In the world of logistics, Vollers means commodity experts. As a third-generation family-owned business, the company has a rich history of over 90 years. Started in 1932 with a single coffee warehouse in the Hanseatic city of Bremen, Vollers has achieved solid and sustained growth over the years. In 1965, Vollers Bremen purchased their first set of trucks and in 1980, they established their first subsidiary in Hamburg. Since then, the company has expanded to 13 locations with over 400 employees.
The Vollers office in Tallinn, Estonia was established in 2004, increasing their foothold in the Baltic region. Situated in the Port of Muuga, Vollers Tallinn operates 30,000 sq. meters of covered storage and 10,000 sq. meters of open storage. The Tallinn branch continues to uphold the Vollers legacy by serving customers in the coffee, cacao, and metals industries. Today we speak with Andrei Sedoi, Managing Director of Vollers Tallinn, about their journey so far, the unique challenges and opportunities in the Baltics region, and their growing capabilities in handling various types of cargo other than commodities.
In conversation with Andrei Sedoi…
NSRN: The growth of Vollers in the last three generations has been quite remarkable. Today, the company is strategically located in many major ports across Europe. What was the motivation back then to set up the Tallinn Branch? How does it supplement the Vollers network, and what is unique about it?
Andrei: We started our office here in Tallinn in 2004 and like the other Vollers sites, our core business is the transportation of commodities, especially coffee, cocoa and tea. Considering that this is part of our daily business, I can easily say that we have significant expertise in moving these types of goods. However, our focus in Tallinn is much more diverse, as we are open to new business such as metals, general cargo and more.
We have a strategic and strong location based in Muuga Port, which is the largest cargo port in Estonia. It is a trimodal port with rail, road, and sea freight connections, which in my opinion is a huge advantage. In addition, our region is still considered a hub between Russia or Asia and the rest of the world.
NSRN: Now that you mention Tallinn as a transit point for Russia and the Asian market, what impacts does this have on Vollers Tallinn’s business? Additionally, what is the split in volume for each mode of transport accessible to you from Muuga-Port?
Andrei: To be competitive as a transit hub, one of the most important aspects is simple and straightforward customs clearance. Estonia is very digitalised, and this also applies to customs clearance, making it particularly efficient. This benefits us a lot, as we are at the crossroads of trade between Europe and Asia. Additionally, in terms of rail connections, Estonia still has the same gauge size as Russia, unlike the rest of Western Europe. This allows us to easily receive cargo, make additional modifications and deliver it from Tallinn to the rest of Europe. I think that is another advantage.
The overall transport market has changed in recent years. Container volumes have decreased, but on the other hand, the dependence on trucking has increased. But I would say that the focus on rail is still important because it plays an important role together with trucking and container transport.
NSRN: The Tallinn branch has now been established for almost 20 years. During this time, you have also witnessed the ups and downs of the Estonian logistics market. What were some of the key incidents you can recall? How did this impact the business?
Andrei: Indeed, at the time the company was founded in 2004, the market was developing rapidly and the volume of cargo transportation was much higher. Many export goods from Russia, such as metals, coal, timber, and general goods, were handled through Estonian ports. Tallinn was an excellent transhipment hub and Russia used Estonian ports in abundance.
In 2007, however, the situation changed dramatically and volumes began to decline. Russia decided to shift most of its logistics away from the Estonian ports and develop its own logistics channels on Russian territory. They developed Russian ports such as the port of Bronka and the port of Ust-Luga, which are not too far from Estonia. In 2007, the decline in trade between Russia and the Baltics began, and this declination continues in many ways. We had to come to terms with the situation and adopt newer solutions and markets.
Nevertheless, today we see positive dynamics in the growth of imports and exports and expect this to continue in the future.
NSRN: We recall from previous conversations that while Vollers Tallinn continues to serve the commodities world as its core mission, you are also quite open and interested in delving into other logistics categories. Can you give us insights into which markets you are interested in developing? What are some key focus points in the near future?
Andrei: Yes, that is why we have joined the network and entered other logistics categories. General cargoes are of interest to us and we are well equipped to handle them. But at the moment, food shipments still account for 90% of our business. When people think of Vollers, they usually associate us with food products like coffee and cocoa. It can be a challenge to change the impression of others, but we see ourselves as being able to develop other areas as well. It is always interesting to get out of your comfort zone and open up new horizons. That is why we, Vollers Tallinn, also want to develop different opportunities and businesses outside the existing markets.
We have several opportunities here in Tallinn. With proven and reliable partners, we are able to offer almost all logistics services that our customers may need. We can adapt to any type of business, which means we can offer a range of solutions to the customer. When we are confronted with a request that fits within our capabilities, we can form a team and work to develop specific solutions that meet our customers' needs. This makes Vollers a decisive, solution-oriented, and therefore competent company.
NSRN: The Baltic region has long been considered a transit corridor and gateway between the East and West. In particular, Estonia has established itself as a business-friendly country. Statistics show that almost 12 % of the GDP in Estonia comes from the transport industry. However, the breakout of the Russian-Ukraine war has put the Baltic region under pressure. In the Port of Muuga, the main harbour for Tallinn, what observations have you made on the ground?
Andrei: Unfortunately, we are confronted with some consequences of the ongoing conflict, but we can certainly solve them. Of course, it is extremely difficult to predict how events will develop further, but our main task is to adapt to new challenges and find solutions.
At the same time, the logistics market itself is facing an unstable pricing policy due to an increase in service charges. Delays of containers, queues at the borders, a temporary shortage of transport - all has its effects.
NSRN: What is the situation in terms of the warehousing market right now in Estonia? Is it reflective of the position in the rest of Europe, where very little space is available?
Andrei: Well, yes. That is the given situation now. Most of the warehouses are full, and this is the case for all kinds of goods. Despite various crises around the world, the logistics industry is faring well.
NSRN: Where do you think the critical markets for the Baltic region will be in the following years, considering the lack of clarity due to the geopolitical unrest? Do you see a growing interest in the Asian markets?
Andrei: Honestly, it's a bit difficult to predict, but as it says in our values in our guiding principles: “Welcome change: We are open to new ideas and are always prepared to learn. By meeting change with interest, we can improve, promote innovations and actively shape our future.” Asia could be of interest to us and we understand that this is a rapidly developing region. With this in mind, we are always open to new and interesting directions.
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