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Overview on Software Systems for Small Food Processors

February 21, 2017

By Simon de Groot

As a follow up to a seminar on inventory control in small food processing companies, the discussion revealed a need for a cost effective solution for startups (zero to 3 years running) on purchasing, inventory control, traceability and costing that went beyond using spreadsheets. 

The ideal system needed to be simple and easy to use, and as a bonus if it could integrate with Quickbooks (or some other small business accounting package.)  All this for some where between a budget of $5,000 to $25,000 for starter programs. 

Let’s be clear, the landscape of food processing software is enormous and confusing.  There are lots of high end solutions that can easily run hundreds of thousands of dollars.  As a startup, when cash flow is tight, and your business is small, these expensive programs are not an option. 

I will say this upfront – the small business owner will need to do his/her own homework on the various systems offered in the market.  No one knows your business like you do.  Each food process is different, and unique.  Each element of inventory is different, from raw materials to Work in Process (WIP) to finished goods.   Every small business has different packaging offers, from bulk to retail.  There are many variables in each food processing startup that rejects a one solution fits all approach. 

I will say it again – the startup owner will need to invest some time to vet the various software solutions that will be ultimately suitable for their food business. 

Let’s outline some basic assumptions. 

Assumption 1:  Develop a Budget

What is your budget for adopting a software system?  Have you included training costs, annual licensing fees, upgrades?  Given your current system using excel, what are the pain points, costs and risks you have?  Are these great enough to motivate a change?  If so, then you need to look for a solution.  At the very least, you need to consider adopting an accounting system like Quickbooks to help with invoicing, payables, receivables, and basic financial reports. 

Assumption 2: Understand What You Need

Start by asking what you expect or need from the system.  Many software systems offer modules for separate features like inventory, or costing.  Consider making small steps.  Traceability is now a key requirement in the food industry, for large and small organizations.   In many ways, good traceability equals good inventory control.  This should be a cornerstone at the start of your business.  Always be mindful of a possible recall of your product – and how would you initiate a recall?  Test your system with various scenarios of a mock recall – from an ingredient/supplier issue, to a possible allergen issue.  Confidence in the area will let you sleep at night. 

Assumption 3: Understand the Components of a System

Software – the program that you install on your computer or server.  Some software is cloud based so data is stored in heaven.  Any server system needs to also have regular back-ups to ensure the retention of data.  

Hardware – Stuff that uses or connects to the software – servers, mobile scanners, scales and label printers.  So this gets into the realm of barcoding and labelling, which is almost another subject.  Again, the requirements for hardware greatly depend on the nature of your food process.  Some types of food production do not require scales, but most will require some form of label printing.  FYI – there is specific label software that you can design your label layout including barcodes (Labelview is one.)

The main point on this assumption is that some companies sell software only, and some companies sell the hardware components only.  Rarely do you have a company that sells both and provides an integrated solution.  If you are considering a software solution only, make certain of its compatibility with your hardware components, or at least growth compatibility. 

Note:  This is where software systems get expensive as software is often incompatible with hardware. 

So – having said that, here is a chart of a few food processing software offers that might be suitable for your business. 

Name

Website

Focus

Integration

Fish Bowl

http://fishbowlinventory.com

Small to medium food processors

Yes to Quickbooks

Aspen – Canopy Core System

http://www.aspen-systems.com

All sizes

Not sure

Just Food ERP

Home

Medium to large

Not sure

Shea Business Solutions

http://shea.ca 

Small to medium food plants

Not sure – local GTA 

 

As I mentioned, there are hundreds of software providers that will take your money.  I don’t endorse any one of those listed above, it is just a very small sampling.  It is up to the business owner to do his/her homework to find the right solution.


This blog post was written by Simon de Groot as a follow up to Food Starter’s Food Commercialization Program session titled ‘Inventory Basics and Beyond’, taught by Simon.