Ten years of European Food Network. In this interview, Alfred Miller, Managing Director of DACHSER Food Logistics, the initiator of the logistics network for the food industry, takes a look back on the first years and shows why the cooperation strategy of the European Food Network is a sustainable basis for a win-win situation – both for the network members but especially for the customers.
The pioneers of the European Food Network 10 years ago (back, from left to right): Ewoud Broersma, Bakker Logistiek (Netherlands), Hans Brummer, Brummer Logistik (Austria, Slovenia), Ewald Raben, Raben Group (Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), Peter Galliker, Galliker Transport AG (Switzerland), Ute Bischoff, Spedition Heidelmann (Northern Hesse region), Mogens Therkelsen, H. P. Therkelsen (Denmark), Karlhubert Dischinger, Karldischinger (Black Forest region), Engelbert Liegl, Liegl & Dachser (Hungary), Matthias Papp, Papp Logistics (Italy), Tom Binks, Peter Green Chilled (Ireland, Great Britain), Ulf Thomsen, Jens Thomsen Spedition (Norway, Sweden, Finland) and Alfred Miller (centre, front) DACHSER Food Logistics (Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France).
Mr. Miller, transport logistic 2023 was certainly a very special fair for you?
Alfred Miller: "Yes, that's right. I was very pleased that the fair is finally taking place again and that I was able to have intensive personal discussions with customers as well as colleagues. We presented several highlights: A new, innovative customer platform that will be usable for all DACHSER customers from 2024 and our @ILO project, a 'digital twin' of our transshipment warehouses. And because we founded the European Food Network at transport logistic 2013, exactly 10 years ago, we also had a very special reason to celebrate."
At the time, the Deutsche Verkehrs-Zeitung headlined an article on the foundation "New force in the food market" and you said in an interview: "We want nothing less than to become the leading network for intra-European food transports". Two strong statements that aptly predicted the development of the European Food Network.
Alfred Miller: "I can only underline the statements made at that time today. Our development in figures alone makes it clear that we took the right course when we founded the network. At the beginning, we were already operating in 21 countries in Europe and had almost 1.8 million pallet spaces for food storage. In the meantime, 34 countries are connected with each other through regular scheduled transport and the number of pallet spaces for food increased to 1.9 million."
The European Food Network is thus present almost European wide and delivers food to the last corner of Europe – a goal you had set yourself back then …
Alfred Miller: "… I never doubted that we would achieve the goals we had set, even though the initial situation in the European food market was difficult at the time. In the beginning, we expected rather moderate growth. But our network strategy for Europe has been very positively received by customers from day one. For example, in the first year of its existence, the volume from the network to Germany almost doubled compared to the previous year, and export volumes from Germany also increased by a double-digit percentage. Our balance sheet was already consistently positive in 2014 and still is today. In the first year (2013), we achieved a turnover of around 1.4 billion Euros as the European Food Network. In the meantime, turnover has almost doubled to 2.7 billion Euros per year."
Can you tell us the European Food Network's recipe for success?
Alfred Miller: "The essential parameters are quickly summed up. All partners work together as equals. There is a great deal of trust between them and in order to realize smooth processes and punctual deliveries, we have defined common guidelines from the very beginning. These include defined performance and quality criteria for our customers as well as internal standards for operational processes, administrative procedures and the digital exchange of documents and status information about the consignment. With these regulations, pan-European food logistics has become even faster, more transparent and more reliable for our customers. The transports have been stable from day one, the transparency promised at the start works and the quality is good. This creates trust, and if we prove this trust every day – which we do - we will have highly satisfied customers. The success of our food logistics is therefore based on trust, stability and reliability."
The fact that the network is extremely stable is surely also due to the fact that you defined special selection criteria for membership in advance?
Alfred Miller: "Absolutely. The sustainable foundation of the European Food Network is formed by family businesses that are among the leading food logistics companies in their country, knowing their market very well, maintaining solid customer relationships with industry and retail and stand out for their comprehensive, high-quality logistics services for the food industry. The fact that we can draw on the reliable virtues and values of family businesses in the network can be seen in the fact that after 10 years, only two founding members are no longer active in the network. The only changes have been in the UK and on the Sweden, Finland and Norway route.
We operate reliably and on a long-term basis. This is reflected, among other things, in the fact that we have been working together with many network members in bilateral partnerships, in some cases for over 25 years."
In marriage, the silver wedding anniversary is celebrated after 25 years …
Alfred Miller: "… and as in a good marriage, a partnership has to fit in several dimensions and both partners have to meet each other at eye level."
Why does the network function so smoothly and is so coherent?
Alfred Miller: "Because everyone knows their strengths and is firmly convinced that we are even stronger as a team. That's why we can offer the service that has proven itself in the market via the network, so that our customers can deliver their groupage consignments as well as partial and full loads safely and promptly throughout Europe with a good price-performance ratio. It is also essential that over the years of cooperation, networking has become more and more intensive on a personal level. Not only the managers and owners but also the employees in the individual departments regularly exchange information and work hand in hand on the joint projects in the network. The members of the European Food Network are not interested in merely exchanging consignments, but in achieving more for our customers together and making the network better and better."
How does this work in practice?
Alfred Miller: "We are challenging ourselves how we can make existing processes even better. We are also pushing ahead with digitalization and investing in innovative IT solutions that will be introduced promptly across all members. To put it simply: we are constantly developing and getting better together."
An editor of the trade journal MM-Logistik wrote in his 2016 article that the European Food Network was a milestone for the development of DACHSER's Food Logistics division. Wouldn't it be better to say: for DACHSER, for the members and for the customers?
Alfred Miller: "I am already aware why the editor made this statement. We are the initiators of the network and already ten years ago, transports and central warehouse structures were hardly ever tendered on a national basis, but increasingly for the whole of Europe or for transnational regions. Also, even back then, manufacturers expected sophisticated European logistics solutions from a single source from their logistics service provider. This is precisely why we pushed for the establishment of the network. I am firmly convinced that in the ten years of the European Food Network we have built a strong logistics network within Europe for the entire food industry – a network that has created a real win-win situation for partners and correspondents as well as for our customers."
What does the win-win situation look like in concrete terms?
Alfred Miller: "Our customers can expand their export business and develop new markets that are otherwise difficult to reach continuously and regularly with general cargo shipments. This is because all members of the European Food Network work around the clock and together ensure seamless logistical interlinking across all European economic areas. In this way, they ensure time- and cost-optimized delivery for the consignors. We have also significantly reduced the number of empty trucks in cross-border food transports, which not only protects the environment, but is also much more efficient for all parties involved. Last but not least, the network partners can offer their customers transport solutions that would not be economically feasible without membership in the European Food Network."
Thank you for the insightful interview. We are looking forward to seeing how the European Food Network develops over the next ten years.