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Founded in 1953, Van Gelder stocks the largest range of fruit and vegetables in The Netherlands, and employs more than 350 people. From its base in Ridderkerk, east of Rotterdam, the company supplies more than 2,000 restaurants and 70% of the country’s hotels, as well as hospitals and care homes. Van Gelder is also a frontrunner in the supply of vegetable-based substitutes for meat and fish. It has developed this segment of the business in cooperation with companies across the world.
Van Gelder grows its own produce and is also supplied by several other firms. It can claim to cover the entire supply chain – from “sourcing to serving”. The warehouse operates six days a week, 24 hours a day, and the company organises its own logistics to ensure customers are always supplied with fresh products as and when required.
It’s a business where speed matters, because lead times are short due to the perishability of the products. In a manual warehouse, people need to act quickly to get goods in and out as efficiently as possible. However, since COVID-19, the company has found it difficult to recruit and retain employees, which has the potential to slow processes and hamper its plans to expand operations and break into new markets. In addition, due to a lack of space in many warehouses, there is limit to the value of manual picking processes in terms of expanding capacity.
Van Gelder needed to assess how it was going increase efficiency to deliver the reliability and quality expected by both established and new customers. Demis van Kouwen, the company’s General Manager, explains: “We sat down together and said: ‘Okay, is this business model still sustainable for us?’ We concluded that we needed to change something – and to do that, we made the choice to automate our processes in the most complete way possible.”
Moving to full automation at its 32,000m2 warehouse would certainly meet Van Gelder’s storage, sortation and distribution needs, nevertheless it was a momentous decision. “It was a huge step for us to move on from a fully manual operation, not to mention the fact that we would also be the first fresh food supplier in Europe to automate,” adds Commercial Director and owner, Anton van Gelder. “And in the end, we knew we needed a partner we could trust.”
Vanderlande consultants and engineers worked with the company to decide on the best possible solution. This assessment was carried out before Vanderlande was chosen to supply a system.
Nevertheless, after talking to a number of automated logistic providers, Van Gelder selected Vanderlande, whose ADAPTO solution was seen as the perfect choice. That’s because it has the scalability to support the company’s growth plans and can cope with changes in operational processes.
The system went live in February 2020 and the results are precisely what Van Gelder was hoping for. “What we have now is a fully automated state-of-the-art warehousing system, enabling us to deliver excellent service to our customers,” says Demis. “And that primarily concerns short order lead times, so that the products are at the right place at the right time. That also gives us the guarantee that we deliver to our customers on time, and that they get the freshest products.”
Since automating, Van Gelder has gone from strength to strength, winning a number of new customers. ADAPTO is certainly helping the company to handle the demand for its products. And the system has already been fully extended with the inclusion of a palletising robot and extra conveyors.
“We’re growing at 10 to 20% a year, which is really not a problem, as we can offer the customers an optimum level of service, and growth can be easily linked to that,” says Demis. “We believe we have found a real solution for the long term with Vanderlande.”
Automation has helped Van Gelder to transfer a number of picking staff to alternative positions in the warehouse. It is also assisting the team to get the orders out earlier. “The biggest advantage to me is that the orders are always correct now,” adds Anton. “A system like this does not make mistakes, and everything is transparent including stock control, which has to run like clockwork.”
Vanderlande’s workstations are ergonomically designed, which is another feature that is delivering benefits to the warehouse, as Demis explains: “There is less carrying to do, so we can offer our employees a much more pleasant working environment.”
When the system was installed, Van Gelder decided to organise its own 24/7 servicing and maintenance programme. However, in November 2022, it signed a five-year agreement to transfer these activities to Vanderlande, with the day-to-day responsibilities now managed by an on-site team of 18 dedicated staff drawn from both companies. Handing over service and maintenance responsibilities enables Van Gelder to focus on its core business.
“In Vanderlande, we have found a solid partner, who rolls up its sleeves to get the job done,” says Demis. “And we’re satisfied with how everything is going.”
As business prospers thanks to this fruitful collaboration, the final word goes to Gerrit van Gelder, the company’s General Director and owner: “We’re crazy about fresh produce! Automating the entire process is fantastic and helps us to provide our customers with beautiful agricultural products.”