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NewCold: Transforming Food Logistics with Advanced Automation and Comprehensive Solutions

Food logistics has undergone significant transformation in recent years, driven by a range of factors such as changing consumer preferences, advances in technology, and increasing concerns around sustainability and food waste. The transformation in food logistics is helping companies to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and meet changing consumer demands.

NewCold, the innovative company disrupting the food logistics sector, is revolutionizing the temperature-controlled warehousing and distribution industry with its pioneering systems, productivity, and energy efficiency, setting itself apart from traditional cold storage solutions. Collaborating with major food companies globally, NewCold is spearheading innovation in the field, leveraging its in-house expertise to redefine the design, development, and operation of automated cold storages from start to finish.

Dutch-origin NewCold has established an extensive network of cutting-edge automated facilities spanning Europe (including the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Germany, Italy, and Sweden), Australia, and the United States. With its advanced automated warehouses and comprehensive logistics solutions, NewCold has experienced explosive growth, with 15 sites across three continents, backed by a team of over 1,700 highly skilled professionals.

Jonas Swarttouw is Executive VP of Commercial, North America, and Regional Chairman of NewCold. Growing from one full-time employee to 400 with four locations, NewCold’s success in the American market is largely due to deep expertise in the food supply chain, broad experience, and ability to deliver innovative solutions. Supported by a visionary global leadership team, including CEO Bram Hage and CCO Abhy Maharaj, Jonas masterminded the company’s explosive growth in the US.

But NewCold’s success isn’t just about driving down costs and delivering a high level of service to customers. With its smart automation, optimal use of space, and innovative design, NewCold’s warehouses use significantly less energy, benefitting the planet as well.

Jonas sees that the key to his personal success is a combination of the willingness to accept challenges and winning the trust of leadership by executing to a high standard, alongside the support of colleagues and family who make sacrifices.

Gaining Practical Experience while Having Diverse Cultural Exposure

Jonas, as a student, had a keen interest in the practical application of knowledge. To gain hands-on experience in various countries, he pursued internships at companies like Nike in Europe, as well as others in India and China. This experience proved invaluable in his first job as a consultant, where he helped Western European companies enter emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Jonas worked on a diverse range of feasibility studies across various industries, including animal feed, conveyor belt construction, and cold storage companies. He was also exposed to a variety of national and business cultures, which broadened his experience and ability to handle challenges. Consequently, he earned the trust of leadership and successfully delivered on various projects, paving the way for his career progression. Jonas acknowledges that his family’s support was instrumental in his success.

Built a Successful Business in the US During the Pandemic

Throughout his career, Jonas has encountered various obstacles, both personal and professional. More recently, he has had to navigate the impact of COVID-19 while building NewCold from scratch in the US. That added to the layers of challenges faced since his arrival in Chicago in 2015, including moving abroad, integrating into a new country and culture, and establishing a successful business.

NewCold has managed to achieve sustained growth by executing projects at a high level, offering innovative solutions, and developing close relationships with customers.

The company’s projects are generational, with long-term contracts signed to build and operate automated warehouses. In addition, NewCold has expanded its services to include transporting food into and out of the warehouses, providing end-to-end solutions. Starting the business from his kitchen table in the US has required a considerable stretch from both Jonas and his colleagues back in Europe, many of whom had to work longer hours to accommodate the time difference for their meetings.

Became a Leader in Advanced Automation-Based Supply Chain Solutions

NewCold’s goal is to establish sustainable value chains by employing advanced automation and prioritizing customer satisfaction. The company aspires to be the world’s leading integrated supply chain organization, viewing its customers as long-term partners. NewCold addresses supply chain issues that existed prior to the pandemic, including land and labor scarcity and a lack of resilience.

The company’s approach to food logistics proved to be especially valuable during COVID, as it enabled NewCold to keep all of its warehouses operational while others had to close. This further highlighted the effectiveness of their automation-based strategy in meeting customers’ needs.

