Opportunity and challenge often go hand-in-hand — just ask Global Food Solutions. The Hauppage, N.Y.-based food distributor found itself at the crux of enormous opportunity a decade ago when the Obama Administration tightened school food regulations for the first time in a generation.
CEO Michael Levine saw an opening to take Global Food Solutions—then a young regional company looking to make waves with a healthy, sustainable approach to mass food production—to a new level. Levine knew that the big names in the space, companies like General Mills, Kellogg's and Marriott, weren't prepared for the changes that were coming.
"There was this massive demand that was about to hit the marketplace for better nutrition products on a massive scale for the school food service industry," said Levine. "We saw this as a very unique opportunity to capitalize."
So Global Food Solutions pounced. It started adding items to its list of product SKUs, adding school districts, and forming relationships with more distribution partners. Over the next several years, it found itself expanding across the country, and today it provides lunches for more than 5,000 schools, most located in underprivileged urban areas where student lunches are subsidized by the federal government.
Growth Breeds Complexity
But as the company grew, and its business became increasingly complex, its backend systems were not up to the task. It had been relying on a combination of QuickBooks and Excel spreadsheet to manage financials, and Global Food Solutions' growth exposed the limitations of that setup.
"We had these pockets of software that were doing specific tasks in the business for us, but none of them were talking to each other. It was okay when we only had a handful of SKUs and it was one manufacturer and we were only shipping in one state and it was very controlled," Levine said. "But as we expanded our model, we began to push these systems to — actually, not to, but well beyond — a breaking point."
The problems this created were ubiquitous. The company had distribution challenges; it struggled to track inventory; and its workflow from orders to customer service were choppy and disconnected. Levine recalls the company having to put band-aids on multiple areas where the siloed systems couldn't keep up with the business.
"It absolutely was not going to be a sustainable solution by any means," he said. "It was almost kind of running away from us, and we needed to find a way to get a handle on it because we knew that we couldn't scale to the next level and do all of the things we wanted to do without the right software provider and the right services."
The Search for an Answer
Finally, in early 2018, Global Food Solutions began to search for a solution that would help the company bring all of those pieces together. It looked at several options, including a newer QuickBooks Premier product and SAP for Wholesale Distribution Products. Ultimately, however, it turned to NetSuite, not only because of its current capabilities, but the flexibility it would offer going forward.
This was critical, Levine said, because the business was looking at doing some new things. For example, it wanted to create a workflow that would support the assembly of meal kits, which would require multiple components of the business to be tightly integrated. Those kits would be delivered complete and handed out as after school snacks for economically disadvantaged students who might not have other snack options presented to them.
"The NetSuite system was able to do those things with ease," said Levine. "It's built in a way that is ready to expand with us as we get there. The other software companies that we evaluated, they were just not able to do that."
With SuiteSuccess, Global Food Solutions worked closely with NetSuite and had its system deployed and live in 85 days, allowing it to work with the system before the start of the following school year. Levine said the NetSuite Professional Services team made a number of recommendations throughout the implementation process that have really helped the business take full advantage of the technology.
In the short time the company's been on NetSuite, it has already seen significant improvements. The company has cut the time it takes to receive an order, create a PO and confirm with vendors by 75%. For the first time, it has clear visibility into inventory, with data delivered in clear dashboard reports. And because its data is in a single system, Global Food Solutions has cut the time it takes to resolve simple customer inquiries that once took up to 30 minutes to mere seconds.
"It's just amazing how we feel we're able to get so much more time back to focus on growth and creation for our business and not worrying about things being wrong," said Levine.
NetSuite also enables Global Food Solutions to achieve the scale needed to serve so many lunches despite having just 20 employees. The company relies on manufacturing partners for production and for tapping into their buying power to purchase ingredients, and also works with a network of distribution partners.
NetSuite has become the secret ingredient to making Global Food Solutions’ network work together seamlessly. It's integrated with the company's CRM, enabling emails to be easily attached to customer records, and is exploring an integration with Box to bring more data into view.
Far From Done
Much more is on the horizon. The company plans to tap NetSuite's ability to bring automation into its workflow process. It wants to expand upon its demand forecast and planning capabilities, set up auto-generated purchase orders that would maintain stock levels. It also is looking to integrate with NetSuite partner Tesorio, which will help it improve its management of cashflow and receivables.
For now, however, Levine is simply enjoying the contrast between the past experience of running the business on disconnected, stitched together components, and enjoying the integrated, data-rich environment NetSuite has enabled.
Said Levine: "It has been an incredible breath of fresh air."