Posted by Dawn Aldwinckle on August 8th, 2011
Founded in 2005, Natural Balance Foods is already establishing a strong franchise in the UK for its range of healthy cereal bars and flavour-infused raisin snacks in national grocery and healthfood chains. Today, its major Nakd and Trek brands can be found in the wholefoods and fast-expanding ‘free from’ sections of Tesco, Waitrose, Asda and Sainsbury’s, for example, as well as Boots, Holland & Barrett and independent specialist health food outlets.
Yet in successfully meeting this growing demand for healthier products, Natural Balance Foods has had to meet the challenge of managing rapid growth. “As a start-up we initially piggy-backed a custom-built ERP system built for a sister company operating in a very different Internet environment, together with spreadsheets and a financial accounting software solution,” says co-founder, Greg Combs.
However, this came under increasing strain as the business rapidly expanded and it became clear that the company needed an integrated solution which would manage the end-to-end process, from receipt of orders through to delivery and invoicing with minimum manual intervention. Additionally, the replacement system had to enable product full traceability and multiple warehouse inventory reporting..
“In selecting a Lakeview system, we recognised it had the essential flexibility and scalability to meet the current and future demands of our business and our customers,” he confirms. “This has proved without doubt to be the right decision, as we now have the perfect springboard for taking the business on to the next phase of its exciting growth.”
For Natural Balance, the ongoing challenge in maintaining its 100% distribution rate in supplying highly-demanding High Street food retailers was to keep sufficient stock of its products in each of its seven warehouses across the country.
However, the pressure increased substantially when the company was successful in extending its product listing with Tesco Wholefoods section and into the retailer’s ‘Free From’ section, for people with specific food allergies and intolerances. “This meant seven-day delivery and coping with a wide range of volume requirements, which resulted in a ten-fold increase in the number of transactions,” recalls Combs.
Internally too, the existing accounting package needed to be upgraded, in order to meet management demands for weekly sales reporting business, inventory visibility and the ability to close accounts on a monthly basis rather than quarterly.
In seeking a more broadly-based solution, Natural Balance Foods explored a range of options and selected Lakeview as the best-placed to meet the demands of a fast-growing business. In particular, Lakeview’s standard off-the-shelf ERP system for the food industry offered a proven solution from a financially stable company with a strong track record of success in supporting fast-growing businesses.
“As part of our research, we talked to the finance director of another grocery supplier using Lakeview, and experiencing high growth,” says Combs. “We were especially impressed by their favorable feedback regarding the system, and how Lakeview continues to play an essential role in underpinning that company’s ongoing success.”
Natural Balance Foods sources products from a number of different suppliers and Lakeview provides a complete, responsive solution which enables full stock replenishment, including re-ordering fresh produce on a just-in-time basis.
The standard Lakeview solution, which incorporates full product traceability, required little customisation to meet Natural Balance Foods’ needs. “We are a straightforward business requiring simple, reliable management tools,” believes Combs.
“As a result, the Lakeview team only had to tweak the solution for us in two specific areas. First, it had to be able to cope with a flexible purchasing process so, in that volumes can vary from those ordered. And second, the system had to adapt to our way of tracking inventory of individual product and flavour variants.”
In addition to the core Lakeview ERP system, Natural Balance Foods has added two additional functions: the EDI module integrates with the purchasing systems of the company’s major high street customers and the eCommerce module links trading over the web directly to the central ERP system.
Implementation was on-schedule, “with start-up and migration much less painful than we had anticipated,” says Combs. “From day one, all our employees found the system to be exceptionally intuitive and easy to use and we have had no push-back or resistance at all. Just as importantly, the seamless transition was invisible to our customers.”
Previously an order was typically handled between six and seven times by individual staff. With the introduction of the Lakeview system this has been cut dramatically and manual intervention is now only required twice throughout the whole process.
“This has freed up our back-office staff to undertake much more valuable tasks on behalf of the business and our customers,” says Combs.
Work is currently underway to incorporate an iPhone and iPad app, which will allow senior staff and Sales Team to access the Lakeview system remotely when they are travelling.
In working with Lakeview, Combs has been “impressed with the team’s willingness to listen and respond to our company’s challenges and needs, which stands as a best practice example to other companies as to how it should be done.”
Author: Angela Kennedy, Marketing
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