Guy Dhaen, Sivafrost:

"Our automation increases fruit and vegetables share in our company"

"Quality, safety, and traceability from start to finish, that's what it's about," begins Guy Dhaen, Sivafrost's Sales Relations & Marketing Manager. This Belgian family business was founded in 1986 as a frozen foods storage service provider. With the construction of the high-rise warehouse in 2020, its frozen food storage capacity doubled to 30,000 euro pallets.

"We were running into limitations at ground level, so we went up. The 43-m high storage area is fully automated, allowing 100% control over pallet placement. Software controls everything, which saves a lot of time during loading and unloading. All products go straight onto the belt and are automatically positioned. We use multiple cranes in the high bay and can always spread the products over several of those. Should one have a technical issue, the work can continue."

"For us, automation is a physical and administrative focal point. That's clearly where the future lies. We can monitor the process more efficiently and have fewer margins for error. For example, we’re linked to more of our customers via EDI. They can, thus, directly process their input into our system. Thanks to that, you arrive at better charges, get a more direct way of working, and can keep a closer eye on the ball," says Guy.

Sivafrost offers storage and packaging of frozen goods to a wide range of companies. Besides the fruit and vegetable sector, they also serve the baked goods, fish, and frozen snack sectors. "Until a few years ago, the fruit and vegetable share was about 30%, but that's increasing and is now at almost 40%. Our systems can mix products, so the frozen fruit market share is rising. Several of our overseas clients specifically focus on smoothies."

"We're purely a service provider with no own production. Some of our customers purchase goods from all over the world and have plants everywhere. Many do their own packaging, but thanks to our know-how, they still come to us with specific questions. If they still need to print a package, we can organize that for them. Doing that with large volumes or difficult products is especially attractive for them. Then they don't have to invest and can keep focusing on their core business. We try to be more than just a service provider, but more a partner regarding everything to do with clients' frozen products," Guy explains.

Timing is crucial
According to him, Sivafrost's biggest challenge is timing. "We're primarily at the process' back end. If customers need to get their products here from overseas, strict timing often applies. We have many production lines, but because of the wide variety of product types and hygienic aspects, we still have to change and clean the machines regularly. That ensures we have some lines in operation 24 hours a day to keep everything running smoothly."

The marketing manager says the demand for different packaging is a significant trend. "Products such as snacks and smoothies are packed less and less in plastic and more and more in boxes. That does bring some challenges," he says. Product availability due to, say, climate change is not currently an issue at Sivafrost, Guy adds. "That may also be because of the wide variety of products we store. But should a customer with frozen storage have reduced production, that leaves less product for us."

CO2 neutral
Last year's higher energy prices caused the necessary headaches for this frozen foods facility, too. "We, obviously, try to keep costs as low as possible by doing things like generating as much natural energy as we can. For example, we have a wind turbine on our premises and solar panels on all roofs. We also recently installed solar panels on our high-rise warehouse roof. We buy green electricity for the rest of our power needs. Our company is CO2-neutral, and we put plenty of effort into that. That's paying off; we're definitely getting even better exposure to listed companies," Guy admits.

"But, we, too, had to pass on our increased costs to our clients. That not only applies to energy tariffs but, in Belgium, they also indexed wages. It's not an easy thing to do, but we communicated this as transparently as possible and sought mutually agreed-upon solutions. In the end, most customers opted for an overall price increase. You can check energy prices monthly, but it's trickier to pass on those fluctuations in practice and keep things transparent."

Having a competitive edge is vital, says Guy. "Local and overseas warehouses are increasingly offering frozen goods storage. However, packaging those products is something else entirely, and fewer players are active in that. Our strength is, undoubtedly, the knowledge we've accumulated over the past 37 years. Of course, prices are important, too, but the bottom line is quality and service. After all, companies want perfectly-delivered packaging, that's all," he concludes.

For more information:
Guy Dhaen
Schaapveld 20 - Industrieterrein Hoogveld
ZONE G1 9200 Dendermonde
Tel.: +32 (0) 52 25 02 60

Publication date:
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