Fruit and veg distributor keeps food fresh with Infor’s M3 ERP

Catering supplier Reynolds is enjoying the fruits of an Infor ERP system that cuts down on food waste and streamlines operations

Greengrocer Reynolds is enjoying the fruits of an Infor ERP system that cuts down on food waste.

It is 67 years since William Reynolds started selling fruit and vegetables from a wheelbarrow at the Ridley Road Market in Hackney, in the blitzed-out East End of London. Today, his grandson, Tony Reynolds (pictured), the managing director, thinks that the IT Reynolds has applied to make its operations more efficient gives it an edge in the food distribution sector.

On 4 October 2010, Reynolds went live with Infor’s M3 enterprise resource planning system. 

Putting in a new engine

“We had four hours downtime to change our whole business," said IT and business systems director Richard Calder. “It was character building”.

Since then, his four-person IT team has joined with a four-person ‘business improvement team’ in fine-tuning the M3 installation. 

“It’s like having a new engine in your car," Richard Calder said.

The company “pretty much started from scratch” when putting in a new ERP system, said Tony Reynolds, having outgrown a legacy system – bespoke for the food produce distribution sector – that they’d been using since the 1990s.

Reynolds confirmed that the legacy ERP and supply chain systems were exhausted. The management teams were unable to get the information they needed quickly enough, or in enough detail, to make confident decisions. But putting in a new core system was still a bold move.

Implementation gamble pays off 

“Competitors and distributors have massive horror stories to tell about failed ERP implementations," said Reynolds. "I felt if we could get through the M3 implementation, we would have single platform, whereas our competitors are working with bolted-on systems."

At the time, the company had a £150m turnover, “but to get to £200m plus, we would have to have something better in place," said Reynolds.

The family-owned firm has a 140,000ft2 temperature-controlled national distribution facility at Waltham Cross, near London, and regional depots in Manchester, Bristol, the Midlands and Scotland. It processes more than 3,000 orders daily, operates a fleet of 194 vehicles and stocks more than 2,500 different products.

Reynolds supplies ASK, Carluccios, Pizza Express, Prêt-à-Manger, and Prezzo, as well as hotels such as Accor and Ramada Jarvis, and the Fullers pub chain with fresh fruit, salad and vegetables, cheese and other dairy products.

The Gondola Group, which owns Pizza Express and ASK, is known for its innovation with IT, using analytics to target diners, and Calder confirmed they were “very supportive” during the change Reynolds made in 2010.

Reynolds considered Microsoft Dynamics AX, IFS and JD Edwards, among others, but M3 was a “clear choice because of the functionality that we required and the fact that it was supplier-managed. 

"Resellers were not so attractive. And, at the time we were working with Lawson consultants closely," said Calder.

Infor acquired Lawson in 2011, and Calder expressed approval. 

“Infor has clearly invested heavily in M3 and the ION [Intelligent Open Network middleware] strategy opens up a huge array of improvement opportunities," he said. "For us, in the future, ION will become a key part of the business case justification because, if we want new functionality, we won’t have to pay for modification or integration work to be done.”

Specific features appeal

Calder said M3 had some specific features that made it attractive to the greengrocer. 

“The re-inspection time and sales time features enable Reynolds to reclassify and adjust shelf life at both item and lot level - delivering a reduction in the risk of product waste.

“The main thing is that we need to be able to vary the expiry date. We need the flexibility to reduce waste. We don’t have luxury of, say, 7% waste. My gut feeling is that we have achieved a 0.5% reduction in waste. That is a significant figure for us."

The avocados for Prêt have to be right pressure for ripeness. M3 takes what we can do here to a new level

Tony Reynolds, managing director

Reynolds chipped in. “It means we can give customers better quality for longer. For example, the avocados for Prêt have to be right pressure for ripeness. M3 takes what we can do here to a new level."

Streamlining the ordering process

The order capture element within M3 has, said Reynolds and Calder, enabled the company to develop quick and robust order entry systems. This is important because it handles over 1,000 orders a day manually over the phone, with an average of 22 lines per order from chefs exhausted at the end of a shift. 

“They just want to place an order and go home," said Calder.

The M3 Process Flow Integrator (PFI) has put an automatic process in place to send a full email check list to the customer that they then sign off as correct. This has, estimates Calder, halved the number of order-taking errors. 

“A mistake over the phone could be a huge cost to us because we’d have to recover it the next day," he said.

Change of culture

Calder described how the new ERP system has changed the company’s business culture. The original project team was large, but has now dispersed into the organisation. “The knowledge is spread. Previously, knowledge was within the four walls of IT. That is not ideal. It means too much reliance on us."

There is now a business improvement team, which is the focus for “looking at the business process as a whole. We’ve moved on from a small parts approach," said Calder.

Reynolds concludes that he has “really enjoyed being able to attract graduate-level people to the business now, because of the M3 platform." He had a spell in banking and understands why working for a greengrocer might lack glamour. But the technology applied to improve operations in a manufacturing process business like his can make a difference, he said.

“From the days of my grandad’s market barrow onwards”, he said, “4 October 2010 was a red-letter day that moved us forward. I can go back to the family and say that this investment has paid dividends”.

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