Supplying the walls and wheels
Quality Food Services is based in Brisbane and provides the important link between food and beverage manufacturers and their wholesale customers. Hino’s wide body 500 trucks are their vehicles of choice for the expanding delivery fleet.
When company CEO Frank DePasquale established Quality Food Services (QFS) in 1988 the two main products were lasagne and hot dogs and were mostly sold to school canteens.
Today QFS has a range of over 7,000 products, which it delivers to businesses such as restaurants, pubs, clubs, hotels, cafes, and aged care facilities. And QFS continues to supply a wide range of products to approximately 800 schools.
Providing direct service to an area extending from Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast to Ballina in northern New South Wales, and west to Toowoomba, QFS is also involved in providing food services to remote mining camps using sub-contractors.
During late 2018, in order to handle the volume and to cater for future growth, QFS moved into its purpose designed and built warehouse and administration facility located in Pinkenba in close vicinity to Brisbane Airport.
By being directly under the flight path the location presented some unique challenges in order to comply with more than the usual Commonwealth, State and local regulations and has resulted in an ultra-high technology facility that is covered by 69 safety and security cameras and extensive on-site fire detection and fire fighting systems.
The authorities are anxious to prevent any incidents that could affect the operation of the airport so there is a continuous sampling of air to detect any smoke and the entire fire and security system is tamper monitored. The warehouse has nine robotic doors, which will open in the event of a fire to vent any smoke.
The warehouse has a footprint of 11,000 square metres of which 50 per cent is refrigerated in four different temperature zones using a very efficient refrigeration plant that utilises ammonia rather than the more common Freon.
The move from QFS’s previous premises in Stafford required 5,000 pallets to be moved in a 72 hour period and as the QFS fleet needed to continue to deliver goods to customers, contractors were engaged to handle the 120 trailer loads of products.
A distinct point of difference between QFS and other food service suppliers is the extensive and ever increasing range of gourmet items that it has available including boutique non-alcoholic beverages.
The beverage sector is a growing market and drinks now account for around 10 per cent of sales with almost 700 different beverage products available. The warehouse holds bay after bay of food service products that are not readily available in retail supermarkets and are required by catering, hospitality and cooked food outlets.
One of the advantages of expanding the beverage business is the opportunity to cross sell food service products to those on the beverage customers’ base.
“With beverages we don’t deal with the chef as we often do with food products,” says Brian Saharin, QFS General Manager. “Instead we deal with the front of house.”
This opens the possibility to provide ancillary items such as napkins, coasters and straws and customers who were predominantly beverage clients are now able to obtain food service products as well. This also translates into the opportunity for traditional food customers to amalgamate their beverage and food orders.
QFS Company Director Guy Politi says that there is a trend in demand towards some higher quality food and beverages. “It can be tomato paste from Italy or cooking oil from Malaysia. We import a lot of quality gourmet products such as flour, rice and confectionery,” Guy says.
The truck brand of choice at QFS is Hino, mostly the wide body 500 Series with 260 horsepower engines and Allison automatic transmissions.
Trucks that have entered the QFS fleet as assets of various business acquisitions will be progressively replaced with more Hinos to join the 39 Hinos that are already in the fleet. The decision to adopt Hino as the preferred brand has been based on a pragmatic philosophy.
“It’s our fleet and with Hino we get great service,” says warehouse and distribution manager Ricky Turner. “The trucks are not on any service contract but at any time we can ring up the local Sci-Fleet dealership and have a truck attended to that night.”
“Hino has been very responsive and attentive,” says Brian. “We have a great relationship with Craig Anderson and the team at Sci-Fleet.”
The TRS Thermaxx refrigerated bodies are slightly longer than normal at 6.1 metres. This allows for the transport of up to eight pallets with space available to assist in gaining access to the products on the pallets without having to do any offloading and reloading.
The Thermaxx bodies are able to handle both frozen and chilled items at the same time thanks to an innovative internal lift up wall.
Cold air can be ducted from the front to rear, with a fan employed to return the warmer air back to the refrigeration unit.
The Thermo King 1200 refrigeration units are designed for a 10 pallet body and are arguably an over-specification but the benefits are worthwhile to ensure that the rear chilled compartment is able to maintain a temperature of three to five degrees and minus 15 to 18 degrees in the front compartment throughout the day even in Queensland summer heat.
The new warehouse is designed so that every truck can be rear loaded and the investment in the internal lift up walls is proving worthwhile as efficiency is maximised.
Attention to detail in the design of the bodies is evident with components including fold down steps, triple rear doors, safety handles and automatic interior lights. Magnetic door holders are fitted removing the need to manually latch open the doors when gaining access to the load.
Each Hino is fitted with reverse view cameras plus forward facing and driver cameras and these fitments have not met with any resistance from the drivers.
“It’s all about risk and liability,” says Brian.
The majority of deliveries involve off-loading by hand and for full pallet-on pallet-off work several of the trucks are equipped with d’Hollandia tail gate lifts. The ‘full pallet’ trucks can handle up to 35 pallets a day and the normal food service trucks generally have eight hours work to perform each day.
As QFS occasionally acquires new businesses the efficiencies of their own warehousing and routing means they no longer need to take on the associated vehicles as there is more than sufficient capacity within the existing fleet to handle extra work.
Brian says logistics are impacted by seasonal demand for certain items. “When we get busier we don’t necessarily have more deliveries,” he says. “We have bigger deliveries.”
Assisting in the co-ordination of the warehouse management and truck delivery logistics is the OPSi system which is similar to that used by the US Postal Service to route vehicles.
Currently more than 600 deliveries may be made each day and the system takes into account such factors as the locations and vehicles, hours available for each driver and the requirements of the many deliveries that need to be completed within specified time windows.
“We look at the service side of the delivery operations and while we might still have drivers’ routes criss-crossing, other than safety, the crucial element is meeting the time windows to suit the customers,” says Ricky.
An industry survey carried out across food service customers showed that a majority put delivery on time ahead of delivery in full and often even price.
“When we started we couldn’t match price with the big players but we grew because of the service we provided,” says Ricky.
Prior to Brian joining the company QFS had considered subbing out its delivery fleet but didn’t do so due to the desire to retain personal service for the customers.
“We are the walls and wheels for the manufacturers and we want the relationship with the customer,” says Brian. “We want our drivers to be able to add value and offer solutions. For example, Red Bull delivered 20 pallets to us today. Over the next two to three weeks we’ll deliver to customers in lots of one carton, two cartons or five cartons. A manufacturer can’t give the level of service we can. We want our sales people and our drivers to be able to add value because whether we deliver the carton of Red Bull or one of our competitors does the product is identical but it’s the backup and the service that differentiates.”
Ricky agrees that this policy has been crucial to QFS’s growth.
“We don’t just drop it and run,” he says. “You’d be surprised how many people appreciate a ‘How’s your day been?’ from a delivery driver.”
This holistic approach began when the company founders started calling on schools 30 years ago and it helped the relationships they built with the tuck shop ladies.
It seems that modern corporate business is no different.
“It’s centred on personal service and relationships,” says Brian.
Ricky adds: “And the business has grown on that.”