Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Viewed from any angle, the GraceKennedy Distribution Centre at 1 Salt Pond Road in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, is a massive structure, sitting as it does on about 19 acres of land. What is not immediately apparent, however, is the level of state-of-the art technology governing its operations, as well as the investment in renewable energy, complemented by environmentally friendly practices.
In addition to the computerisation of its storage and retrieval system for goods stored in the warehouse, which saves on time and improves efficiency, the company has also invested heavily in other cost-saving measures.
Following a tour of the facility by Anthony Hylton, minister of industry, investment and commerce, on Friday, September 27, Stanley Beckford, chief risk officer with GK Foods, told Rural Xpress about some of the decisions that are also positively affecting the company's bottom line. He explained that things such as the positioning of the cold rooms within the main warehouse, the use of LED lights and inverter A/C systems throughout were incorporated at the design stage to make the facility as energy efficient as possible.
"LED technology is more expensive upfront than conventional fluorescent tubes but is approximately 60 per cent more energy efficient, so the savings we will realise over time will far outweigh the initial costs."
The location of the cold rooms means that there is no direct impact from sunlight on the walls of the cold rooms, which reduces the energy required to maintain the desired temperatures. In addition, the air-conditioning units used throughout the offices are the inverter systems, considered to be among the most efficient systems available.
Beckford noted that throughout all operations of the facility, the company had opted to invest in efficient technology even where the start-up cost might have seemed prohibitive, a decision which has been vindicated.
"We also installed an 18kw grid-tied solar system last year as a pilot to test the technology and to see if it would deliver what the suppliers say it would, and it is actually delivering to expectations. This, for us, justifies expanding our investments in solar energy. We have a lot of roof space here, so it is ideally suited for that kind of technology," he disclosed.
"When we commissioned the site, a number of persons said that we are a little ahead of the curve because the technology employed was relatively new, but it's worth it. It makes no sense to build a modern warehouse and put in 10- or 15-year-old technology to operate it."
Then there is the environmentally friendly aspect of the operation. There is a 970,000 US gallon retention pond at the back of the property where the runoff water from the roof and surface is stored and used for irrigation on the farm operated at the facility.
"Last year, we grew West Indian Red Peppers to supplement supplies to our processing plant in Hounslow, St Elizabeth, for use in the production of pepper mash. This year, cabbage is the crop of choice, and when harvested, will again end up at Hounslow, where it will be prepared, packaged, and marketed under the Fresh & Ready brand.