Enterprise resource planning helps plant protein producer grow in the right direction

While it might seem like the plant craze has hit just about everyone lately, the fact is that a very small percentage of people live an all-vegan or even vegetarian lifestyle. The overwhelming majority of plant-curious eaters are more in the flexitarian realm – understanding the benefits a plant-based diet could bring to their health or the environment, while enjoying meat.

TMRW is a plant-based innovation company working to reinvent the way plant-based protein can feed people.Photo courtesy of TMRW FoodsIt’s a big reason why well-known companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have launched a line of plant-based burgers, chicken nuggets and other meat alternatives that look and taste like burgers, chicken nuggets and other meats. According to Dean Blignaut, co-founder and president of TMRW Foods.

TMRW aims to “create what we like to call a satisfying protein supplement that fits anyone’s diet by extracting the essence of what people value in animal protein,” says Blignaut. “We’re trying to make sure that we tick all those boxes, especially in terms of the kind of organoleptic properties of what people like about meat, but, at the same time, create a fortunately plant-based protein. an experience that meets and exceeds the expectations of people accustomed to eating meat – in terms of texture, aroma, culinary experience, nutritional values, etc.

The idea, he adds, is that someone who still eats meat could have a TMRW product – whether it’s a burger, sausage or breakfast patties – and feel like it’s a cool product but not exactly the same.

Data Driven Growth

Since launching in 2018, TMRW Foods started ticking all of these boxes, but quickly got to a point where it had to tick other boxes as well. From his previous experience in other companies, Blignaut had worked with a range of ERP and other business software systems and understood their importance. He also understood how difficult it would be to implement an ERP system if he waited too long and let employees settle into other habits. It was important for Blignaut, even with a small company like TMRW, to get the system in place early to foster the right culture.

As a company, the plant-based food maker had started very small – with an office contest to create a burger – then quickly grew in size, testing recipes with chefs, scientists from around the world. food, etc. “In 2019, we had our first prototype of the TMRW Burger,” explains Blignaut. “We opened our 5,000 square foot production facility in Port Coquitlam in April [2020], and now we have national distribution through UNFI Horizon, and we sell it to chains like Whole Foods and Nesters, etc.

As TMRW searched for the right ERP system, one of the most important requirements for the operation was an easy-to-use traceability system, says Blignaut. “Inventory management was another box we wanted to tick. Productivity tracking, dynamic costing capabilities, being able to ensure consistency of execution with our team across different facets of the business, not just in production, but also in QA, QC, purchasing, etc. “, he explains. “The inspections and data recording were also an important part for us, as we understand that it can get quite cumbersome and tedious to have to do too much manually on paper, and it’s also a waste of time. an element of sustainability.” Other factors to consider were plant and equipment maintenance, as well as QA and QC checks in production, he adds.

Blignaut focused on finding a “lint-free” ERP system that adheres to the most important aspects of production, safety and quality. It was also important that the system was easy to navigate, making training easy for all employees. He contacted the BC Food & Beverage industry association for recommendations on the type of high-performance system he had in mind, and they recommended Ice technologies, which specializes in the food and cannabis industries. After considering several options, Blignaut was convinced of the relevance of the Icicle system.

A big plus, says Blignaut, is that Steve Burton, CEO and founder of Icicle, demoed the system himself. “He obviously knows the system inside out,” says Blignaut. “He could very quickly answer any kind of questions we might have or put at ease any concerns that might have arisen throughout the process, and also talk about future developments.”

The traceability functionality was one of the most useful aspects of the ERP system, according to Blignaut. “We wanted to make sure we had a really robust tracing system, not just so we could meet or appease regulators, but because we really wanted to feel like if something happened, we could go chart it with confidence. , and be able to report that information to anyone who might have been affected,” he says. “I think the way we’ve managed to integrate it, and the way it’s tracked throughout our system, is really helpful.”

