Rowan International Ltd is dedicated to making the excess stock market smarter, greener and more accessible 

Rowan International Ltd (Rowan) has been distributing excess stock for the world’s largest Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) suppliers since 1985. One of the UK’s biggest distributors in the discount world, Rowan’s categories include confectionery, grocery, personal care and household.  

Rowan’s head office in Basildon, Essex oversees over 33,000 pallets despatched to UK customers every year while its in-house team of logisticians completed over 2000 customs forms in 2023, enabling more than 1000 product-laden trucks to cross into Europe. In addition, the company’s high-tech Netherlands warehouse used its high-capacity radio shuttle pallet storage and retrieval system to support the sale of 7000 unique SKUs, with stock turning on average every 35 days.  

Sarah Guest

Sarah Guest, Rowan’s Managing Director since late 2022, sheds light on the company’s operations. “We work with major manufacturers in the food and non-food sectors – which encompasses virtually everything we use at home to feed our family, clean ourselves and our clothes, and make our houses beautiful. These essential items are often produced in excess, regardless of manufacturing efficiency and improvements in technology – factors such as weather and consumer taste both affect demand. If ignored, this excess stock can have a negative environmental impact. This is where Rowan comes in. As a wholesale distributor, we acquire these unsold items and redistribute them into the discount sector, offering them in pallet volumes to over 300 different customers across the UK and Europe. Our mission is to take excess stock, often a problem for a manufacturer, and find a new home for it, preventing it from ending up in landfill.” 

And when Sarah says Rowan is international, she means it. Across Rowan, the team speak more than ten languages and many are based in Europe. The operations team delivered stock to 29 different countries in 2023 and local knowledge is crucial when it comes to making these fast commercial decisions. 

Sarah is also proud of another benefit of Rowan’s work; “Reselling those products within the discount sector means that people can buy what’s best for their family at a lower price, even if these products have minor imperfections such as a short expiration date or Christmas-themed packaging out of season.” 

Smooth, seamless, and swift 

Sarah says Rowan’s process of buying and moving stock is always “smooth, seamless and swift.” So how does it work? “Big brand manufacturers like Heinz, Walkers, P&G and Coke send us lists of their unsold items. We carefully assess the stock and work out its estimated market value and what our customer base would pay for it. Manufacturers seek partners who can quickly redistribute these items and handle large volumes as well as pay a good price. Once we’ve bought the stock, we can arrange collection directly from the manufacturer’s site and ship it to our warehouse within 48 hours. Our customer base encompasses big retailers like Home Bargains in the UK and PrimaPrix in Spain along with wholesalers, and cash and carries who supply small shops as well as local market stall traders.” 

What makes Rowan unique, and life for the sales team exciting, is the fact that they never quite know what they’re going to buy or sell next. Sarah adds: “By providing full parcel solutions to manufacturers, we get everything from their bestselling chocolate bars to the latest NPD line which may not have performed how they hoped. The non-recurring nature of the stock means we need a wide breadth of customers both in the UK and the EU so we can find a suitable outlet and so customer acquisition is always top of our list of activities.” 

Sarah says that trust and transparency are the cornerstone of Rowan’s business. “Trust often becomes the deciding factor in winning stock. Major manufacturers spend millions of pounds building their brands, as is evident from their advertising campaigns and so protecting their brand equity, including sustainability, is vital. We find suitable outlets for their excess products so that they can safeguard their corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials and prevent landfill. Over the course of 40 years, we’ve established strong, transparent and honest relationships within our supply chain. Our suppliers fully trust us to solve the challenges posed by fluctuating consumer demand without compromising the manufacturers’ relationships with major supermarkets or their brand reputation.” 

Stock solutions 

Rowan also strives to make its operational infrastructure easy to deal with. “We utilise cross-dock warehouses in Germany, Spain and Italy as well as the UK to provide sites closer to our suppliers and customers, reducing our stem mileage and decreasing lead times. We also use two sites in the UK and three in the Netherlands to undertake value-added services such as labelling and repackaging, required to ensure all products comply with the relevant legislation, allowing broader geographical reach to a wider range of customers.” 

The company has made great strides in digital retail too: “Since we only sell excess stock, our inventory isn’t available on a regular or consistent basis and prospective customers need to secure items fast. So, we have developed a B2B e-commerce platform over the last few years which can be used at any time.” 

As a closing thought, Sarah looks forward to Rowan’s future: “We’re aiming to expand our reach across Europe and the rest of the world to provide our suppliers with more avenues for their excess stock. We’re also investing in new tools to aid our warehouse and outbound vehicle utilization and provide customers with the data for best fill through their supply chain to the store shelves.”