The news this week of confirmed cases of H5N2 Avian Flu on turkey farms in Missouri and Arkansas put the issues of food safety and traceability in the spotlight once again. It’s a topic that seems to stay in the headlines quite a bit, from tales of foodborne illness outbreaks to trend stories about millennials hungry for information about where their food comes from to research tying future food safety to climate change.
Edible Software has been addressing the issues since it launched 35 years ago, growing with the food industry’s need and changing along with the technological innovation, economic factors and consumer demands that have put much more on the wholesaler’s plate.
The company’s core customers are food wholesalers, businesses that act as middlemen between the producers and the retailers, restaurants and foodservice companies that feed the consumer. Increasingly, though, wholesalers’ roles are growing, with added services that in turn change what they need in their ERP systems, said Edible Software Executive Vice President Charles Butler.
“More and more is being put on the wholesalers to be not only a goods supplier but also to be a service company,” he said. “I don’t remember who used to do all that, but all of a sudden my clients started doing it en masse.”
A wholesaler client in New York is courting a big grocery store chain, he said, and to get the account the client needs to be able to provide the retailer with a report with details on supplier costs and suggested retail prices to make a 20% profit on each item, and they need to be able to export those reports and print the SRPs on invoices.
“The’re not just providing the goods anymore, they have to provide this whole service,” he said. “It has gotten much more demanding on my customers over the last several years.”
Edible provides enterprise resource planning solutions in four areas: traceability, accounting, inventory and distribution, all of which have become more complex as wholesalers have been asked to do more.
And, since the recession, to do more with less. The accounting functions have become more important than ever since 2008 when the downturn pushed down profit margins, Butler said. “People that were making 10 cents a case on an item were now making 4 cents. When you’re down to that margin, it’s imperative to have accounting that’s razor accurate. You can’t operate in the dark.”
Transparency is also key when it comes to food traceability. The company works with meat and seafood companies as well as produce wholesalers, and stricter federal regulations have pushed the animal food suppliers ahead much faster than the fruit and vegetable industry, he said.
“In the produce business, those people are as cheap as they come — they’ll admit that to you. They’re very penny conscious, they’ve had to be, so they have rarely spent money on systems,” Butler said.
Now, the produce industry is playing catch up, in large part because major retailers are requiring increased traceability, both in response to growing consumer demand for more information about the where their food comes from and in reaction to several high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years.
Technology is allowing for greater transparency, and it’s also driving the need for it, Butler said. Stories about foodborne illness outbreaks used to reach consumers via the evening news or morning newspaper. Then, a couple of major outbreaks in 2007 and 2008 illustrated the power of social media to instantly inform a global audience. Now, reports of e.coli tainted spinach and deadly cantaloupes move at the speed of light.
“I think that was the kind of the beginning of the public outcry,” he said.
In addition to the industry segment, wholesalers needs can also vary depending on the type of client they’re serving, he said. Restaurant clients, and chefs in particular, like to be able to go to an online ordering portal at the start or end of their shift and shop around while planning the next day’s menus, he said.
For institutional foodservice operations like nursing homes and prisons, it’s often about tracking what’s covered in the contract to make sure each purchase is made from the approved vendor. And supermarket produce managers appreciate electronic data transmission or EDT systems that let them do all their ordering in one place, sends each order to the correct wholesaler or distributor, and sends the entire invoice to corporate.
And across the board, clients continue to clamor for e-commerce capabilities and integrated systems that let them do everything from a tablet, he said. “They don’t want to integrate five different systems,they want to do it all in one place and we offer them the full solution.”
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