CANADIAN SHIPPER: Conestoga operates five fully-automated cold storage warehouses with a total storage volume of over 37 million cubic feet. You are serving customers worldwide. Can you discuss trends you are seeing with regard to particular products and flows?
LAURIN: With the reduction in value of the Canadian dollar, we have noticed an increase in the amount of Canadian made products being exported to the U.S.. We have also seen U.S. companies moving manufacturing to Canada in order to take advantage of the lower Canadian dollar. Our customers are paying close attention to recent discussions surrounding the new European trade agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership. Its implementation could result in the opening up of previously untapped markets, particularly for beef and pork producers.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: With regard to the full export and import capabilities at some of your facilities can you discuss the process/steps that enabled you to achieve this capability?
LAURIN: We have an excellent relationship with the CFIA and have longstanding approval to ship to EU countries. Our facility in Kitchener is one of the only facilities in Canada approved to ship products to the Chinese market. Our automated systems, computer controlled product tracking and recall reporting give inspectors and customers the confidence they need to guarantee all tracking and exporting documents are accurate and that products have been expertly loaded.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: What is the approval process like for CFIA and what are some best practices you employ to maintain the rating?
LAURIN: The CFIA approval process is relatively straightforward. All of the documentation and requirements are posted online. Once the reports and HACCP plans are registered, an inspector will perform a site inspection of the facility and issue an approval. Procuring an approval to ship to other countries can be more difficult as there are often local legislation and requirements that differ from North America. It takes working with a consultant who is familiar with the region to work through the registration process. The key to maintaining a high rating with any inspection agency is to ensure documentation is accurate and physical processes match those outlined in your HACCP plan.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: Where do you anticipate an increase in product coming into your facilities?
LAURIN: We expect to see more and more product manufactured in Canada. The GTA is already the 3rd largest food manufacturing region in North America, behind California and Chicago. Droughts in California and the lower Canadian dollar are both strong incentives to manufacture in Ontario. Our corporate tax rate is, for the moment, also a competitive advantage.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: Can you discuss the computerized system and any upgrades/investments/improvements you are planning for 2016?
LAURIN: We have always preferred to control and design our own Warehouse Management System (WMS) system. Our WMS systems are integrated into our ASRS robotic systems and require a lot of customization and programming sophistication. EDI communication is also increasingly important but still requires customization and configuration for each new setup. We have found that onsite programmers and EDI experts allow us to set up and customize customer requirements more quickly and for lower costs than relying on outside providers.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: How has warehouse management evolved in your opinion and what are the challenges to the running of such facilities?
LAURIN: The number of transactions in both pallet movement and case picking have increased dramatically at all of our facilities. The volume that we handle at our largest facilities could not be tracked accurately without an RF enabled computer system that tracks product at every step of the process. As we have become more automated, we have found that attracting young, skilled employees has been a challenge. The cold storage and warehousing industry does not tend to be top of mind for students coming out of technical training and universities. We have to work hard to find and retain top talent. We work closely with technical colleges and are participating in job fairs in order to highlight the exciting opportunities our industry has to offer young people with computer, maintenance and robotics backgrounds.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: Can you discuss any plans for new facilities, etc. or expansions this year?
LAURIN: We are currently constructing an automated building in Mississauga that will add 12,000 pallets and are finalizing plans for another extension that will open in 2017. The increased demand for storage has come primarily from our existing customers’ growth, specifically from customers shipping large volumes to the U.S..