Joe Joseph, Managing Director of JD Refrigerated Transport, is someone who wasn’t born into the industry. At the same time, recent events including the Covid-19 pandemic have placed extra demand on essential services including the food transport industry. These circumstances have, according to Joe, seen the company’s freight task rise by nearly 10 per cent.
He says, however, that the refrigerated sector is limited in how much it can scale up to meet these surges in demand, given the seasonal nature of planting and harvesting of produce.
As a result, and as part of Covid-19 risk mitigation, JD Refrigerated Transport put into place exclusion zones so drivers weren’t crossing paths and scheduled staggered start times. At the same time, the company also prohibited personal handovers of paper manifests.
According to Joe, due to not knowing what to expect, the first week operating under the new conditions caused by the pandemic were daunting. But by the second week the team, proud to be providing an essential service, really hit their straps.
“Our team really stepped up and the management team stayed close, we were on the frontlines so to speak and I think they appreciated that as well,” says Joe. “Some of the practices that we’ve been forced through necessity to mandate across the business will stay with us for some time.”
As a result of the current and changing economic and social climate, the dynamics of the industry are also changing. For home delivery services it’s something of a perfect storm, as both companies and consumers once reticent to try this new-fangled shopping style have done so or are about to, according to Joe.
“You’ve got wholesalers, where it was taboo to bypass the retailer and go direct to the consumer, that are now doing just that,” says Joe. “I don’t know a wholesale business that isn’t trying a direct into the home service right now. Life as we knew it has changed.”
And wholesale businesses that would traditionally supply pubs, clubs, hotels, cruise ships and restaurants and have lost upwards of 70 per cent of their business are looking elsewhere.
“They’ve had to,” says Joe, pointing out that prepared boxes of fruit and vegetables are going out from wholesale outfits straight into the home. The model is changing and with it the rulebook has gone out the window.
“Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention,” says Joe. “If you take 70 per cent of someone’s business away overnight, you are forcing them to look at these other avenues just to survive.
“These new routes to market and other innovative new business channels won’t simply disappear and will undoubtedly change the landscape post Covid-19. If you want to look for a silver lining in this situation that might be it.”
Joe points to the previous exponential growth in the export sector, which has been hit hardest by freight embargoes and travel restrictions.
“I feel for a lot of businesses that have been putting big efforts into this area,” says Joe. “The loss of momentum will make it harder for them to bounce back as quickly. For some of our clients cruise ships were a major source of income. They’ve now copped a broadside during this as well. It’s hard to know what will happen.
“I’ve been saying this for the last 15 years: Size is no longer what determines your ability to survive in business. It’s actually your agility which is more important in this day and age. Whether it be the advancement in technology, our changing environment or the evolution of our global marketplace, disruption is rife. The ability to turn on a dime is crucial. You need to be able to react instantly.”
Further to this, Joe maintains that he doesn’t want to grow his business just for the sake of it.
“My strategy is that it’s more important what I say no to than what I say yes to,” says Joe. “We know the three or four things we can do really well and in doing so we can add to the business without creating unnecessary complexity. So, as long as we stick to this principle we can scale accordingly and be geared up for sustainable growth.”
Meanwhile, according to Joe, both the Mercedes-Benz 2663 and Kenworth T610SAR prime movers are doing an admirable job, with the drivers split 50-50 between their preference for one brand or the other.