding or software. Now, there are more integrated solutions, operating in a cold chain environment. Earlier, tracking devices would be installed in vehicles informing about the location of the vehicle and the temperature. Today, this has evolved to route optimisation, wherein customer communication is real-time data sets, which include the location of the driver, vehicle point-of-sale solutions, as well as temperature management. The bigger and better software integrated solutions are making our jobs easier as logistics providers. Now, we do not have to work with multiple software but more integrated and enhanced solutions.

How do you look at staff retention and encouraging existing staff in a post-pandemic scenario?

We as Gallega are very people-focused. I do not see my business as anything without our staff that operates the business. We believe in the growth of our people, and training is an important element. One needs to realise that at the end of the day an organisation is all about its people and team effort. I believe in investing in our staff, and that is why we use technology jointly with ongoing training and development across all areas of the business. I am sure that we are not without fault, like many organisations, but we strive to make sure our people are happy, there is job satisfaction and, finally, quality associated with performance.

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