Stephen Ongley, Liebherr

Big Interview: Liebherr National Sales Manager Stephen Ongley

Liebherr National Sales Manager Stephen Ongley explains why wholesalers taking a closer look at their depot’s chillers and freezers could find cost savings that will leave them feeling greener

Liebherr is taking its first steps into the UK wholesale market, but why does the name seem so familiar?

Liebherr operates in a number of different industries, so everything we build is kind of high-quality and high-tech. So if you get on an Airbus, it’s likely to have Liebherr landing gear and flight controls.

We build the large mobile and tower cranes, the world’s biggest mining truck, so we’re a specialist manufacturer. There is a common thread through everything we do, so the quality is as good as you can get, low maintenance and low running costs for everything we do.

So what is Liebherr hoping to offer the wholesale channel?

We’re a refrigeration specialist too. We do an enormous range of heavy-duty foodservice cabinets, supermarket display cabinets, ultra-low temperature freezers that go to minus 86 for the lab world – and have been used for Covid-19 vaccine storage in recent months – and we also have a big household assortment as well. We cover a wide spectrum.

We want to extend this into the wholesale market in the UK. With the clock ticking to 2050 when the UK wants to hit its net zero carbon target, there may well be incentives and regulations on the type of equipment wholesalers, supermarkets and everyone buys.

With refrigeration, it’s plugged in 24/7, so we’re at the sharp end of energy consumption as people look to reduce their carbon footprint.

Is sustainability one of your key features then?

Sustainability is part of the business ethos. It’s not a marketing spin but we were one of the first companies in the world to use hydro-carbon refrigerants as standard because they are very environmentally friendly.

We have a carbon neutrality target of 2030 for our European production sites – where our food retail and business solutions products are manufactured – which is pretty ambitious. We will be using green electricity in our European production sites from next year as well.

We’ve compared Liebherr against our nearest competitors and we know we are more efficient. In our 18 test labs in the factory, which are independently certified, we check the cabinets in a range of different ambient temperatures.

Every bit of measuring equipment carries a standard. This allows us to accurately say, for instance, in this environment Liebherr will cost you this amount to run, so we can give wholesalers the exact running cost.

What makes Liebherr more environmentally friendly than its competitors?

Everything in our range has a door on it to make it more energy-efficient. Multidecks, for example, with fitted doors are becoming more prevalent. I recently read an article expressing concerns about refrigerant leaks.

Liebherr only uses environmentally friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants, which have a very low Global Warming Potential.

Have you got any examples of how Liebherr has worked in the wholesale sector previously?

We haven’t done a lot in the UK wholesale market, but we have installed cabinets in other territories. Our most popular are the auto-defrost display chest freezers and we also do static chest freezers that are popular in the Asia territories and we do display chillers.

An example of what we can do for wholesalers springs to mind from when I visited a major cash and carry recently. They had a big run of static display freezers and a number of them weren’t plugged in because they needed defrosting, so my word to them was to count the man hours lost through going through this defrosting process. If wholesalers have Liebherr auto-defrost freezers, it could actually save time and money.

Most chest freezers are manual defrost and they were in this cash and carry because they are less expensive. We do these more sophisticated auto-defrost models that run continuously without the need to be emptied and manually defrosted and they offer excellent display. It’s a higher initial investment, but it’s saving a lot of man hours and costs, potentially capturing more sales and being more cost-effective in its whole life cycle.

How can the freezers impact sales?

A lot of the big frozen food suppliers are really focused on the way their food is presented. The food brands are very particular because they believe if their products are displayed well, they sell more.

Even in the cash and carry, if a product isn’t particularly well displayed, you might think ‘so what, they’re only focused on the price’, but there’s more to it than that.

If the product is well displayed and the cabinet is just going to run and run and run without maintenance or defrosting, ultimately, they’ll make more sales. Subconsciously, customers are more attracted to this sort of presentation.

The biggest challenge for wholesalers is cost – especially in the current climate – so how can you incentivise this investment for businesses that already have working equipment?

When you buy a Liebherr, it’s going to be reliable, low maintenance, use less energy and in the case of the display cabinets, be more efficient overall, offer excellent display areas and displays product very well.

If you go to your local cash & carry, for example, with 100 static chest freezers, they could potentially save a lot of money in man hours and running costs by switching to Liebherr auto-defrost models, even though they have to invest more upfront. It’s challenging, but they’re going to have to take it onboard and make a plan for it.

Read more from May’s edition of Wholesale News for free online.

Big interview chiller freezer fridge Liebherr Stephen Ongley