Growth of Brenntag UK & Ireland reflects the underlying optimism of the chemical industry as reported in the previous edition of Chemical Industry Journal. Following the series of interviews last year we speak to Russel Argo, President Brenntag UK & Ireland, on the 2018 outlook for this chemical distributor.

indicated that 2017 was to be a year of promise for Brenntag UK & Ireland. How would you define the year for your company?

2017 has been an exciting year for Brenntag. We’ve had very successful twelve months with strong growth in our key areas, delivering on all our promises in terms of investment in people, infrastructure and acquisitions that we set out to achieve in the beginning of last year. The year has not been without challenges as there remains a degree of uncertainty in the industry about the ongoing Brexit negotiations and the impact these may bring. However the agility of Brenntag reach and strength of our relationships with suppliers allow us to quickly react to current changes and assist our customers to seize opportunities and foster innovation and efficiency.

What do you consider an innovation? What innovations has Brenntag UK & Ireland brought to the market recently?

I recall having a discussion on the topic of innovations in the chemical industry over a decade ago with the CBA members, and I continue to be fascinated both by the subject of innovation and also by the remarkable ability of our industry to innovate for sustainable growth. To answer your question, innovation for added value can take a number of forms. For instance, it may involve providing extensive technical and regulatory support through an experienced and focused team, developing bespoke projects with and for our customers in the laboratory or operational settings, enhancing customer service and customer experience, sharing a best practice in operational and product safety arena and many others.

For instance, last October we hosted the first ever Brenntag UK Safety Day in Crewe. We hoped that this event, aimed at representatives of businesses across the chemical industry including suppliers, customers, industry associations and advisory bodies, would further facilitate the conversation of safety, quality, service and innovation, as together we strive to make the chemical industry a safe and enjoyable workplace for all. We were overwhelmed by the terrific response from the industry, whose engagement with regards to raising awareness and capacity building in the safety arena has been remarkable.

Could digitisation be a source of innovation for a chemical distributor?

Absolutely. We are continuing to invest in digital technology to enhance our service offering and are currently rolling out the Brenntag Mobile Delivery Management Platform across our sites for “track and trace” benefits as well as considerable safety improvement opportunities deliverable through this innovative system. I give you an example: each year we make around 100k connections to bulk or semi bulk installations and transfer hazardous liquids into stock tanks from our road tankers or pressure bin systems. Due to our rigorous enforcement of the “Safety First” principles across Brenntag Group, the potential for something to go wrong is minimised; however having real-time tracking and transparency built into the Platform means that we can reduce that risk still further.

We previously spoke about Brenntag UK & Ireland strategy – could you give us an update?

We continue to work towards the global Brenntag Group’s vision, which is to be the preferred distributor for specialty and industrial chemicals. Our strategy remains two-fold: organic growth and strategic acquisitions. We are making strides in each of the many environmental, life and material science applications Brenntag operates in, whether through investment in people and skills of our teams, or significant strategic projects to further build on the efficiency of our infrastructure and geographical reach.

The Brenntag Solvents business has recently taken delivery of an additional 50 stainless steel IBCs to further support growth, whilst several sites including Manchester, Lutterworth, Bradford and Newcastle have seen significant investment in new liquid filling systems. Our Sodium Hypochlorite production facility at Thetford received an investment of circa £900k in various safety and infrastructure projects, with further investments planned for 2018. Work has started on the new multi-million pound distribution facility in the North East, due for completion by the end of 2018, which will be home for our Newcastle team.

The multi-million pound industrial blending facility in Lutterworth (the latest addition to the UK & Ireland network of Brenntag Blending Services sites) came online in August last year, and the new Food Application Kitchen in Widnes is used extensively for recipes formulating projects, customer days and trials.

Our expertise has been greatly strengthened by new high profile appointees to technical and commercial teams, bringing further experience and strategy for growth to our focus areas. We are looking for opportunities to create additional added value in all focus market sectors whether by investing in new facilities or creating synergies available through our existing infrastructure, such as utilising our bespoke Brenntag Colours laboratory in Halifax for coatings and construction, paper and industrial cleaning formulating projects and trials.

Bolstered by some well qualified additional new recruits who recently joined our regulatory team, we are launching the Brenntag Technical Services Hotline to provide our customers with an access to industry expertise. The Hotline is set up to deal with an increasing number and complexity of technical and regulatory queries coming in; speed and quality of response is vital, and we will be providing a twenty-four hour turnaround on customer queries.

Last year you promised to make a step change in terms of acquisitions. Has 2017 delivered?

We have further consolidated our position as a market leader in chemical distribution with two recent acquisitions completed in December 2017. Firstly, we have acquired the Water Solutions Business of CCP Gransden Ltd and CCP Gransden (Ireland) Ltd, which makes Brenntag the exclusive distribution partner for the BASF range of Zetag® and Magnafloc® polyelectrolytes throughout the UK and Ireland, giving our customers access to the full range of BASF polyelectrolyte flocculants across the entire territory. This is a great complementary fit to our significant Water Treatment business in UK & Ireland, and I am delighted to welcome experienced technical and commercial members of the former CCP team who now effectively moved to the Brenntag Group.

In addition to the expansion of our water treatment business, we also forged ahead in the food ingredients market by acquiring Kluman & Balter Limited and A1 Cake Mixes Limited. Food has been an incredible growth story for us over the last two years, and it was only right to support our team further with this massive strategic investment in the rapidly growing bakery sector. One of the largest independent bakery ingredient suppliers and specialty cake mix blenders in the UK & Ireland, Kluman & Balter is a family owned, fourth generation business which was established in 1923 with the fantastic reputation of a customer centric organisation. It is renowned for providing value-added services including new product development and technical competence, which perfectly complement Brenntag’s proposition to customers. I am excited about the opportunities arising from our partnership which will create a true step change in our product offering to the market place.

These key acquisitions and strategic investments demonstrate Brenntag’s intent to deliver further growth in key focus areas we spoke about. Along with the expertise and dedication of our teams, this leaves us better capable than ever before to meet the needs of our customers and in a terrific place for achieving our aspirations in 2018 and into the future.