Not only did the Icicle ERP have what Blignaut knew he wanted in the system, but it also had a few surprises, including the ability to handle aspects of food safety and hazard analysis and critical control points. (HACCP). “When we started exploring the different offerings, the HACCP component made its way into the conversation,” he says. “At the time, we were in the process of developing a HACCP plan, and when we discovered that we could actually develop the plan directly in our system rather than having two separate elements running simultaneously, it became an attribute that we considered very valuable as well.”

Implementation of the ERP system

Due to facility delays in permits and construction, TMRW had more time than originally planned to fine-tune the details of the ERP system. “One thing that made it more difficult for us was that we weren’t implementing in an existing facility that we had been working in for some time. It was brand new, and we had to mentally visualize a lot of what we thought would happen in space, from past experiences, etc., and then make assumptions,” says Blignaut, adding that the emphasis on the quality and structure of the information from the beginning has helped this situation. “Once you have a really good structure, it’s a lot easier to put in all the following stuff. I’ve found this before with some types of management systems: they’re incredibly robust and very powerful, but if you have chaotic information structures don’t really help.

TMRW also spent a lot of time on the HACCP plan and understanding what it needed and what Icicle could automate. “There were some aspects that we had to do manually and some aspects of Icicle that were pretty well automated,” says Blignaut. “But more than anything, the fact that it could bring it all together and save it in one place and let us make iterative adjustments to it was really helpful, and so the plan went through several updates before even opening the installation.”

Using tablets made it relatively easy for workers to get used to using the Icicle ERP system.Using tablets made it relatively easy for workers to get used to using the Icicle ERP system.Photo courtesy of Icicle TechnologiesOnce the facility opened, TMRW spent a lot of time training its staff — much of the hands-on training in full production, showing team members where they needed to capture data along the way, Blignaut says. Using tablets made it relatively easy for workers to get used to using the ERP system, he adds. “It was just a matter of clearly structuring who is responsible for what, giving people enough understanding of the overall functionality of the system, and then getting them to use it and use it before errors had any consequences. important consequences,” he says.

TMRW made sure entries were added and plotted correctly, pointing out issues along the way to continue raising the bar of their team’s standards. “We have a very high level here, and we wanted to make sure that level was established and nurtured and encouraged, while the team was still small,” Blignaut said.

Remote production previews

Although Blignaut likes to be on the production floor to see what’s going on firsthand, he understands that his workers don’t always want him under their feet. He can also use the ERP system to perform quick checks remotely.

“It allows me to see fairly quickly if everything is going well, if we are meeting expectations in terms of productivity, costs; whether the information is accurate and clean; if all safety checks are carried out, quality assurance checks,” explains Blignaut. “It’s just a good way for me to know that the team is following our process, because the longer term goal is that you can remove anyone from our team, including myself, and our system. would be able to get things done at a reasonable high level of execution, and that foundation that is Icicle is an absolutely essential part of that.

As TMRW evolves, Blignaut expects to use the ERP system less to ensure that people are physically doing what they need to do in the field and more to capture the information needed to production optimization. “I understand the value of having a system that helps a group of people work together and work well without constant micromanagement,” he says.

Looking forward

Blignaut has ideas for how he would like the software to evolve, including incorporating dynamic costing for base ingredients, and he appreciates the feedback loop he has with Icicle Technologies as the vendor thinks things through. what it will include in future iterations.

“Probably what excites me the most, especially once we can build conversion into it, are the dynamic costing features,” says Blignaut.

He does a lot of financial modeling based on assumptions, aiming to break things down as much as possible in order to understand what things cost. “Generally, this will give you a high-level understanding of whether or not you’re on the path to profitability,” he says. “However, with the dynamic costing options, where you can incorporate labor, food cost based on actual purchase orders, ideally any type of trade would eventually be incorporated.”

Blignaut is eager to have all the data he needs to steer the process. “It’s incredibly helpful because it’s wonderful to be able to check your assumptions against what’s actually happening in the field, and against your production, and everything related to it, including waste “, he says.