More bakers and snack producers are investing in software to help them better manage their supply chains through the entire production process, from ingredients to finished products. Given today’s stricter industry regulations, higher consumer expectations and increasingly global marketplace, quality is a competitive differentiator. It only takes one product recall to damage a company’s reputation. Thus, more food manufacturers recognize that maintaining accurate, real-time information on ingredients and products throughout processing is essential to protecting their brand and improving customer service.

The advent of lower technology deployment and integration costs are making Software as a Service (SaaS) and hosted software options much more cost-effective, according to Kevin Hume, partner, Tompkins International, Raleigh, NC. The trend began about 10 years ago in transportation-management software and has progressed to include warehouse, labor and order-management software applications.

“For example, the trend toward ‘better and less-processed’ ingredients, even the elimination of specific ingredients like gluten, requires supply-chain systems to track and manage restrictions associated with these trends,” says Hume. “Similarly, the trend to less-processed and fresh snacks typically drives shorter shelf-life cycles and the exposure to increased spoilage, if not effectively managed. Demand planning-forecasting applications will help to manage raw material and finished goods inventory to ensure the ‘right-quantity, right-time’ principle to tighter inventory control for shorter shelf life.”

Bakers and snack producers are investing in higher-quality supply-chain software, adds Tommy Doran, vice president of global sales, InfinityQS International Inc., Fairfax, VA. “We are seeing a progression toward real-time supply-chain quality,” he says. “In today’s world of empowered consumers and the 24-hour news cycle, quality is a vital piece of selling products. It’s not just about whether the product is safe, but also about whether it has the right taste, packaging, texture and color. As a result, quality is no longer just ‘something you do,’ it’s a business tactic for gaining a competitive advantage.”

The baking and snack industries have remained on legacy software solutions far longer than many other comparable markets, but in the past few years, there has been increased demand for improvements, according to Derek Curtis, vice president of sales, HighJump, DSD & Mobile Logistics Group, Minneapolis. “Specifically, as more affordable mobile hardware options—phone or tablet, for instance—have presented themselves, this has prompted companies to examine how they are managing their IT spend and how they can support the demands of growing complexities within their operations,” he notes.

Software solutions

The latest software solutions are designed to monitor all stages of the supply chain: beginning (ingredients), middle (inventory) and end (shipping). InfinityQS International offers Infinity ProFicient software, which helps bakers and snack producers better manage their supply chains by driving quality from the beginning to the end of the production process. Powered by a centralized statistical process control engine, the software allows companies to monitor, analyze and report on real-time quality data, from the shop floor to the executive suite.

Infinity ProFicient is intended for all levels of the supply chain—from monitoring suppliers’ ingredients to shop floor production to shipping and beyond. Each stage comes with metrics or data sets, which the software solution has the ability to collect, aggregate and present to the appropriate audience for analysis.

“The idea is to close gaps in the supply chain,” says Doran. “While a food processor may correctly perform the appropriate quality checks on the shop floor, what happens to the product once it ships? Did the product maintain a safe temperature during transportation? Is it placed in an optimal location on store shelves? Is the retailer restocking quickly enough? These are all aspects of quality that play a role in overall brand equity and profitability.”

HighJump has built a comprehensive suite of software that helps food processors manage inventory from the warehouse to the point of delivery. “Competitive solutions rely heavily on third-party providers to build out integration that is costly to implement initially and prohibitive to upgrade throughout the lifespan of the product,” Curtis explains. “HighJump’s approach allows end users to select the style of hardware that best suits their individual needs—for example, rugged handheld versus phone versus tablet for different job descriptions.”

Pcdata USA, East Granby, CT, offers delivery solutions to help bakers and snack producers better manage their supply chain, from incoming ingredients to final delivery of the finished products to end customers—by route, depot or direct-to-store delivery. “We offer a suite of modules that can work independently to fix the area of highest need, or be combined to provide a fully integrated solution to manage production to final delivery,” says Marc Braun, president of the company.

Pcdata Distrib is the heart of the company’s logistics solutions. It helps users keep track of production, explains how to distribute production against orders received and then tracks the fulfilled orders to final delivery. Components include:

Dock Manager, which automatically registers production into the truck, warns of missing product or incorrect loading, and creates an automated load manifest

Proof of Delivery, which provides 100 percent proof that orders were delivered to their final destination and allows for basket tracking in and out of each drop location

Inventory Manager, which helps track and manage dry goods into and out of the warehouse, mainly used on the ingredients side of the business

Delivering the goods

Paragon Software Systems Inc., Dallas, offers routing and scheduling optimization solutions that help bakers and snack manufacturers distribute their products to grocery stores, foodservice organizations and other locations.

“The ability to respond to daily changes in order volumes placed late in the day is vital to ensure that fresh products are delivered where and when they are needed,” says William Salter, CEO and president, Paragon Software Systems. “Logistics are becoming more complex with the growing need for more frequent deliveries to smaller stores, restrictions for drop-off and unloading times, and local authority restrictions for time of day, week and month, and vehicle type. This level of complexity requires automated planning with a system that can cope with all of these variables.” Paragon’s solutions can help in these areas, offering bakers and snack producers reduced costs, increased efficiency of transportation operations and improved customer service levels, he adds.

Ryder System Inc., Miami, has developed many advances to improve the delivery side of the supply-chain process. Two of these include electronic proof-of-delivery (POD) forms in real-time and automated estimated time of arrival (ETA) notification using a vehicle global-positioning system (GPS), according to Donald Showell, senior director of supply chain excellence, Ryder Dedicated Transportation Solutions. Other advances include:

  • Routing technology to maximize cube and minimize mileage
  • Scanning technology for immediate feedback at point of delivery—including claims/returns—plus automated alerts for late deliveries
  • Trailer tracking solutions to monitor the trailer, such as temperature, door open and close, and location monitoring
  • Operational delivery event management

“These advances allow virtually any fleet, no matter the size or technological sophistication, to take advantage of supply chain innovations designed to maximize productivity,” Showell notes.

On the horizon

Future improvements in supply-chain management will include advanced global planning and executing systems that will integrate all links of the supply chain through Internet SaaS and cloud computing options, predicts Hume.

Hume suggests that hosted and SaaS-based supply-chain software will continue to gain acceptance within the areas of warehouse and order management systems. Consequently, on-off ramp from these technologies will become more cost-effective, driving improved competition within the supply-chain technology field.

Shared SaaS options will come into their own to replace most standalone, single-solution applications, says Hume. This will allow companies to take advantage of data from thousands of users to help drive improved operations as well as the speed and quality of deliveries/returns.

Online buying is now mainstream and has allowed smaller retailers to compete with big-box stores on an almost level playing field. Hume suggests that with improved supply-chain management, brick-and-mortar companies will be able to better leverage deployed store inventory, making it available for ecommerce fulfillment at an improved service level through the use of distributed order management.

Also, the Uber-type model currently applied to delivery of people, from place to place, is being extended to include last-mile package deliveries. Hume says local courier operations will evolve into regional carriers, meeting demand for last-mile delivery and disrupting the hub-and-spoke models employed by UPS and FedEx.

Whether they want to better manage incoming ingredients, outgoing products or other supply-chain stages in between, bakers and snack manufacturers are finding that today’s supply-chain software can help them achieve their goals. They’re also finding that their software providers will be ready to help them address tomorrow’s challenges, too.