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Visit to CJ Lang Distribution Centre at Longtown Road, Dundee: 3 December 2019

Members visiting CJ Lang with host Alan Brown (4th from left) and Chairman John Yellowlees (2nd from left).d

Members visiting CJ Lang with host Alan Brown (4th from left) and Chairman John Yellowlees (2nd from left).

© xJohn Yellowlees, 2019

One hundred years ago, just as the Chartered Institute of Transport was coming into being, C J Lang was working at his uncle's grocery store at St Andrews when he purchased food broker Max Robinson and, taking advantage of the favourable exchange rates then available, was able to start acquiring other businesses.

From 1934 C J Lang & Son Ltd, his company bought into the first cash and carry before joining Vivo, which brought about an arrangement with European brand Spar.

Further acquisitions happened including the Norco empire in Aberdeen and a partnership with Naafi Stores, but today Lang remains a family business headed by C G Lang's granddaughter, Mrs Joan Scott-Adie, as Life President.

The Spar brand now operates in 48 countries, offering economies of scale including on the procurement of vehicles, with 246 distribution centres servicing 13,112 stores. Lang has the licence to operate Spar in Scotland, with James Hall in the north of England, Blakemore in the Midlands and South, Appleby-Westwood in the south-west and Henderson in Northern Ireland.

Spar is a convenience brand, offering life's immediate essentials including milk, bread and newspapers with 320 Scottish stores (113 of them owned by Lang) employing 2,000 people served from the Dundee warehouse which operates 33 prime movers and 21 trailers (11 with drawbars) on a Sunday-Friday basis with 17.5M cases handling 5000 SKOs using a Voiteq voice system to direct loading and stores receiving an average of three deliveries a week. There are separate frozen, chill and ambient warehouses, with special attention for sensitive products such as bananas.

Billing has also gone electronic, with Transend improving stock control, but the workforce remains loyally human with several long-serving employees. Now the logistical challenges include legislation, reducing carbon footprint, fleet renewal, applying supply chain efficiencies, modernising the product change eg food to go and maximising return on assets while continuing to grow turnover. Developing Spar's offer for the communities that it serves includes tailormade cuisine for foreign students, sponsorship from local charities to the Scottish Football Association and teaching young vulnerable children about road safety including blindspot awareness. An annual trade show seeks to identify opportunities for local suppliers, and Lang aims to retain their support by paying on time.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.

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