Information at the press of a key

As consumers become ever more concerned about what they are eating, and caterers of all types try to satisfy their growing requirements, the burden is increasingly being passed on to foodservice wholesalers. Their customers are seeking information such as dietary suitability (kosher, vegan, halal), intolerance information (nuts, dairy, eggs, fish, soybeans, lupin flour) and nutritional data (salt content, cholesterol, saturated fats) about the products they are supplying.

While all of this information is available from the manufacturers, it can be a time consuming process for a wholesaler to track it down so independent foodservice wholesaler Fairway decided to see whether computer technology could be used to streamline the process. One year on it has developed the Erudus on-line system and has been joined by Caterforce (which collectively represents 24 foodservice wholesale businesses with a combined turnover of pound;300m and primarily supplies the independent profit sector) and Hopwells, a six-depot business.

Erudus is a product database which enables wholesalers to view comprehensive product information, to select search criteria and view, print or export as data the search results. For instance, if a customer requires a list of products which are gluten free and have a salt content of between 0.1% and 0.5%, the search can be keyed in and the list of all suitable items will be generated.

One of the users, Dave Dalby, sales manager of King Brothers in Peterborough, explains: “We have noticed an increase in the requests from our customers for specific food ingredient and additive information. We have had to invest a lot of time and effort to ensure we have collected the correct information, needing to contact a number of manufacturers or importers before we were able to advise our customers of the products that would suit their particular needs.

“Erudus has changed all that. We just log on, and type our requirements into the user friendly search engine and it does the rest. We can even look up specific products, which means in most cases we can give our customers an answer while they are still on the phone. They are very impressed.”

Erudus has been made possible by software developers Infotech 24 7 and with support and co-operation from the companies’ frozen food suppliers, who have entered the information for their products into Erudus via the internet.

There are currently 2,200 products on-line and more are being added daily. Initially the system started with frozen food suppliers, who entered their product data into the system, but Kate Timewell, the system administrator at Fairway, says they are now looking to add ambient products. She says: “Suppliers are not charged to put their data onto the system. They just have to take the time to key the data in.”

Suppliers say they also benefit from a reduction in product inquiries. Vicky Richardson, technical services administrator of Five Star Fish in Grimsby, adds: “The system is easy to use and understand with concise and simple instructions for data entry.”

There are also secure areas for each wholesale company’s own label product details so that only that company’s employees have access to its specific data.

The system can hold more than 110 items of information for each product, including all the physical product data such as case dimensions, pallet configurations, packaging waste data, and even a bar code, all of which is supplied by the product manufacturer.

Once a supplier has entered data an automatic monthly reminder is sent to ensure any product changes are updated.

Looking to the future, if the product information from the database can be exported to users local computers, so they share common information, it is envisaged that this could be the foundation for more sophisticated electronic ordering and delivery notes between wholesalers and suppliers.

The use of common product data, supplied and updated by the manufacturer could harmonise and simplify e-trade for the future and bring efficiencies to suppliers and wholesalers.

With the system now proving its usefulness, the founders are now offering other independent foodservice wholesalers the opportunity to use Erudus for an annual fee of pound;500 to cover administration and management of the system.

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