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A day in the life: On the road with Bidvest Foodservice

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A day in the life: On the road with Bidvest Foodservice

There are plenty of everyday challenges for drivers delivering essential products to the hospitality industry. Lisa Jenkins took a seat in the cab with Bidvest Foodservice’s Terry Phelps to find out more

Bidvest Foodservice’s 22 UK depots operate every day of the year. Terry Phelps, who is based at the company’s Paddock Wood depot in Kent, is just one of the drivers responsible for delivering a 13,000-strong product range.

A normal day for Phelps would start at 5.30am with a vehicle check, looking for defects such as faulty lights, loose fuel caps and worn tread on the tyres. The lorry he’s going to take out needs to be clean and tidy, and the duplicate reports handed in every day are a visual record of this. He makes between 12 and 22 drops a day, and that early start helps him to avoid some of the traffic and to meet delivery times for customers who may have no-one on the premises after 2pm.

Terry Phelps, Bidvest Foodservice driver
Terry Phelps, Bidvest Foodservice driver

Bidvest Foodservice customers can request timed delivery slots but our ‘rookie route’ took us through Kent to the Isle of Sheppey.

Phelps locates the vast majority of his customers without the use of a satnav, and pays particular attention to avoiding low bridges. He works most days until 3.30pm. His 18-tonne lorry is fitted with a tacograph, a device required by law that automatically records the vehicle’s speed and distance, together with the driver’s activity. The driver mode is activated automatically when the vehicle is in motion, and switches into rest modes during breaks – drivers are required to take a 45-minute break every four and a half hours.

The lorry is limited to a maximum speed of 50 miles an hour, which seems incredibly slow when cars are flying past. Drivers around us can be inconsiderate – darting in front of the lorry at roundabouts and swerving across it on the motorway.

The Caterer's Lisa Jenkins on a delivery with Terry Phelps, Bidvest Foodservice driver
The Caterer’s Lisa Jenkins on a delivery with Terry Phelps, Bidvest Foodservice driver

We stop at a railway crossing, and watch pedestrians disappear as they pass in front of the lorry’s high, flat bonnet. Terry has extra mirrors on the passenger side to aid visibility in front of the cab, but says: “You need to be aware of this blind spot when delivering to schools and hospitals, in particular. I always try and park away from our school customers if we are there during school drop-off times so that there is no danger to the children.”

Some of the roads we travel on are narrow – another challenge for the driver. The number of drops per vehicle will determine the load tonnage, and thus the size of lorry used. Some roads are better suited to smaller trucks than the one we’re in – Bidvest’s 14.5 and 7-tonne vehicles, which are the ones that tend to be spotted darting around London.

Drivers need to be diplomats, as they are on the frontline when it comes to complaints, and errors do happen. If an order is short or the wrong product is delivered, that can impact hugely on a hospitality business.

The drivers also form part of Bidvest’s sales team. They are often asked for recommendations on alternative products – a human catalogue, if you like.

The Caterer's Lisa Jenkins and Terry Phelps of Bidvest deliver an order to Gillingham FC
The Caterer’s Lisa Jenkins and Terry Phelps of Bidvest deliver an order to Gillingham FC

The customers we met on our day out were delightful. We tracked down a representative at Gillingham FC, supplied daily products to a hospital, and two pubs – the Playa and the Harps Inn – on the Isle of Sheppey. We were kept waiting quite a while at the gates of a Tesco Extra, and shared breakfast as we delivered to B&Q.

Phelps went through the company’s Warehouse to Wheels programme in 2016, having been a warehouse manager for a number of years. He loves his new career and says the customers are the best part of his job.

His experience in the warehouse has come in handy – he knows his stuff, and his regulars appreciate his knowledge.

Being a delivery driver is a physical job. The cab is 1.3 metres above the ground, and the driver has to get in using the regulation step-ladder – drivers will typically be in and out of the cab more than 50 times a day.

Terry Phelps, Bidvest Foodservice driver, on a delivery
Terry Phelps, Bidvest Foodservice driver, on a delivery

Derek Moore, general manager of the Paddock Wood depot, took us on a guided tour of the warehouse – a 127,000 square foot building with a million cubic feet of storage. The temperature-controlled depot holds £5m worth of stock across 7,500 lines, handles half a million cases of product a week, and accounts for around 1,600 deliveries a day.

It’s frenetic, with a strict one-way system. There are red and green lanes and an awful lot of noise. During the night shift up to 100 pickers load products into cages or onto pallets moved around by half a dozen forklift trucks.

The pickers, on foot and in buggies, wear a headset that converts product orders into voice commands that direct them to the appropriate locations in the warehouse where the products are to be found. The system can be programmed in a number of languages. It announces each product and identifies its code (using check digits from a barcode), moving on to the next product once it has been picked up. Stock is organised from fast to slow (in terms of rate of sale) and heavy to light (in weight), and picked in that order.

Bidvest's Paddock Wood depot
Bidvest’s Paddock Wood depot

The majority of picking is completed overnight, with deliveries heading off all through the night and general goods-in starting from 6am. Fresh pick-to-clear produce starts arriving at 11am, as well as cross-stock from external suppliers such as meat, fruit and vegetables.

The temperature in the fresh and frozen areas is maintained at 4°C, and items are picked as orders come through. There’s no chance of products defrosting given the maximum allowed 30-minute time lapse from storage to lorry. The only ambient temperature is the space between the loading bay and back of the lorry. There is very little food waste at this depot – and any there is goes to a local charity.

Bidvest's Paddock Wood depot
Bidvest’s Paddock Wood depot

Back at base

Bidvest’s Paddock Wood depot opened in 2009 following the merger of its Edenbridge, Sevenoaks and Dunton depots.

Employing 360 people, it combines multi-temperature and frozen facilities within a sustainable building.

In 2016 the depot was awarded the Investors in People gold award, making it one of the top 7% of Investors in People organisations worldwide. The award was given in recognition of the depot’s commitment to supporting staff in their careers as well as providing development opportunities, and the assessors also looked at its sustainability initiatives.

The depot was praised for its community engagement schemes, which include donating suitable products to local pig farms to cut down on food waste, housing beehives and working with the Ministry of Justice to support employment for ex-offenders due for parole or finishing their sentences.

The warehouse has photovoltaic panels which provide energy for battery charging and lighting, solar panels which preheat office space and water, and rainwater harvesting for office toilets and vehicle washing. Its fleet of multi-temperature vehicles meets the latest European emission standards (Euro 6), which defines the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions.

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