"Itll be like going from a sandbox to the moon," said Patrick Brown, director of purchasing and logistics for the New Iberia, La.-based specialist in hot sauce, canned yams and Mexican food items.
Beyond Bruce Foods, RedPrairie Corp. supplies WMS (warehouse management system), TMS (transportation management system) and RFID software to at least 550 other food makers.
The supply chain vendor also targets HBA (health and beauty aids) manufacturers that sell their wares on retail shelves, said Matt Reinke, business development leader at RedPrairie. Earlier this summer, RedPrairie announced the addition of Unilever to its roster of supply chain customers.
For its part, Bruce Foods claims a long list of retail partners, including Wal-Mart and other giants. Founded in 1928, the company is a longtime ERP user. But Bruces warehouse and transportation management were completely manual up until now.
Brown anticipates major efficiency improvements with the launch of RedPrairies WMS and TMS at company headquarters in August. Over the three subsequent months, Bruce Foods will phase in the software at satellite plants in El Paso, Texas; Wilson, N.C.; and Coteau, La.
For the 2005-06 time frame, the food manufacturer expects to add RedPrairies Igniter RFID to the supply chain software mix.
Yet the companywide deployment at Bruce Foods still faces big challenges. With harvests looming and the holiday season soon to follow, the manufacturer needs to ramp up in time to meet its biggest production crunch of the year.
"RedPrairies main challenge at the moment is to help them get there," Reinke said. "Our guys are over there with them right now."
"The integration issues are huge," Brown acknowledged. The companies are working on integrating an existing IBM AS/400-based ERP system with Windows versions of RedPrairies WMS and TMS software.
As analysts see it, the supply chain implementation at Bruce Foods stands out from the pack due to its extensiveness.
"Its very unusual for a company to implement WMS and TMS both at the same time. It may also be a bit unusual for a [specialty food maker] to be planning an RFID deployment now," said Steve Banker, services director for supply chain at ARC Advisory Group.
"On the other hand, RFID resources are rather thin. There may not be enough RFID solutions providers to go around. Getting a slot in line isnt a bad idea at all," Banker said.
According to a recent report by AMR Research, RFID is now emerging as a major force behind SCE (supply chain execution) spending, particularly in the WMS market.
"Wal-Mart has mandated that its top 100 suppliers support RFID tags on pallets, cases and cartons by January 1, 2005," the report noted. "The Department of Defense also announced its intent to require RFID tags on supplies by January 2005.