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When it comes to supporting grocery retailers, Hilton Food Group is the partner to depend on

The food pros at Hilton Foods Australia are on the move. From roots as a meat packing facility in Huntington, England, Hilton Foods has blossomed into a trusted partner to hundreds of supermarkets throughout UK, Europe and Australia—and is on deck to bring its expertise to New Zealand.

Founded in 1994, today’s Hilton Foods boasts 17 factories, sources its comestibles from over 40 suppliers, and supports it’s retail partners feed families in 14 countries. Hilton’s business was established in 1994, specialising in supplying beef and lamb to Tesco. Over its history, the grocery chains they serve have grown to also include Woolworths, Countdown, Albert Heijn, Delhaize, Co-op and others.

The menu selections have broadened significantly as well. While beef, lamb, and pork products still make up a significant portion of their offerings, ambitious acquisitions and joint ventures have broadened their slate to include seafood, vegan, and vegetarian products.

Hilton is serious about pleasing the world’s palates with diverse, high quality proteins. In 2017 the company entered the seafood space with the acquisition of SeaChill, an Icelandic chilled fish supplier. The following year, they purchased a 50% share in Netherlands-based vegetarian and vegan foods manufacturer Dalco, with an option to purchase the remaining shares in 2024. In 2019, Hilton purchased SV Cuisine, a manufacturer of sous vide products.

Their enthusiasm is embedded in a four-part strategy to lead the industry: partnering with existing customers to build volumes and broaden product selections; partnering with existing customers as they reach new territories; winning new customers in new territories; and keeping “an uncompromising focus on unit costs, quality, product development and most importantly looking after and developing their team.”

“We believe in total partnership,” stressed Hilton Foods Australia managing director Pat McEntee. “We partner exclusively with the leading retailers in the markets we enter, and that’s been our expansion model from the UK, through Europe, into Australia, and soon to be NZ in 2021.”

A state of the art, $100 million food park is under construction in South Auckland, and will exclusively supply 140-plus Countdown supermarkets their meat, poultry and seafood requirements.

McEntee and his team are leading Hilton’s charge into Oceania, having overseen the development of a leading edge $280 million production facility in Heathwood, Queensland, which opened in July 2019  to serve Woolworths.

You might say McEntee was born to be a butcher, considering that it was his expertise behind Woolworths’ meat counter as a teen that grew into his mastery of all things protein for the world-renowned retailer. For many years Pat McEntee was known as the “meat guy” at Woolies. During his tenure he moved from swinging a cleaver to becoming the general manager of the company’s fresh foods, then Store Operations Director before a stint managing Woolworths New Zealand.

When Hilton with their partner Woolworths sought a managing director for their Australian shelf-ready meat expansion, the 30-plus-year company veteran was a natural choice for both firms. Don’t let his self-deprecation fool you: The Heathwood facility that McEntee directs is one of the nation’s most technologically advanced and sustainable, and a jewel in the Hilton Foods ever-expanding crown.

The Heathwood site alone employs 650 team members and serves 450 Woolworths stores from NSW to northern reaches of Queensland.

Sustainably speaking, Heathwood is the second largest solar installation in Australia, with 6,990 solar panels generating 2,800 MWh annually, providing 30% of the entire site’s energy consumption. That alone will save Heathwood a 20 to 30% reduction in CO2. Heat recovery technology is reducing CO2 as well as the demand on gas boilers to heat water by a whopping 70%, and an ambitious ISO 50,001 energy efficiency program is expected to shave at least 10% from standard energy costs.

Making a Masterful Connection

If you’re getting the feeling that Hilton Foods is on the vanguard of innovation, you’re feeling right. In addition to leading the industry in new product development, Hilton supports their customers with food related IT applications, category management support, logistics, and market intelligence. Their line speeds are the world’s fastest, and in the warehouse, sophisticated, fully automated storage and retrieval technology features robots that pick individual store orders seven days a week.

“When we delivered our automated logistics operations to Woolworths, we were only one of a few fully automated logistics operations in the country, including dry goods and ambient groceries,” McEntee noted. “From cutting, packing, wrapping and pricing to logistics, the degree and flow of automation on our sites is definitely at the forefront of our industry.”

Their joint venture with food industry supply chain specialists Foods Connected is another shining example of their commitment to improving every aspect of the business. “Hilton introduced Foods Connected to Woolworths in 2013 as a solution to help manage their raw material as we transitioned to retail ready specifications. It facilitated clear communication and updates to suppliers on product quality to help ensure we were getting the right product to deliver optimal quality to consumers,” McEntee recalled.

“Foods Connected continually works with the Woolworths team to set up a range of reporting on all the data being captured to provide faster insight into their business to help make better decisions,” he added.

“The platform has significantly changed their ways of working, replacing many spreadsheets and emails with a structured system where all parties can access the information they need. They are now progressing into traceability with Woolworths where their Trace Connected solution can further enhance the connection of data from farm to fork.”

The NZ expansion will also benefit from the Foods Connected solution.  “With every market unique in its own way, thankfully when Foods Connected built their platform, they focused on configurability so that companies could easily adjust how the system works to fit into their business.  This configurability will see our New Zealand site benefit from learnings and ideas from Australia”.

McEntee concluded, “The more transparent we are with our customers, the better the relationship and solutions we can deliver for them and their shoppers. The more connected we are in terms of data, the better decisions we can make as a business. Sometimes solutions can be made too complex. At Hilton, we understand the process, ensure it is fit for purpose and delivering to the value proposition and then provide the simplest solution as it will be the best and most likely to be adopted. We have a tremendous team working together to bring the freshest products to our customers, and we’re incredibly proud of that.”