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The company operates over 125 hectares of fruit production in Kent, along with packing facilities for both UK and imported soft fruit. It provides fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, to major supermarkets, wholesale markets and retail markets throughout the country.
Its fruit-growing business has grown by 40% in sales over the past three years. Recently, it has added a new dimension to its business, importing soft fruit internationally, along with the packing of produce from other importers. Partly, this is to support a year-round business of supply to supermarkets, since the UK growing season is precisely that – a season.
IT consultant Jamie Feaver has been working at W B Chambers since August 2016 to help direct its transition from spreadsheets and printouts to more sophisticated business software.
“W B Chambers needed to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the numbers,” he says. “The volume of information was such that it couldn’t keep up, and had different numbers on different spreadsheets. It also wanted a full ERP [enterprise resource planning] system to support growth, and to add modules for HRM [human resource management], maintenance, engineering, and so on.”
W B Chambers employs 600-700 people across three business streams of packing, importing and production, with seasonal variation. “The soft fruit market has been growing year on year. The retailers want a 24/7 offering, so if you only offer UK fruit then you are only in the market for six months of the year,” says Feaver.
The company sells direct to supermarkets, such as Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons. “In the supermarket industry there has been a push to source directly, cutting out the middlemen, who take margin, and going direct to farmers. W B Chambers is well placed there because it has invested in growing and importing,” he adds.
Harvesting data insights
The fruit supplier decided to go with IFS at the beginning of this year, and is looking to go live in October or November.
“Some people might see this sort of investment as risky, due to Brexit impacting the labour pool. But W B Chambers is looking to develop its three business streams in such a way that it can find the necessary labour to do the work in future. If it didn’t have IFS, then in two years’ time it would not have the same clarity of view and degree of control over sourcing and deploying labour. It would make those decisions more difficult to make,” says Feaver.
“Without IFS, in two years’ time W B Chambers would not have the same clarity of view and degree of control over sourcing and deploying labour”
Jamie Feaver, W B Chambers
The main goal of the IFS Applications 9 implementation is to develop what the soft fruit company calls a “concise overview of company data across the strands of the business, collecting, analysing and acting upon data insights while closely monitoring all processes”.
W B Chambers will also make use of IFS Applications 9 to support its goal of being a 24/7, 365-days-a-year grower, importer and packer, using the suite’s modules in financial operations, supply chain, distribution, manufacturing, purchasing and sales.
“We chose IFS because of the greater functionality offered compared to more limited out-of-the-box solutions on the market,” says Tony Godden, finance director at W B Chambers. “We also have Jamie Feaver leading the project, whom I have worked with on other IFS projects in the same industry.”
From the software supplier’s view, Paul Massey, managing director for IFS in Western Europe, says: “W B Chambers was looking for a solution that would deliver more cohesive reports on company data from its three core business units. When companies develop new revenue streams and experience such an impressive rate of growth, there is usually an opportunity for even greater efficiency gains by tying those operations together with software.”