UK consumers' growing appetite for vegetarian, organic and GM-free products has propelled niche manufacturer Cauldron Foods' sales to more than 1 million a month - prompting a fresh approach to business planning and management systems.
Cauldron Foods is a leading producer of chilled vegetarian convenience foods, with a range of more than 40 lines ranging from pts to burgers, sausages and roasts. Its products are sold nation-wide through the major supermarket chains and many health food outlets.
The company has streamlined its processes and improved management control by implementing an SSI TROPOS ERP system which provides an infrastructure for combining growth and efficiency - as well as ensuring that each day's orders are processed and dispatched quickly and correctly. It also gives managers a comprehensive view of costs and profitability.
David Goswell, Director of Finance, Cauldron Foods, says: "This business had grown significantly in recent years, and our existing systems were reaching their limits. Our new TROPOS system increases our capacity to manage expanding volumes efficiently. At the same time, we can work towards enhanced customer service levels."
The basis of Cauldron Foods' products is fresh tofu, a low-fat vegetable protein which has been a staple ingredient of Far Eastern diets for many centuries. Tofu is made from soya milk - in a process similar to cheese-making. Cauldron Foods has been making tofu in the UK for more than 20 years - since 1993 at its present 3,000 square metre factory at Portishead, near Bristol.
Targeting the health-conscious
In addition to using tofu in its own recipes, Cauldron Foods also markets original, marinated and smoked tofu in standard and organic variants, targeting health-conscious home cooks.
Cauldron Foods, part of the Rayner Food Group, employs over 200 staff at its Portishead facility covering the full remit of business processes including development, manufacturing, marketing and distribution.
With Cauldron Foods' market expanding steadily, Rayner pursued a strategy of decentralising IT, finance and administrative functions in its subsidiaries to improve flexibility. The Portishead operation needed a robust, versatile solution in order to implement this strategy. Previously, it had used a group-wide AS400-based system for sales order processing, but relied on spreadsheets for production planning and financial ledger input. As a result, it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage the growing business rapidly.
Cauldron Foods decided to implement a full TROPOS system from SSI, covering sales, planning, purchasing, stock control, production recording, quality and traceability. SSI also provided Coda Financials and Cognos reporting tools, and was responsible for integrating the new systems and training users. Another key element was an EDI solution - which enables 80% of Cauldron Foods' sales documents and many of its invoices to be communicated electronically. The TROPOS implementation is also integrated with MS Office.
David Goswell says: "The integrated TROPOS system has enabled us to improve productivity and plan for growth. We have a better management overview of operations - and, of course, our financial reporting is much earlier than before."
Speed is essential in manufacture and distribution
Most of Cauldron Foods' products have limited shelf lives, so speed is essential in manufacturing and distribution. Orders received by 10 am are processed and manufactured the same day, ready for overnight delivery to supermarkets across the country. This calls for careful planning and purchasing, to ensure that suitable quantities of all ingredients are available to meet customer demands. TROPOS has helped to turn the company's planning and forecasting into extremely slick operations, ensuring the ability to cover business requirements but with a margin for flexibility.
Despite the fairly labour-intensive nature of its production and its range of products and processes, Cauldron Foods initially had only limited requirements for data from the shop floor and so opted to collect this data manually. However, with growth, the need to ensure real-time data capture and faster, targeted reports has led to a second implementation phase making use of the latest release functionality that will be introduced in the second half of 2004.
Phased in without disruption
The system was phased in during August and September 2002, with no disruption to production. However, the mass of data provided by TROPOS gave managers plenty to get used to.
SSI's project manager Jason White says: "It's a healthy process to introduce TROPOS into a business. It highlights questions people should be asking. At Cauldron Foods, a lot of useful business information came to light.
"The implementation process was very useful for Cauldron Foods. Its systems were fragmented with isolated functional solutions that were not linked. Working together as one team on the solution was extremely beneficial with the introduction of simplified co-ordinated solutions crossing functional boundaries.
"The functional fit of TROPOS was virtually spot-on - apart from one planning spreadsheet, we did not have to do any software development for them. It was all core TROPOS out of the box."
With its SSI solution, the company now has an open-architecture system, providing real-time updates. This gives greater visibility to all stages of the process - including costs - and significantly eases the pressures of month-ends. It is a platform for growth: infrastructure and a solution - and the ability to assume full ownership of it.