KANSAS CITY - More and more commissaries, central kitchens and other offsite facilities that supply value-added and other foods to grocery retailers are discovering the advantages of recipe management software, which saves them time and money and helps prevent labeling errors that can lead to recalls — among other benefits.

In February, Hopkinton, Mass.-based Jera Concepts made a major upgrade to its software platform that significantly simplifies recipe management for businesses all along the retail food chain.

Jera now offers nutritional label printing capability that integrates with most existing label systems, said Wynne Barrett, one of our Jera partners.

Typically, Barrett said, a supplier, retailer, commissary or other provider has a recipe library that’s disconnected from its production planning tools. With Jera’s new integrated software, that library and the label capability are in the same place, saving users a step in the process and making it much harder to make errors in getting the right nutritional information on labels.

“Now, they don’t have to have a separate Excel spreadsheet,” Barrett said. “Up until now, everything’s been disconnected.”

A secondary benefit, he added, is that users can better track what is actually produced from a given recipe vs. what the forecasted production was. The printed label, because it’s integrated with all other software, accurately captures what was made and whether that total squares with what was predicted.

In addition, with Jera’s new system, all recipe information and printer data is stored in the cloud.

“Excel is a wonderful tool but it’s not as stable as a cloud-based software program,” Barrett said. “It’s easy to hit the wrong key when you’re using Excel.”

The benefits of all-in-one

For commissaries and similar production facilities, Bowling Green, Ohio-based DayMark Safety Systems offers its Nutritics Insight solution, an advanced, cloud-based program that leverages a robust database of ingredients to efficiently build and manage recipes and menu data, said Jill Carte, the company’s director of product development.

“Nutritics’ all-in-one integrated platform allows operators to create recipes, manage cost, account for allergens, and print customer-facing tamper-evident labels,” Carte said.

Nutritics, introduced in 2017, has been updated with a MenuCommand kitchen automation system, Matt85 tablet and printer combination and TamperSeal labels, giving users the ability to incorporate compliant nutritional information with custom branded grab-n-go labels that are also tamper-evident, Carte said.

 Another good fit for commissaries, she added, are DayMark’s grab-n-go labeling offerings, including TamperSeal labels for third-party delivery, which Carte said offer suppliers the ability to communicate nutritional information to their customers.

COVID, Carte said, has made it more important than ever for companies to keep costs down. And with recipe management technology, operators can change their recipe quickly and easily to account for the ingredients at hand.

“Reformulating the recipe will update the nutritional calculation and allergens, which will then be properly displayed on the customer-facing label, keeping the operator fully in compliance with labeling requirements,” Carte said.

Printing on demand—rather than having preprinted labels—also helps the operator reduce label wastage due to a change to ingredients or nutritionals, she added.

Simpler is better

Mississauga, Ontario-based Invatron Systems Corp. offers its customers a simplified approach to recipe management functionality, said Joe Smirlies, the company’s senior vice president for production management. Included as part of Invatron’s all-in-one fresh food retail platform, recipe management acts in conjunction with the company’s demand forecasting, replenishment, production planning, and fresh ordering tools to generate the most reliable menus and margins, Smirlies said.

Recipes are entered into Invatron’s system, and margin is auto-calculated at the sellable level, taking into account changes in ingredient pricing. In-store, users have access to preparation guides in various formats centrally stored in the system. Sellable products are assembled, then merchandised, and compliant nutritional labels containing detailed nutritional information are linked to sellable items and made available for in-store printing of labels and menu boards for recipe-based products. 

“The high adoption of Invatron’s recipe management is attributed to its pinpoint accuracy and visibility into the true cost of an assembled item,” Smirlies said. “Customers value seeing all the pieces of the puzzle come together to form the full picture of their recipe management processes.” 

Invatron’s commissary-specific capabilities separate the company from its competitors, Smirlies said. The system makes it easier to set priorities of items that need to be prepared first, second, and so on allowing fresh food retailers to designate a smart plan for daily preparation and management of labor. 

 “Invatron’s fresh food retail platform supports the production and fresh ordering processes of grocery retailer-operated commissaries,” he said. “Our solution extends seamlessly to in-store fresh ordering functions for the ordering of products produced by the commissary and aggregates those needs into large-scale production planning outputs and associated ingredient ordering requirements.”

