Trade growth: How NH Case is managing international expansion

Thomas Case shares his insights on running the family business, from managing food processing costs to mitigating risks in the supply chain.

Trade insights from Thomas Case

The business, started by Thomas’s grandfather in the 1920s with several fish and chip shops and a horse and cart, now employs close to 150 people.

NH Case supplies manufacturers, wholesalers and caterers using a fleet of temperature-controlled vehicles. With food processing in Asia, operations in Wincanton, fish processing in Grimsby and ready meal production in Warminster, the supply chain is complex and sometimes the business pays suppliers for goods that haven’t even shipped.

After 20 years of running the business, here are some of the things Thomas has learned about trade in the UK and internationally including export, funding working capital and getting a competitive edge from disruption:


Take opportunities when you see them to get ahead

Running a business means events can often change your plans. That means we take an opportunistic approach to growth and strategy going forward. Ten years ago, we were outsourcing production to low cost, high skill parts of the world. Since around 18 months before the pandemic hit, we’ve been repatriating manufacturing to the UK. Although it’s higher cost for our industry to process in the UK, we’ve learned from recent supply chain disruption how vulnerable just in time supply chains based 10,000 miles away can be. We think that’s the right strategic thing to do.


Consider where you can take back control within your trade cycle

Although reshoring our manufacturing is costly, the pandemic caused supply chain chaos. So many of our customers had problems where they had sole suppliers based in the Far East, for example, or disruption to shipping and factory environments over there. We’re prepared to pay a little bit more for the security of having it closer. We’ve created our own manufacturing and processing businesses, which means we don’t have to rely on other people to do it for us.


There can be trade opportunity from disruption

We're operating in a very challenging environment in the food industry. We have significant growth in the cost base of everything we do - raw materials, energy, packaging and labour. I think the biggest opportunity is for those businesses that can hang on in there and keep going for the next couple of years. We could face less competition and a smaller playing field if people exit the market.


An export strategy could be crucial to international growth

International growth is extremely important to us. After Brexit we set up a subsidiary in France because it was no longer viable in our industry to sell from a UK-based company. That’s a useful vehicle for selling into the European Union. We export to France, Germany, and Asia. The most capital-intensive side of our business is processing fish because fish is quite high value. We process quite a lot in the UK but also Asia.


Explore how you could bridge working capital gaps

The biggest challenge we faced last year was lots of factories were shut, particularly in China, as a consequence of Covid. If you had goods out there that needed processing, what used to be a six-week turnaround time became anything up to four months. International shipping lines weren't really doing very much during Covid, ships were left in the wrong place. And the cost of moving containers went from roughly $2,500 per container from Asia to Europe to north of $20,000. Where working capital on one deal would be tied up for around two to three months, suddenly you had the same amount of working capital tied up for nine months.

An invoice financing structure has served us very well over the years. Because of the supply chain crisis, we now have a trade loan facility, which is a good solution funding the earlier stages of our trade cycle before goods are delivered to our customers.

Andy Young, Trade Finance Director - Working Capital Sales, says: “We’re proud to work with a company such as NH Case, which has a rich heritage of over 100 years. We understand the importance and challenges of international trade and make it our mission to support businesses to grow globally with ease. We’re delighted to support the end-to-end working capital requirements of NH Case as the business continues to play an important role in the UK food manufacturing sector for many more years to come.”


Cashflow when you need it means you can focus on your people

We are in business to make a profit, but we also have an obligation to run our business successfully for our staff. Several have been with us for 30, 40 years. There are lots who've been here for 10 years plus. Those people turn up to work every morning and we have an obligation to look after those people who have helped make the businesses a success.

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