Associates Pioneer Inland Waterway Transportation Across Europe
European RiverDating. Sounds like a romantic evening on the banks of the Siene or Danube, right? Not even close. RiverDating involves a group of businesses coming together to explore ways to use Europe’s inland waterways to transport goods. And the pioneering Associates at Mars Netherlands are helping lead the way.
Historically, Mars has shipped products across Europe almost exclusively by road. But transport within the Netherlands and to continental destinations, such as France, Germany and Switzerland, has become increasingly difficult. “The roads are crowded, the shortage of drivers is growing and we want to reduce CO2 emissions," said Jolanda van der Wijngaart, supervisor physical distribution. By 2010, Mars Netherlands decided it was time to take the road less traveled. With 6,200 kilometers of canals and managed rivers crisscrossing Europe, water transport offered a less crowded alternative to land routes, with the added benefit of preserving the environment.
But the marriage of transportation and water wasn’t without its complexities. Shipping via water is only as effective as the synchronization of its internal links. Jan Goijaarts, factory outbound logistics manager, explained. "Suppose you use a truck to transport goods to Switzerland. The journey takes two days. A ship traveling to Switzerland takes just as long, but only if the terminals, shipping companies and carriers are working in perfect unison,” he said. “Mars is also one of the first companies to use waterways for products other than bulk transport—plus, our products must be cooled—so there are extra challenges. Hence, we’re coordinating closely with the various inland parties to make this a success."
After attending a RiverDating conference in 2010 and meeting with officials from the Ministry of Transportation, Mars Netherlands designed a pilot program to (literally) test the waters to England and France. Based on the pilots’ success, Mars Netherlands is now using water transportation to carry a sizeable portion of its shipments to those countries. And their initiative is earning high praise across Europe, including RiverDate’s Inland Waterways Logistics Innovation Award 2011.
Meanwhile, Mars Netherlands Associates continue their quest for optimizing transport. In a 2011 pilot, approximately 2,000 tons of goods were transported by water and the target for 2012 is 10,000 tons. “We’re looking at the potential of rail transport, as well as the combination of rail and water," Jolanda said. “In the end, our goal is to use whatever means we can to create an excellent logistic chain, save costs and reduce CO2 emissions.”