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Conway Belgium supplies thousands of customers across Belgium with a variety of food and non-food products

Boasting sales of some 975 million euros in the last financial year, Conway Belgium supplies over 18,000 customers with a vast array of products, including sweets, drinks, fresh food, tobacco, telecommunication aides and frozen produce. The company’s fleet of vehicles makes deliveries of such goods to petrol stations, kiosks, specialist drink markets, department and food stores, fast-food chains, bakeries, canteens, hospitals, nightclubs, libraries and convenience stores. As such, the business has been dubbed ‘the convenience company,’ and employs approximately 400 people across its two depots in Belgium.

It is part of the multi-billion euro European organisation, Lekkerland, which is based in Germany, employing over 7000 people and achieving a turnover of 11.2 billion euros. The outfit has representation in a dozen countries across Europe, supplying culinary and non-culinary goods to around 140,000 facilities across the continent. The colossal success that has been achieved has been largely based on the supply and success of non-classical products, such as sweets at petrol stations or chewing gum at kiosks, for example. Known as impulse purchases, it is an area that Lekkerland has acquired a significant deal of knowledge and experience in.
Conway Belgium Issue 4 2008 b
Elaborating on the history of Conway Belgium and its present operations, Erik Van Espen, the company’s sales director, explains: “Historically what we’ve done is very simple; we deliver goods from one point to another for the original manufacturers who don’t deliver small amounts of their goods to specific places. They are more willing to make bulk deliveries to supermarkets because it is more profitable due to high drop sizes. It is difficult for them to set up huge, costly delivery networks for independent clients. That is one of the key reasons why wholesaling is so popular in a number of European countries.

“More recently, we have tried to take the company forward in terms of becoming more than just a distributor that takes goods from point A to point B. While we are part of a larger group, we have the capability to do that as each representative in Europe has the freedom to manage its business on an independent basis. We have, therefore, started to look at and deliver more added value for our customers (for example, new concepts), which basically means we are examining public and market trends. We are looking to deliver popular items, such as freshly baked goods at petrol stations and coffee stands. We will try to roll out that sort of produce in partnership with the manufacturers if we can, but if not we’ll do it on our own.”

That commitment is part of the company’s increasing move towards healthy eating and convenience food on the move. Indeed, the area has become one of the four main business areas of Conway Belgium, as Erik continues: “The core of our organisation is supported by four main pillars, the newest of which is fresh and frozen food, which can then be baked and prepared on the premises where it will be sold, such as a service station. That can encompass a lot of different produce, such as sandwiches, smoothies and baked goods. It is very much part of the plan to reflect consumer trends in what we offer, which at present is all about health and convenience.

“We started this division in 2005 and it is growing step-by-step; it achieved sales of 15 million euros last year but that is a figure that will grow. We have invested in new equipment in the warehouses and custom-made vehicles to support it. So what we are doing is having one delivery of frozen and fresh goods to a petrol station, for example, on a Tuesday, and then a delivery of tobacco and food on na Thursday.”

Outlining the three remaining divisions, he adds: “Of all four pillars, the most significant in terms of revenue is tobacco products. We deliver a whole range of them, from cigarettes and cigars to roll your own and cigarillos. Another is food and everything that goes along with that, the main focus within it is impulse products such as chewing gum and chocolate bars, and we are branching into the supply of conveniences like ketchup and so on. The last is centred around e-vouchering, which are cards that can have value added to them, which can then be recharged in libraries and shops.”

As a company with thousands of customers and countless products that need delivering to specific destinations on a daily basis, a high level of customer service is an absolute must. Indeed, Conway’s proven ability to deliver the correct produce and other related products at the relevant time has been one of the main spearheads in its ascent up the industry ladder. There is also a dedicated team of customer service experts who are readily available to provide solutions for any manner of problems (for example, space management and planograms).

The infrastructure of the business is one that has been honed over time to best suit its many clients that place convenience in the highest regard. As such, they are able to order via a number of different mediums – including phone, EDI, fax and the internet – in the safe knowledge that it will be automatically processed, picked at one of the two centres in either Temse or Jumet, before being dispatched by one of 60 trucks in the early hours of the following morning.

In times of economic uncertainty, such efficiency and reliability are likely to take a business a long way. It is, perhaps, behind the optimism that Erik exudes as he speaks of his hopes for the future:

“We have an advantage because we will be able to change our focus in conjunction with the changing trends we see from consumers. We will be working alongside manufacturers in that respect to analyse how to react to customer behaviour – we have to recognise the areas where economic growth will continue. Our new fresh and frozen range is a very clear example of that,