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http://freshcut.com/index.php/magazine/article/19073

Hard Truth About Software

The scene of a worker walking around a fresh-cut facility with a clipboard, pencil and furrowed brow — all in the name of gaining a real-time assessment of how production is flowing — is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.

That image is being replaced by another, less quaint but far more efficient: the use of computer software to monitor and control nearly every aspect of a fresh-cut operation.

“Software programs have been aiding all industries for quite some time now, enhancing operation and reducing labor costs by increasing efficiency,” said Larry Ruggiero, vice president of Bella Fresh, which produces pre-cut fruit, vegetables and salad mixes from facilities in Phoenix and Houston.”

Industry-specific applications One of the countless advantages of software programs was the development of industry-specific applications for industries like fresh-cut produce.”

Software companies offer products that work to manage the flow of product through packing lines, provide tracking and traceability, control overhead and keep track of labor.

Violet Kiss, CEO of Produce Magic Software, said her company’s tools “track the same things that would be tracked in a good manual system, but it makes it much easier to do. One person using Produce Magic software could easily do the work of three or four people doing manual tracking.”

Fresh-cut software programs help with these functions: • Bill of materials programs • Inventory lot control • Labor management, including time clock programs and records of what each worker is producing. • Work orders • Label processing and printing • Accounts receivable and payable • Packing plant and warehouse management

Kiss said Produce Magic software tracks everything a good manual system can.

“It also handles all of the order processing, payable processing, receivable processing and so on. It also makes companies a lot more organized and lets them print reports, summaries, labels, purchase order documents, sales order documents and so on,” she explained.

One major benefit of the software is in product traceability and recalls. Manual systems to pinpoint the source of a product can be tedious and time-consuming.

“Software programs allow the traceability process to be streamlined or automated, eliminating much of the manual input of the process and significantly reducing the margin for error,” said Ruggiero. “Products can be traced from receipt through delivery in a very timely fashion.”

Kiss said her company’s software can rapidly print the complete recall, both forward and backward, with all receiving companies’ contact information, in a few seconds.

“This includes all generations of the original inventory lots that were used to create the inventory lot in question and includes everywhere all those generations of the original inventory lot ended up,” she said.

One potential deterrent to purchasing a software system and its services is cost.  But increased efficiency, with fewer workers needed to manually track both product and employees, ends up increasing the bottom line, say software backers.

“It should save companies money rather than cost them,” said Kiss.

Mutually beneficial relationship The relationship between fresh cut processor and software provider is key to making the system work, according to Kiss and Ruggiero. Bella Fresh uses Produce Magic software and Ruggiero said he looks for the kind of relationship that helps both parties modify and adjust to keep up with developments in the fresh-cut industry.

Customers who are thinking about purchasing software packages should ask for demonstrations of what the technology can do and look for a software provider that knows the fresh-cut industry, said Kiss.

“If they cannot answer your questions or scenarios immediately, I would be concerned with their overall knowledge,” said Kiss. “The customer’s needs are first. They should not worry about teaching their business to a produce software business consultant.”

This kind of relationship allows software providers and fresh-cut customers to collaborate on systems that are fully customized to the needs of the industry and the individual processor.

Programs that come from hard good industries may not translate to those that involve a living product, such as produce. Fresh-cut processors have unique climactic environments, customer rosters and product lists.

“We feel fresh-cut companies should customize their software to fit the way they do business, instead of being forced to do things the way the software package does them,” said Kiss.

By Lee Dean, editorial director

Originally posted Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012