When it comes to methods of inventory control, navigating the world of software management systems can be a daunting task. In March, Commissary Insider covered why using this kind of software can help your business, but with convention season almost over, there have been a number of new developments that are worth examining if you’re looking to establish or upgrade your current inventory operations. In light of so many new regulations surrounding FSMA, we’ve picked two systems that have chosen to put accountability and tracking of every aspect of the food manufacturing process first and foremost: Unleashed and Fishbowl.

“A proper inventory management system will solve issues by helping a fresh food producer track the following: inventory quantities, total asset value with the ability to filter by warehouse and item, and offer traceability and tracking to give cradle to grave visibility with recall protocol,” says Kendrick Hair, vice president of development at Fishbowl Inventory in Orem, UT. “This starts with tracking batch or lot numbers and can also include production and expiration dates. Inventory software should also use minimum and maximum inventory alerts and re-order alerts with purchase order automation to streamline ordering and re-ordering.”

Fishbowl provides these options for commissaries, with Hair himself even working with NASA to train some of their staff on using the program in the production of astronaut food. Fishbowl, like Unleashed and most others, is set up to work with QuickBooks. It can help you create bills of materials and work orders for manufacturing, and aids in the warehouse by allowing a commissary to pick, pack and ship products, manage multiple warehouses, avoid stockouts and overstocks, and integrate with other e-commerce solutions, he says. You can then use the system to track all of your assets, generating and scanning barcodes, updating data in real time and automatically reordering materials.

Similarly, Unleashed is a “software as a service” inventory management system that’s tailored for small and medium commissaries, says Mandy Pearson, communications manager for the company. “Unleashed Software integrates with point of sales, e-commerce, customer relationship management (CRM) and accounting software to give our customers an end-to-end business solution.”

An automated and cloud-based system, Unleashed also has the ability to be updated in real time, either via CRM or their free iPhone app, which can be far more accessible to the smaller commissary.

When asked if there were any aspects of Unleashed that could not be found in other software systems like it, Pearson pointed to this capability as their newest innovation, as Unleashed has created its own CRM called Salesforce, recently launched and fully supported with native integration.

“This means that your sales team can access inventory information and make sales orders that are sent directly to Unleashed for processing, all from within one platform or system,” she says. “This gives the sales team greater flexibility and insight into the entire customer history, while also allowing a warehouse or manufacturing location to receive orders that need to be processed almost immediately — which is especially important when a sales team may be in a different location. Because Unleashed also integrates with both Xero and QuickBooks Online, this also closes the loop between CRM, inventory management and accounting software.

“Some businesses are still in a growth phase and don’t yet require a CRM for managing their sales however, and for that reason we also provide the free iPhone sales app that allows businesses to view customer information, inventory levels and create sales on their iPhone.”

And again, when it’s the freshness of your product that’s on the line, such qualities as flexibility, traceability and insight into your inventory management are crucial, as both companies will tell you.

“The goal of any company with inventory is to have enough of it to fulfill demand,” Hair says of the tasks his software was created to aid. “When you add in the complexity of fresh food items that have a short shelf life, it compounds the need for an inventory system. Fishbowl has the ability to suggest minimum/maximum quantities per item and automate the purchasing process. This allows companies to not only avoid spoilage, but it streamlines the process of purchasing and ensures only what is absolutely needed is purchased.”

Unleashed provides similar capabilities, but both systems are uniquely set up around a commissary’s size and what they produce. Nonetheless, it’s their ability to set and manage tracking that’s really important.

“We’ve found that Unleashed is uniquely suited for manufacturers, specifically food and beverage manufacturers,” Pearson says. “The reason for this is the real-time inventory tracking Unleashed provides — batch numbers can be assigned to food products and tracked through the entirety of the manufacturing process, allowing businesses to meet strict auditing requirements (like FSMA), and have the ability to apply third-party costs to the manufacturing process, such as from co-packagers in the food manufacturing industry. Prior to using Unleashed, our food manufacturing customers had to manually track these batch numbers using spreadsheets; with Unleashed they can see the entire history of a product with the click of a button.”

This ability of both systems to assign unique tracking numbers throughout the manufacturing process makes handling any recalls much easier as well.

“If a recall needs to occur,” Pearson says, “it should be a simple process to discover which batch of ingredients went into each product, even through a multi-layered manufacturing process, and Unleashed can cater to all of this.” Pearson also notes that with Unleashed specifically, a commissary can manage applying costs when they don’t do everything in-house.

“Whether they’re buying component ingredients rather than creating them from scratch, outsourcing to a co-packer during the manufacturing process, or paying a distribution company to deliver their products after sale, with Unleashed they can capture those costs to get a precise picture of what it actually costs to make their product,” she says. “This is the Average Landed Cost (ALC), and Unleashed calculates the ALC in real time so a commissary has in-depth insight into their margins. This insight allows businesses to grow by focusing on best-selling items, reducing needless expenditures and improving their margins.”

Both systems’ tracking abilities help a commissary automate the manufacturing process as well, which again, makes meeting regulatory requirements like FSMA that much easier.

“Some commissaries may have very complex, multi-step manufacturing processes where component ingredients are moved from one location to another or parts of the process are outsourced,” Pearson says. “State regulation requires them to be able to audit what ingredients went into each product, and sometimes they need to be able to apply costs to a product that are generated over a long period of time. For example, think of cheese manufacturing or a distillery — for an accurate ALC, utility costs must be applied over months or even years.”

So whether for FSMA regulation, recall prevention and handling, keeping your margins slim or just your food as fresh as possible, inventory management software systems these days need to be able to follow every stage of your product as it is produced. This will ensure that freshness comes first, and with it, even more customers and a better bottom line.