Boughey Distribution – Greening Your Eats

We learn how Boughey Distribution is bringing sustainability to the backbone of the food supply chain.

Boughey Distribution was originally founded to support the farming industry. In the 58 years since then, the company has evolved into the grocery ambient consolidation sector. But as it has grown, the firm has also stayed true to its roots.

“We have a loyal, long-serving workforce, some with 10, 20, and sometimes over 30 years’ experience,” says Angela Carus, Boughey’s Managing Director. “We are a very local business, with 90% of our colleagues living in the local area. It is a real Cheshire-based business.”

Warehousing and transport distribution are Boughey’s core businesses, where it serves 200 customers through daily deliveries to all major retailers going right across the UK averaging 8000 pallets per day.

“Our deliveries range in scale from a full trailer to a single pallet or case,” Carus says. “We fulfil small orders through our e-fulfilment centre and on our customers’ behalf we manage internet orders going to businesses or home addresses. We have a co-packing operation where we take two different products and case-mix them to produce a new product, adding labels or different packaging for various solutions. We are also members of the Palletline, a distribution network in the UK.”

Across its locations in Wardle and Crewe, Boughey Distribution boasts 1.1 million square feet of warehouse. The firm achieved £62 million in turnover last year and has a projected £67 million this year. It can do this because of the unique capabilities it provides its customers with.

We have a number of large customers but also serve smaller customers such as Tony’s Chocolonely, a luxurious chocolate company set up to eliminate slavery in the chocolate industry,” Carus points out. “They are one of our customers, but they are not Nestle or Mars, they are a specialist chocolate bar, so they sell into retailers but not by the truckload into Tesco or Sainsbury’s. They will order in case or pallet quantity to the various retailers. How do customers efficiently get into those retailers without producing loads of carbon? We consolidate their order with those of other customers’ orders, going in by the truckload. Not many businesses in our industry offer that level of consolidation.”

Shrinking Your Food’s Footprint

In offering this service, Boughey Distribution is confronted by the dilemma at the heart of the 21st-century food supply chain.

“Driving vehicles up and down the country with trailers on their back produces carbon,” Carus tells us. “We are in the food industry, so those deliveries need to be made. It is a required service. But how can we do our jobs and work towards our plans for net zero in 2040?”

The company is seeking solutions through many avenues. It is using alternative fuels and, where possible, electric vehicles. Boughey Distribution’s fleet uses the best equipment available on the market, giving out the least emissions it can with current technology.

“We have the best kit on the road our fleet is all Euro 6 compliant. Our first electric vehicle is on order for the end of December,” Carus says. “We deliver across the whole of the UK. Currently, the infrastructure for electric vehicles is not suitable in the UK for trucks. So, we are staying regional with that until the truck manufacturers can offer a longer range, which they are working towards.”

That is only part of a wider strategy that includes switching its fleet of shunt vehicles over to running on hydrogenated vegetable oils, bringing about a 90% reduction in carbon emissions.

“We’re working with our customer base to roll that out across the rest of the fleet but it’s 40p a litre more expensive than diesel and with the current supply chain cost crisis of course customers are reluctant to pay this,” Carus points out. “If the price can get to a reasonable position our customers will support that.”

Boughey has also transitioned to using 100% LED lighting across its estates, as well as increasing natural lighting in its facilities and trialling solar panels. Even the milk is now delivered in glass bottles that can be cleaned and reused to cut down on plastic.

“It is a little more expensive but a bold statement to make when we go through 100s of pints of milk a week,” Carus says.

A Rewarding Culture

While sustainability is one challenge Boughey Distribution is working to overcome, it is not the only one. Like many companies, the firm has found acquiring and retaining labour to be a challenge post-pandemic, and post-Brexit.

“We are very lucky to have a loyal workforce, but we are working on our culture to keep our team engaged so that they choose to keep working with us,” Carus assures us. “We have a whole programme of works in place. Pay is important, even more so now, but it is not necessarily enough to keep people in your business, so we engage in upskilling to get people to the next level. We look at our culture, investing in facilities, toilets, and welfare facilities, including things such as free Wi-Fi and pool tables in the rest areas.”

Sometimes these rewards can be a little unorthodox, such as this summer when workers faced record-high temperatures.

“On the hottest day of the year, just to say thank you for coming into work, we brought in an ice cream van giving away free ice cream,” Carus tells us. Although she also ponders, “With 730 employees that van gave out 3,000 ice creams so not sure how that happened!”

But alongside one-off treats like this, Boughey Distribution also looks at even the minor parts of the workers’ experience, such as ensuring their uniform and boots are made well to be comfortable, durable, and made from sustainable materials.

When we offer a new starter the role, two weeks before they start, they get a welcome card delivered to their home address with pictures of all the directors, hand signed, welcoming them to our team,” Carus tells us. “The feedback we have had is that it is something so simple, but it makes people feel special. We don’t really get mail anymore, do we? So, it’s a pleasant surprise and helps people feel engaged before joining us.”

The onboarding process also includes training in a classroom environment, and importantly, as Carus herself knows from experience, a site map.

“The site in Wardle is 48 acres with 15 warehouses. It’s an industrial estate but we own the whole lot. So, we have a map for new starters to know where the toilets and rest areas are, how to get on and off-site,” she says. “I experienced that myself, it’s a maze when you first get there.”

Right now, Boughey Distribution is navigating its way towards a bright future for the company, putting together a five-year plan with the help of outside consultation to “stress test” their thinking.

“We’re all eager to grow, we are all optimistic about the future, so we have brought in an external company to help take us on the journey,” Carus says. “We feel very proud and lucky to have such a solid company. But with the new business pipeline we have got, we do not have enough space, so in 12 to 18 months we need to open another site to support our continued growth. Within our longer-term five-year strategy, we will be considering acquiring similar type businesses or opening new sites around the UK after 58 years of being regionally based. In reality, it could take 10-15 years to become fully national, but we are already taking the first steps.”

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