Customer portrait: From the grape to the glass

A constant 15 degrees: the logistics specialist JF Hillebrand ships wine around the world – working closely with Hapag-Lloyd for decades.

Forklift trucks glide through the hall like ballet dancers. A good half a dozen of them move backwards and forwards, past meters-high stacks of wine boxes, carrying pallets full of bottles into the cargo holds of the lorries that have backed up to the loading bay of the 3,000-square-meter building. It is an impressive spectacle – the drivers manoeuvre their fully loaded forklifts through the aisles almost silently, at great speed yet with great care. Nothing gets broken here.

The warehouse is situated on the outskirts of Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy. It forms part of JF Hillebrand’s French headquarters. The biggest wine and spirit logistics provider in the world has been a loyal customer of Hapag-Lloyd for decades, and the business it brings to Hapag-Lloyd has kept growing. Outside, on this summer day, the sun is shining brightly, ripening the grapes on the countless slopes that surround the capital of this wine region. Inside the warehouse, at a constant of 15 degrees Celsius, the wines that connoisseurs all around the world are waiting for are being handled.  

Burgundy, Bordeaux, Côtes du-Rhône, Alsace, Champagne or Loire: it is products such as these – the white, red, rosé and sparkling wines – that delight oenophiles all over the world. All of these names can also be found here in the hall, on the boxes and cartons stored in some 3,000 pallets. Whether Romanée-Conti, Margaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the winesstored here are premium products – not for the masses. Even so, in France alone, where the global logistics specialist JF Hillebrand has five other warehouses in addition to Beaune, it still handles a million bottles – per day. 20 to 30 lorries arrive daily at the Beaune warehouse. When they depart, there are often two drivers in the cabin to take care of the exclusive cargo. A single truckload or container with JF Hillebrand pallets can often be worth several hundred thousand euros. The valuable load is sometimes split between two containers, to hedge the risks involved in its transportation.

200 employees in Beaune alone organize the logistics specialist’s complex transport arrangements. A total of 2,500 employees work for JF Hillebrand spread over 55 offices globally, including Mainz, Germany, the original headquarter of the company established in 1844. Logistics is always a global industry, but JF Hillebrand is unusually international. Even the Executive Board members are dotted around Europe: the CFO is based in Mainz, the COO is in London the CCO is in Barcelona, and the CEO is in Rotterdam. They manage the decentralized service network that mirrors the footprint of the global markets of wine, spirits and beer with an efficient coordination of centralized functions supporting the organisation. “We are present wherever wine is produced but, of course, also wherever it is consumed – and that means everywhere in the world”, says Emmanuel Olivier, Director Ocean Freight Procurement. Olivier works from Burgundy, his hometown and reports to the CCO in Barcelona. The 45-year-old has been with JF Hillebrand for 20 years and is responsible for the freight negotiations for 500,000 containers a year. His team of ten employees is also scattered over the world: half in Burgundy but also in North America and Asia.

JF Hillebrand does not operate solely on the proceeds from transporting wine. If this does account for 60 per cent of its total revenue, another 10 per cent comes from transporting spirits, such as whisky (scotch or bourbon), 20 per cent from transporting beer and another 10 per cent from transporting raw material, empty bottles and casks. JF Hillebrand has seen its business grow continuously for years. Beer shipments have increased significantly, for instance. Asia is currently a growth region for wine, particularly China: “There is increasing demand from the middle class there, too.” “The secret to our success is that we are a niche supplier and offer our customers personal treatment and tailormade logistics solutions”, says Olivier. “Of course, that makes us very demanding for our carriers; because we sell a premium service, we also expect them to do so”. JF Hillebrand organises not only the transport for its customers; its vast experience means the logistics expert often advises them on how to optimise their logistics processes and supply chain, as well. “Our teams are obviously specifically trained”, explains Olivier. The liquid cargo is transported in standard containers, some of them fitted with an innovative product known as a VinLiner. This is a specially developed foil that protects the contents of the container against sudden changes in temperature. Of course, often reefers are used for transporting wine. The 15 degrees in the warehouse in Beaune must be maintained constantly throughout the entire transport chain – because a Château Pétrus, for example (a single bottle of which can easily cost several thousand euros), should taste as exceptional everywhere in the world as it does straight from the vineyard. “So compromises are out of the question, as far as the cleanliness of the containers is concerned.” Safety and protection on board are essential for Olivier. Hapag-Lloyd is one of his preferred partners as a carrier and has been for many years.

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