In today’s cutthroat retail industry, more grocery and c-store chains are turning to production management software to give their instore deli, bakery and prepared foods programs an edge when it comes to inventory control, pricing, forecasting, invoicing and a host of other tasks.
Hopkinton, Massachusetts-based Jera Concepts got its start in 2004, helping Dunkin’ Donuts franchisees centralize their bakery production through the creation of a business-to-business order portal, says Wynne Barrett, one of four Jera partners.
It wasn’t long before that B2B work led to handling instore operations for bakeries. The next step was branching out into c-store chains. Jera has created customized production management software solutions for companies including Wallis Companies, Weigel’s Farm Stores Inc., Maverik Inc. and Quality Dairy. For some clients, Jera handles instore production management issues, for others both instore and commissary.
“We do a lot of hybrid commissary/instore,” he says. Bakery goods, sandwiches and other deli items and prepared foods are among the products Jera helps clients manage, Barrett says.
Invoicing, inventory management, purchasing, production forecasting and store-to-store ordering are among the services Jera’s software platform provides. Barrett says much of Jera’s instore business grew organically out of other services it was providing existing customers. “Our customers led us down the road of managing their instore programs,” he says. “Now we’re designed specifically to do that. We started out as a production management provider, and now we’ve added all sorts of other tools.”
One of the keys to a successful production management software program for commissary and instore clients in the retail space, Barrett says, is transparency — particularly for clients with multiple units. “We think we offer great transparency, which helps connect disparate technical areas and reduces waste.”
Prepared foods is one area within instore/commissary that can particularly benefit from a top-notch production management software program, he says. “They need to know very specifically how many items they need to have ready-to-go. Once the food is prepared, the clock starts ticking.”
Too many ticks of the clock, and the result is food waste, a problem acutely felt in retail foodservice. “Waste is much greater (at retail) than in restaurants,” Barrett says.
A big reason for that is production reporting, Barrett says —or more specifically, the lack thereof. Many retailers are OK at it, he says. But few are “great,” which is where they need to be in today’s hyper-competitive environment. Many retailers still rely on processes that aren’t automated, Barrett says. They spend precious time every day on work that should be done by a computer.
Jera measures its success by how much it improves its customers’ bottom lines, Barrett says. “Our goal is to provide a 2 to 4 percent increase in profitability.” One of the ways that goal is often achieved is through labor reduction. It’s not untypical for a company to reduce staffing by 1.5 people after automating with a system like Jera’s.
Better in the cloud
Bronxville, New York-based At-Your-Service Software Inc. took its production management software to the next level in 2017 when it launched a cloud-based version of its popular food costing software.
ReciProfity, as the new product is called, is perfect for multi-unit operations, with two brand-new features — transfers and Recipe Relay, which centralizes recipe creation and publishing to other units — that manage cost controls and recipe development, says Matthew Starobin, At-Your-Service’s CEO. “It centralizes and standardizes recipes and disperses them to stores,” he says. “It adds a level of recipe standardization that we didn’t have before.”
In addition, Starobin says, with ReciProfity, At-Your-Service has partnered with the makers of apps for invoice scanning (Plate IQ) and intelligent POS interface (BreadCrumb).
Going cloud-based has many benefits, Starobin says. And, given the new generation of workers, it’s becoming a necessity. “Millennials see a desktop product and they cringe,” he says. “The ability to do it in a mobile version, while you’re at Starbucks, or waiting at the airport — that’s major. With ReciProfity nothing is tied down to IT. It’s been very well-received.”
The best proof of that? Starobin says that after customers buy reciProfity, At-Your-Service doesn’t hear from them. “People are buying in to what we’re doing,” he says. “They’re saying, ‘We get it — this makes sense to us.’”
ReciProfity also has allowed At-Your-Service to introduce new services and features that previous, non-cloud-based versions of its software didn’t have. For instance, embedded right into the new software is “The Book of Yields: Accuracy in Food Costing and Purchasing,” which Starobin calls the premiere reference book for planning, costing and preparing food more quickly and accurately. With past versions of its software, “The Book of Yields” had to be added in manually post-purchase.
At-Your-Service’s cloud-based software also features “creep alerts,” notifications that automatically tell users when costs are changing and how they could affect their bottom lines and provide other updates in real time. “It allows people to do their analyses up front and be proactive instead of reactive,” Starobin says.
Good production management software programs like reciProfity help people in the food industry close the gap between what they think they’re doing and what they’re actually doing, Starobin says. “A lot of these companies think they’re doing well, but they haven’t accounted for waste,” he says. “They do the numbers and things don’t look right.”
Another benefit of production management software is it keeps customers updated on food allergens, which continue to play a bigger and bigger role in recipe development and management. “Allergens have become so prevalent — I’m sure that that by the end of the year there will be some new ones. We make it very easy to associate items with allergens.”
At-Your-Service cut its teeth in restaurants and other foodservice channels with its CostGuard food costing software, Starobin says. Retailers came later, but they now make up the bulk of the company’s customer base.
Recipe costing, menu engineering, inventory control and nutrition and sales management are among the services At-Your-Service’s production management software provides for the food industry.
The company’s software instantly costs and recalculates recipes and menus, suggesting selling prices based on global and category targets. With the software’s engineering reports identifying products that are doing well (and those that aren’t), companies can more easily maximize sales. The software also keeps a close eye on shrinkage, via alerts that show usage and shrinkage sorted by cost.