Fowler Welch grows Dart’s distribution revenues 18%

Leeds: Dart Group, owner of Fowler Welch Coolchain, reported increased turnover of £543m for the year to 31 March 2011.  Turnover rose from £435m the previous year while pre-tax profit was also up from £22.2m to £26.2m.

Dart said profitability had increased in its aviation division, primarily due to increasing load factors, but decreased in distribution, due to start-up costs at its new North West distribution centre and the rationalisation of its container operations.

Chairman Philip Meeson said: “We hope to grow both our businesses in the year ahead, despite the continuing uncertain economic climate. Fowler Welch has significant business development opportunities throughout its operations and particularly, of course, in the North West.

“We have expanded our leisure airline for summer 2011 with four additional aircraft, a new base at Glasgow and a growing package holiday programme.

“Both businesses have started the year reasonably satisfactorily, although we expect these challenging economic conditions to continue to impact on yields in the aviation sector for the foreseeable future.”

The group’s logistics business Fowler Welch, which specialises in the distribution of chilled and ambient foods on behalf of leading supermarkets and their suppliers, has experienced challenges during a year of considerable growth and development, he said.

“Our new 50,000 pallet capacity Heywood distribution centre, the Hub, which is located near Bury on the M62, north of Manchester, was opened with its enhanced facilities, IT infrastructure and layout alterations, all being ready for business prior to Christmas. However, a combination of factors led to operational challenges and higher than anticipated operating costs in the initial months to ensure that customer service was protected.”

Fowler Welch

"Fowler Welch was careful to protect customer service at the expense of contribution in a challenging period of trading," Dart chairman Philip Meeson

These early development issues have been resolved and the Hub is set to become the focal point for Fowler’s ambient business with a strong sales pipeline and improving financial performance, he said.

“Overall our distribution revenues grew by 18% year on year, as a result of both new business wins and additional volumes, although operating margins have suffered from increased costs.

“Following the success of our Tesco Express store distribution operations from Washington in the North East, we are delighted to have secured the business to develop a similar distribution operation to service Tesco’s smaller stores in the South West. A newly leased site in Newton Abbot, Devon, will come on stream in the first half of this financial year to service Devon and Cornwall. We expect this to be the basis of further business expansion in the South West.

“Our Washington, Kent, South Coast and European operations each performed satisfactorily, although margins remained under pressure. Our main Spalding distribution centre had a more challenging period of trading and a weaker financial performance.

“Fowler Welch was careful to protect customer service at the expense of contribution in a challenging period of trading. The outcome of this has been the securing of additional business, as a direct result of the achievement of generally satisfactory service levels, especially during the very severe weather disruption during the Christmas trading period.”

Fowler Welch (Containers) (formally Bawdsey Haulage) experienced difficult trading conditions in the container market, which led to the review and subsequent closure of the container operation in Felixstowe. It operates from Kent, Spalding and Alconbury sites.

Fowler Welch has developed its IT infrastructure across the business with an upgrade of its transport management capabilities planned this financial year. “The investment in fleet telemetry and management, coupled with the continual selection of increasingly efficient vehicles and the expansion of our double-deck trailer fleet, will generate both fuel savings and operating efficiencies and further improve our carbon footprint,” Meeson said.