Furthermore, the company has made a strategic decision to vertically integrate by controlling critical technologies, which allows them to outperform their competitors in execution. This approach grants them greater agility and innovation capabilities, which further strengthens their market position. “We design the warehouse from the perspective of operating it. That leads to higher service levels at a lower cost,” said Jonas.

Fostering a Collaborative Culture and Prioritizing Diversity

NewCold attributes its global success to its collaborative team culture, which is partly rooted in the company’s Dutch heritage. The organization values individuals who possess bright minds, skilled hands, and compassionate hearts, recognizing that these qualities are the key ingredients for NewCold’s triumphs. The company values diversity and fosters an environment that enables personal and professional growth. At NewCold, employees can expect not only a job but also a career, as evidenced by numerous instances of rapid career advancement, such as forklift drivers becoming planners or system operators, and night shift supervisors progressing to warehouse managers.

In addition to their automated warehouses, NewCold’s comprehensive solution includes transportation facilitated by a digital freight management platform, a digital transport management system, and asset-based freight using double-deck trailers equipped with automated loading and unloading capabilities. The company leverages the Internet of Things (IoT) to gather data insights and provide visibility, which allows for optimized scheduling, tracking, and tracing.

Adapting to Changing Priorities

According to Jonas, initially, automation was primarily driven by cost sustainability. However, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the focus to the ability to serve customers, making resilience a key priority. Several factors, such as financing costs, geopolitics, trade wars, and real wars, impact the supply chain’s resilience. As a result, the emphasis is now on the capacity and agility to scale up and down quickly.

Moreover, being a first mover in adopting automation provides a significant advantage. In the supply chain industry, it can be challenging to maintain a long-term strategic focus when costs are higher than before. However, investing in automation today locks in competitive cost levels for the long term and ensures the ability to serve customers despite global volatility and rising inflation.

Continued Growth and Collaboration for Innovation

Jonas takes pride in the positive feedback received from NewCold’s customers after their visit to one of the US facilities, which elevates the team and motivates them to continue improving. He acknowledges the importance of taking stock of progress, both personally and professionally. Looking ahead, his dream is to sustain growth and value passionate people who are committed to building one of the most innovative logistics providers in the world.

Despite the broadening of his role, Jonas still sees his main responsibility as working with customers and suppliers to solve problems and create value for all parties involved. He hopes to continue working collaboratively to deliver projects with a positive impact on everyone, from customers and staff to the end consumers who pick up frozen or chilled produce from the supermarket.

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Jonas’ advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is threefold. Firstly, it is crucial to identify where you have a unique and differentiated offering that adds value to the customer base and focus on that. Once you have identified your unique selling point, build an organization around it that can deliver better than anyone else.

Secondly, it is essential to find partners and collaborate to accelerate growth. No business can succeed alone, and it’s crucial to work with others who can complement your strengths and compensate weaknesses.

Lastly, understand that things will go wrong, and it’s essential to be fixed on your vision but be agile enough to pivot your strategy when needed. It’s also crucial to have partners who can provide feedback and act as sounding boards when making important decisions.

Modernizing Manual Processes

Jonas believes that the supply chain industry still relies heavily on outdated systems and manual processes. However, by combining large-scale automated warehouse nodes, it is possible to create resilience for multiple customers and generate synergies not only within the warehouse but also in transport centers. Furthermore, the use of large-scale automation and data insights allows for further synergies, such as consolidating multiple customer orders in a single truck.

The focus on automation amplifies the expertise and impact of NewCold’s employees. Although there are automated processes such as loading and unloading of trucks and automated case picking, the company has managed to achieve cost-competitiveness for customers. However, as NewCold increasingly prioritizes technology, the role of its people becomes even more critical and specialized. Many companies fail to recognize the vital role that people play in realizing the full value of technology. He asserts, We are working on becoming grid independent; aside from being more sustainable and reducing energy use, we are looking for ways to generate our own power sustainably and reduce dependency on volatile power grids.”