Invatron is also seeing its customers working to incorporate Invatron’s commissary solution into dark kitchens and micro fulfillment centers, leveraging Hub & Spoke capabilities to optimize the replenishment needs of those facilities as volumes through those facilities grow.

Make way for IoT

Another innovation that’s making it easier for commissaries, retailers and suppliers to print labels more efficiently and accurately, Barrett said, is the increased use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

“Label printers are now able to be web-enabled,” he said. “In the past, when a new item was introduced, you’d save the information on a thumb drive, then put it that drive in wherever you wanted to transfer the info. Now it can all be managed from one place.”

Expect those and other innovations to be adopted by commissaries, central kitchens and their retail partners at ever-greater rates going forward.

“People are much more open and understanding of technology and how it can help them,” Barrett said. “When we started, we were teaching people have to log into a computer — not into the software, into the computer. That was just 16 years ago.”

Other trends that will only intensify, he added, are the movement toward cloud-based, to apps that can be used on phones and to the use of tablets on the floors of retail perimeter departments, commissaries and other areas where food is produced or sold. Ingredient labels, for instance, are increasingly being printed off directly from tablets.

“More and more people are moving away from desktops and laptops.”

Flexibility for commissaries

The ability to quickly recalculate recipe ingredients, quantities, nutritional facts, and costs also provides superior flexibility to commissary processes. For instance, Smirlies said, Invatron’s traceability application identifies specific items to be pulled for recall with 100% precision. If an occurrence were to happen or an ingredient substitution is required, retailers can centrally change recipes and quickly disseminate revised food safety information to their store labeling scales and printers.  

“Invatron’s recipe management technology capability supports the nuances of every department in the store perimeter, inclusive of providing cutting tests, especially to establish and maintain cutting tests for the meat department,” Smirlies said. “Our recipe manager integrates into a comprehensive replenishment solution with the ability to understand the consumption of raw ingredients through the production process, the backroom, and sellable products aiding inventory management.”  

In addition, the system’s advanced cutting tests are the most accurate on the market. Recipes and cutting tests are foundational transformation data and help commissaries, retailers and other food industry professionals maintain a perpetual inventory of raw ingredients used in the production of retail products. 

“Our recipe management technology ensures the accurate demand for all sellable products. For example, retailers sell melons as cut fruit products, requiring cut data, in the off-peak seasons and whole product in peak season.”

Cutting tests represent the actual sellable yield results of individual cut tests performed across all stores over time. The data collected for each of these tests is aggregated and analyzed to produce cutting yields data that is then used for replenishment formulas needed for fresh ordering recommendations of individual backroom source products, Smirlies said.  

“Say you’re preparing a recipe for carrot soup. The recipe requires 1 kilogram of carrots, However, once you have peeled them and removed the tops and tips, you may only have 700 grams of carrots left to use. For accurate costing, yield testing must be carried out on all ingredients and recipes.”  

It also, he added, plays a large role in meeting the needs of today’s health-conscious customers. Shoppers demand detailed information on what they are eating and having this available through a centralized library of electronic recipes allows customers to print accurate food labels, deliver recipe information digitally and control what’s in their recipes. 

 “Optimizing food labeling opportunities is the true recipe for success,” Smirlies said. “Invatron’s recipe management breaks down calories, allergens and intolerances, and nutrition lists. And the platform’s label creator helps maintain FDA-compliant nutrition panels and complete labels for grab-and-go items, healthy recipes with a complete nutrition profile increasing customer confidence and trust.” 

The simplicity of Invatron’s software might be just as important as its accuracy, he added.

“The reason for the high user adoption rate of our intuitive system is that our recipe management software provides just the right amount of features and data to display the most important information with an intuitive interface that makes it easy to create, cost, and manage recipes.The ability to manage the replenishment process at the stove level, commissary, or central kitchen with the capability to aggregate demand across multiple locations to be consolidated is a game changer. Replenishment is always calculated on scale to avoid unnecessary shrinkage.” 

Having deployed Invatron’s solutions in more than 25,000 grocery stores, Smirlies said the company knows that strong recipe management processes should be the backbone of today’s food retail businesses. When adopted correctly, it’s proven to reduce costs, reduce the risk of allergen contamination, and most importantly, provide increased transparency to the end customer.