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Food wholesaler Harro Foods improved stock management and traceability with Chess Logistics Technology

Specialist Japanese food wholesaler Harro Foods has improved stock management and traceability following the introduction of the Empirica warehouse management system from Chess Logistics Technology. Empirica has been integrated with the company’s accounting package to facilitate the use of historic as well as current data, enhance customer service and streamline internal processes.

"We can now function as a warehouse should function," says Branwyn Darlington, General Manager for Logistics at Harro Foods. "Best-before dates and first-in, first-out stock turns are really key to us as a food supplier and we were beginning to struggle without a proper system. Now we have a solution that supports our business and the way we want to work."

Harro Foods has supplied Japanese food products to restaurants, hotels, retailers and wholesalers throughout the UK for more than 20 years. The company relocated to its current head office and warehouse complex in South Wimbledon during 2006 when it had outgrown its previous premises due to the increased popularity of Japanese food with consumers.

"We are lucky to have a growing market because Japanese food is very attractive with a healthy, exotic and fresh image that has become more mainstream as people are exposed to it," says Branwyn Darlington.

The new facility covers 2,200m2 (23,500ft2) and is significantly larger and more complex than its predecessor. The company managed its operations using paper-based processes for a while after the relocation but came to realise that a computerised system would offer a number of benefits. At the time it was stocking around 1700 different products and making up to 150 deliveries a day during peak periods.

The business was going through accreditation for the ISO22000 food safety standard and became the first Japanese food wholesaler in the UK to achieve this, just months before it implemented the WMS. Nevertheless the process highlighted the requirement for more effective management of the supply chain. Some of the core warehouse practices had not been formalised which meant that stock item and batch traceability, which is key to the food safety standard, was an issue.

"We recognised that we could not rely on people remembering where every item and pallet was located in the warehouse," says Branwyn Darlington. "We needed a WMS to help us follow our own procedures and standards, to track and trace products by individual item, customer, best-before date and other criteria in case we had to do a recall. We searched the market with the support of our parent company, Itochu Europe plc, and through them we found Chess."

Harro Foods considered a number of options before selecting Empirica. Enterprise systems offered one potential route to a solution but Harro wanted to retain its existing Pegasus Opera II accounting package because this met its ongoing requirements. However it also wanted to integrate supply chain processes with accounting so that it could introduce enhanced levels of customer service and streamline activities such as sales order processing and invoicing.

The implementation team from Chess worked closely with their counterparts at Intsys to provide an interface between the two systems. The architecture of Empirica ensures that its core application can be enhanced by adding specific functions and interfaces using existing modules and new code to create a solution marched precisely to the customer’s specification. This approach also helps ensure features that are not required need not be implemented which helps to keep the design, integration and ongoing support processes as simple as possible.

"We couldn’t find one system that did it all and we were happy to go with separate applications," says Branwyn Darlington. "Chess and Intsys were brilliant at working out how to interface their products and allow us to keep all of our historic data. This meant we were able to keep the best finance and WMS packages for our purposes, and we did not need to compromise on either side."

The most important part of the implementation was the interface with Opera II. Empirica was designed to integrate with other systems and one of its modules provides many of the links needed. This eliminates the need for completely new code for each installation which simplifies the overall process. The remaining aspects of the implementation provided what amounts to a standard warehouse management application. This went live in June 2009 and Harro Foods was able to see an immediate impact on its business.

The business now has robust traceability based on criteria including item, , bin location, and best-before date. It has been able to improve first-in, first-out picking to ensure more effective management of stock. Picking lists generated by Empirica allow warehouse staff to complete orders more quickly and with better overall accuracy and efficiency. Managers have a clear and up-to-date view of the stock and the warehouse operation on-screen whenever they want.

"Stock management is much better and the key numbers, such as the amount of out-of-date stock we write off, have improved significantly," says Branwyn Darlington. "Empirica has all the information which is so much easier than walking around the warehouse to look for a pallet. We can definitely see the benefits and it’s hard to think how we managed before."

One of the challenges was that established warehouse procedures made sense to staff but might not be considered best practice. Chess provided training for eight "super users" across departments and worked with the team to identify procedures that were more logical and efficient. The business has developed new processes to manage order picking and stock adjustments more efficiently. The operation continues to grow with more products stocked and orders fulfilled each day, delivered to customers using Harro Foods’ own vehicles or through third party logistics services. Empirica has the flexibility to support whatever process is preferred.

"Chess has been incredibly supportive with good responses to our requirements and we have had a very positive experience with them and the software," says Branwyn Darlington. "We have been learning a lot about warehouse operations and improving our business as a result."

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