The global supply chain crisis has made things interesting for food producers that rely on a wide variety of ingredients to make their products.
In turn, it’s complicated the job of software specialists like Hopkinton, Mass.-based Jera Concepts, that specialize in helping producers streamline their recipe management procedures and making sure that labels on foods list the correct ingredients.
“A lot of ingredients have been unavailable, so they’re having to substitute new ingredients all the time,” said Wynne Barrett, a partner in Jera. “And at least theoretically, you’re supposed to update labels every time there’s a substitution.”
It’s been a common problem, for instance, for premade sandwiches, one of the standard prepared-food items whose recipes Jera’s software helps its commissary, retail and other commissaries manage. But it’s also true for a host of other foods, including bakery items. In February, for instance, there was an issue with producers not being able to source enough powdered sugar.
Also packaging of prepared and other foods: some of Jera’s clients, for instance, had trouble in early ’22 finding enough glass to hold certain items. It’s hard to know what will be short, when, and to discern any rhyme or reason in the shortages.
“It’s funny out there right now, the things people are having trouble sourcing,” Barrett said.
Labor shortages have also played a huge role in the problems many suppliers are having with not only producing foods but also making sure that recipes are managed properly.
“Companies are hiring people they may not have used in the past, and you hear complaints from customers about people not building recipes correctly,” Barrett said. “You would never think recipes could be affected by labor, but they have been.”
To save labor and streamline operations further, some producers of prepared foods are now buying kits of food, Barrett said, where the ingredients of a sandwich arrive at their destination pre-assembled for them, and all that needs to be done at the commissary or store level is adding bread.
Companies are also taking a close look at their product rosters, simplifying their offerings as much as possible to limit the problems associated with trying to source a wide variety of ingredients at a time when sourcing can be so difficult for many items.
Fortunately for its customer base, Jera has retooled its platform to help deal with these problems. The company has added a more interactive platform for store employees, with the goal of trying to remove the decision-making process from employees as much as possible.
“In the past, people were able to make better decisions,” he said. “Now, it’s about trying to provide strict instructions about what to make, when to make it, and digesting more information from their POs and kiosk systems to make it easier.”
With its software upgrades, Jera is now able to offer customers the ability to do more just-in-time prep of their fresh ingredients for prepared and other foods, and to better and more quickly take information from their kitchen management systems (KMS) to create better prep lists and more easily add or subtract modifiers and other ingredient substitutes.
Food industry clients were getting better at adopting new technologies before COVID, Barrett said. Since then, the process has accelerated exponentially.
“What’s helping is the willingness of our customers to integrate their systems and to be more flexible in searching for answers to their problems,” he said. “Technology is being better received.”
Food producers and their retail and commissary partners are using technology more to gain transparency, he added — into product costing, checklists, store-side execution, you name it.
For commissaries, Jera will soon offer a tablet-based system for employees that provides real-time recording of when products are being made, how long it takes to make them and other crucial information.
“It provides a real-time, event-based analysis, where events can be interpreted against the plan to provide updates on how far along production is,” Barrett said.
One main advantage of the system, which Jera expects to roll out at the end of the second quarter, is that it’s paperless. It’s not only more accurate, it also saves on huge paper bills, Barrett said. The initial investment of about $300 per tablet and $40 for a tablet cover is well worth it. And Barrett is currently testing a tablet cover that can be attached to the rack a commissary employee is working on.
DayMark brings MenuPilot to iPads
MenuPilot, the flagship application of DayMark Safety Systems’ MenuCommand kitchen automation platform, is now available on iOS for iPads.
With the MenuPilot app, operators can now use their iPad to organize, monitor, and modify shelf life, nutritional facts, allergen information, and prep data virtually anytime and anywhere, according to DayMark.
“The really great news is that many food service operations already use iPads in their kitchens,” said Jill Carte, director of product development for DayMark. “The availability of iOS for iPads will allow the use of MenuPilot without having to purchase new tablets.”
Data collected from the application can be managed on a monitoring web platform using the iPad – or using an Android tablet or PC. Operators have shown a preference for Apple iPads due to their easy-to-learn interface, layers of security to protect against viruses, and seamless integration between hardware and software.
The MenuPilot application, coupled with streamlined corporate management of menu data via the MenuCommand web portal, reduces dependence on hardware and increases emphasis on platform, according to DayMark. Together, these tools facilitate the centralized management and communication of critical menu data and training materials to foodservice operations.
“DayMark also delivers companion hardware with the Matt85 and Matt77 direct thermal label printers, facilitating on-demand production of shelf-life, food rotation and complex grab & go product labeling,” Carte said. “With access from any internet connection, data changes can be communicated immediately to staff anywhere.”
The iOS platform for the iPad provides real-time training opportunities to directors and employees through the cloud. Training materials such as videos and recipes can be viewed at any time from any location.
“What makes it even more appealing is that the user experience for iOS is int