Inventory management can mean so much more than just keeping track of what’s in your facility. And communication with the customer isn’t just a benefit for the customer.
Boone, North Carolina-based ECRS says it’s critical to find tools that will cut costs while keeping shelves stocked. Segmented functionality and silos should be a thing of the past.

“Bidirectional data communication between your enterprise and any supplier removes wasted labor or the need for costly third-party services,” the company says.

With ECRS’s Gateway, suppliers are directly linked to Catapult, the company’s solution that connects inventory and supply chain, reporting and analytics, POS, payments and more.

Using a system like this, companies can eliminate out-of-stock scenarios and cut excess inventory costs while utilizing powerful inventory tracking, demand forecasting, and automated replenishment functions. It can be a powerful tool regardless of what side of the ordering process it’s used on — either retailer to commissary or commissary to supplier.

Pete Catoe, ECRS’s president and CEO, says Gateway now has nearly 90 supplier partners and more than 800 connected retail locations

“From our perspective, if EDI is good enough for the retail Goliaths, then our local and regional retailers absolutely need it too, if they are to stay supply chain competitive,” he says. “We also understood that EDI was going to be a necessity if a retailer wanted to shift to perpetual inventory and auto-replenishment, both of which are becoming more and more essential each day, and neither of which can be accomplished efficiently without automated EDI supplier integration.”

Perpetual inventory

Today’s supply chain tasks are increasingly automated, with stores, warehouses and suppliers sharing information through bidirectional communication, with no human intervention necessary.

The tools used in this process are Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and Computer-Assisted Ordering (CAO), according to ECRS. And while big boxes were the first to implement the use of EDI in retail environments, it’s not just for the big boys anymore.

ECRS built one of the first private, internet-based EDI systems in the world, it says, and dedicated the system to the sole purpose of helping local and regional grocers, specialty food, and natural food retailers. It was a tool for when those local and regional retailers realized the need for perpetual inventory.

“Internet-based EDI like ECRS Gateway enable retailers of every size to stay competitive in the supply chain, leveling the playing field,” says Catoe.

Leveraging all the data can be a big benefit for both the supplier and the retailer. When a supplier places items on a delivery truck, ECRS’ Catapult platform is notified, and inventory data is automatically updated via Gateway.

With exact shipping quantities and costs correctly entered into the system, a retailer shouldn’t need to ever re-enter data into a store or warehouse system, eliminating headaches for both parties.

The food safety angle

It’s not just efficiency and compatibility with retailers that makes inventory management so vital for producers.

To meet the stringent requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Safe Quality Food Standards, facilities must be able to identify and trace every ingredient consumed in the manufacturing process — from receipt though processing, packaging, and shipping, to the exact customer location.

The full traceability of products from material origin through to manufacture and final destination is key, says SYSPRO, a software development company with an industry-built Enterprise Resource Planning solution that counts inventory management among its offerings.

The company says the integrated nature of its food and beverage inventory management product enables full forward traceability as well as comprehensive record-keeping to meet strict compliance requirements. SYSPRO facilitates the recording of traceability and quality data on materials and products from purchasing through to inspection, manufacturing, stocking and sales.

The recording of expiration dates and shelf-life information is also facilitated and powerful queries enable upward and downward searches by stock code, lot number and transaction type.

Cost, of course

While there is an abundance of reasons that a solid inventory management game can benefit a facility, it’s hard to ignore the benefit of saving money.

San Francisco-based Revel Systems points out that bakeries and other producers are, by nature, very dynamic business with their own unique set of challenges. From fluctuating ingredient prices to high production costs to customers placing high-customized orders, there can be a lot of outside forces that impact bottom line.

Leveraging the available tools to shrink your shrink and streamline your options can result in a substantial cost savings.

Inventory count should be precise, and a facility should be able to keep track of modifications in real time, Revel says. Inventory loss starts as soon as the recipe is created, so inventory should just be subtracted at the time of purchase.

With bakery inventory software, adjust the values of each ingredient, as well as the number of times it is run by the actual yield, to promote the most precise inventory measurement at the exact time the recipe has been created. At this level of inventory tracking you can better track spoilage and made in-house ingredients.