In the food industry, when manufacturers and distributors decide to acquire or update their business management system, they often need it designed and implemented within a month or two – not a year or two – to minimize disruption and maximize their competitive advantage.
While some of the largest companies require elaborate ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems that can take years and mega dollars to implement, including consulting and customization costs, that is not usually the case with smaller, growing organizations.
Some of the savviest players in the food manufacturing and distribution industries are implementing more simplified business management systems with software contained in robust modules that can be customized to meet specific needs and implemented in as little as a month for just thousands of dollars per location. These management systems make available many of the features of comprehensive ERP systems such as modular design, scalability, the ability to handle traceability issues, and capacity to expand with changing company or industry needs.
Quickness supports growth
MMIS Inc. is an Aurora, Ontario-based manufacturer and distributor of a wide variety of foods ranging from sausage casings, spices and other ingredients as well as food processing equipment and services.
Founded in 1979, MMIS initially installed Vigilant business management software in the 1990s to integrate various accounting functions. That package was updated six years ago with software from Vigilant’s successor, Oneir Solutions (Queenston, ON).
The software update included modules that provided MMIS with added capabilities to cover additional business areas and automate functions that had been previously been performed manually. The quick and smooth implementation of an enterprise level program is always a concern for users, but MMIS management was both pleased and highly impressed with the efficiency of the software update installation.
“When we changed over to new system six years ago we completed the new installation over a weekend,” says Bill de Vos, MMIS General Manager. “Beginning on Friday at 5 PM, after we closed, the data from the old system was downloaded and saved. After that the Oneir installers came in for the implementation. On Monday morning it was up and running, so we had no business disruption whatever.”
Like MMIS, Falsetto Fine Foods also started with Vigilant’s integrated accounting and inventory control software, then updated later with a business management package from Oneir that the company continues to expand.
Falsetto Fine Foods is a wholesale distributor of a broad range of food products to local stores and restaurants. The company distributes fresh and frozen meats and poultry as well as an array of imported cheeses, deli meats, and other fine foods to the foodservice industry, including privately owned restaurants and banquet halls, in the Ottawa and Quebec areas. Silvana Falsetto, vice president and controller, says that whether it’s a new module or a complete system update, the installation of their management software has gone very quickly and easily with little or no disruption of business.
“When we updated the original program with the Oneir package it was implemented over the weekend and we began using it right away with very little training required,” Falsetto explains.
The value of this smooth and virtually seamless implementation along with customizable software modules is highly important to most small and growing businesses, adding to their agility and their ability to enhance capabilities that are important to their customers.
While virtually all food manufacturers and distributors require the collection, integration and management of information that enterprise systems provide, relatively few of them have to deal with the massive product lines and related data requirements of the industry giants.
Fred Falsetto, president of Falsetto Fine Foods, held management positions with one of the global leaders in the foodservice industry before opening his own company.
“When you picture a $250 billion industry giant you can see that there are a lot of aspects of their proprietary ERP system that are vital to them, but we wouldn’t necessarily need,” Falsetto says. “However, the expensive ERP systems certainly include modules such as Order Guides that are vital to smaller businesses like ours.”
Falsetto adds that the large and proprietary ERP system sales modules are able to include much more detail than smaller business management systems, which is a capability that he would like to have, but not at the high cost of the big ERPs.
“After all, really big foodservice distributors have many thousands of SKUs, versus dozens or perhaps hundreds that smaller companies carry. So, the big guys really need a large and complex ERP system plus a fulltime in-house IT team to support it,” he says.
Falsetto explains that his company recently upgraded its own Sales Order Guide module, a vital reference that sales reps use in making sales calls with foodservice customers. These guides, which can be downloaded onto the screen of a sales rep’s laptop or tablet, are used to inform customers of product data and in many instances show the sales rep each customer’s order history, making it an important reference to use for repeat sales.
The Falsetto Fine Foods’ Sales Order Guide was designed by in-house, then built into a customized module by Oneir, all in a couple of weeks and at an affordable price. More recently Falsetto added a Supplier Order Guide, an automated purchasing module that makes purchasing decisions easier, faster and more accurate. “The Supplier Order Guide is updated automatically as order information is added, in a manner similar to our customer order guide,” Fred Falsetto says. “I believe it cost just under $2,000 to do it, but it was worth it because it saves a ton of paperwork for myself and my staff.”
Another critical industry requirement for both the food manufacturer and distributor is having efficient traceability capabilities to expedite product recalls and tracking of products that are nearing their expiration dates. Like other manufacturers and distributors, MMIS and Falsetto Fine Foods are highly aware of this need, and have that capability in their business management software packages.
Morphing into the future
One of the major considerations when considering an enterprise-level management software system is whether that system can continue to grow along with your company. As the user’s needs become more complex or diverse, can the software sort of “morph” to meet new requirements?
MMIS’ Bill De Vos says his system, which was originally implemented over 20 years ago, continues to demonstrate this capability.
“Our software package has been updated in several ways over the years, so it is adaptable to changing business requirements,” says De Vos. “Oneir was able to take the basic system and tailored it to meet some particular requirements. For example, they made the inventory module flexible enough to handle a lot of items that we sell per thousand pieces or per thousand meters. So now the program is able to distinguish between those two.”
Notably, this software is text-based, which gives it a lot of advantages, including lightning fast speed, which allows technical support personnel to easily and quickly help customers remotely. Interestingly, because the interface is simple and not aesthetically edgy, some prospective customers assume it is a DOS-based program and do not realize at first that the text-based nature of the software enables productivity improvements.
Another important need of smaller and growing food companies is fast and personalized service from the software supplier. This is particularly important when systems are upgraded or new modules are added.
“I believe that suppliers of business systems for smaller and growing companies should be involved enough to be familiar with your particular business operation,” says Silvana Falsetto. “That familiarity is especially important when it comes to customizing your program modules, ensuring that they are tailored to fit your needs.”