Chemical Industry Journal met with Dr Maura Jolliffe, Commercial Director for Material Science and Specialty Chemicals at Brenntag UK & Ireland, to discuss the evolution of business relationships within the chemical industry.

What changes have you seen in the chemical distribution market during your career?

During my time in the chemical industry, the role of the speciality chemical distributor has continuously evolved with chemical manufacturers now expecting more from their channel partners and end customers demanding greater technical, regulatory and formulation support.

Central to the key requirements are excellent logistic services and strong customer service coupled with deep market knowledge and technical know-how. This is particularly true for specialty chemicals distribution. Moreover, underpinning all distributor operations and procedures, suppliers and customers alike expect a genuine commitment to ensuring the health and safety of all employees and the protection of the environment.

How has Brenntag evolved its approach to the Specialties sector?

Over five years ago, Brenntag created a harmonised business group structure that was mirrored across all continents so that pan-regional suppliers and customers operating in different countries would be able to recognise the roles and approach to market of the different business groups within the company.

Since then, Brenntag UK & Ireland has significantly increased the number of technical, business development and sales personnel working within the different market sectors including Brenntag Food and Nutrition, Pharma, Personal Care, Animal Nutrition, Coatings and Construction, Paper, Cleaning, Rubber and Polymer, Water Treatment, and Oil and Gas. This was done to increase our inherent technical and sales capability. Additionally, investment in specialist application labs and development centres has helped the Brenntag technical teams develop new tailor-made formulations for customers across a range of key industries.

Chemical manufacturers and customers now expect distributors to generate greater value by removing complexity from their manufacturing processes by offering services such as mixing and blending, filling and re-packing. Greater technical and regulatory support around REACH, CLP and BPR regulations and FDA approval etc. is now critical to generate increased speciality sales to end users. Distributors are expected to understand impending legislative drivers and be able to identify and articulate new trends within a market-place. Indeed, deep market insight and knowledge is a prerequisite for speciality distribution.

Where exclusive, supplier-distributor partnerships are undertaken, the distributor can become an integral part of the supplier’s channel strategy through the undertaking of additional tasks such as forecasting advance product demand for the purpose of optimising a manufacturer’s production planning process. Similarly, on the customer side, Brenntag can forge closer, collaborative relationships with customers wanting to implement innovative supply

chain solutions to add value and reduce cost through their supply chain. Indeed, Brenntag’s European key account team already provide single points of contact and a co-ordinated approach to multi-national businesses working across all geographies.

How has Brenntag sought to address logistical and service excellence?

Brenntag, as the largest chemical and ingredients distributor both globally and in the UK and Ireland, has an unrivalled depot network structure that provides local storage of specialty and industrial products. Over the past two years, Brenntag has embarked upon an investment programme that has seen the opening of a new £multi-million facility in the North East of England together with extensive investment in mixing and blending facilities at this site and at our Midlands depot in Lutterworth. Moreover, the company has installed a new state of the art application centre laboratory in Widnes, funded the expansion of warehousing for life science products to cater for our customers’ needs across our sites. These major investments underscore the company’s strategic intent to further enhance the efficiency of our overall infrastructure, geographical reach and added value capabilities in all of the core markets we serve. Central to our Service Excellence programme is the ability to ensure that our customer base can easily access the full range of products and services that they would expect from Brenntag as the the leading chemical and ingredients distributor.

Our large warehouse capability has been particularly important during the course of this year in meeting the demands of both suppliers and customers to have an increased stock-holding position in the UK and Ireland in order to mitigate the risks associated with Brexit in advance of key dates. As a major global distributor, we are well equipped to make the necessary financial and logistical arrangements to support our UK customer-base.

How will distribution continue to evolve?

The future is already upon us… Brenntag has made a substantial investment in digitisation with the establishment of DigiB B.V. which is the digital hub of Brenntag located in Amsterdam. The team based there is already developing a leading e-commerce, knowledge and self-service platform to drive digital transformation of the chemical distribution industry. This also encompasses the creation of internal tools to facilitate the purchasing decisions and intercompany business within Brenntag.

Business and Corporate sustainability is another topic that is becoming increasingly important for companies and in particular those in the chemical industry. As the global market leader in chemical and ingredients distribution, Brenntag has been involved in the chemical industry’s “Together for Sustainability” initiative (TfS) since October 2014 and we have achieved EcoVadis gold status, scores increasing year on year. Not wishing to stand still, the company has developed defined sustainability targets around safety and the environment. Current activities are focused upon energy saving, packaging circularity and environmentally friendly products such as recycled plastics.