RESEARCH & RESOURCES

CASE STUDY - Keeping Information Fresh at Utz Quality Foods

Commentary by J. Ed Smith, Chief Information Director, Utz Quality Foods, Inc.

Utz is a national player in the consumer packaged goods industry. The company services large retail customers, such as Sam’s Club and Costco, as well as major supermarket chains. It produces and delivers more than 20,000 pounds of potato chips every hour and manages more than 700 delivery routes to 30,000 stores.

To coordinate this massive operation, Utz Quality Foods uses portable business intelligence (BI) and data integration technology to streamline sales, marketing, production, and distribution activities.

A New Recipe for Success

The company’s route salespeople collect data using handheld devices. They have about 50 transactions available in a portable information system, which includes buying back product that is no longer fresh and selling new product into the store.

Pertinent information is recorded in the handhelds as the route salespeople make their rounds. Upon returning to their local distribution centers, the salespeople simply dock the portable handheld computers; then, through various telecommunication methods, the data is uploaded to a DB2 database on an IBM iSeries 520 computer.

The database is updated daily with current inventory and demand information from all of the salespeople. Each night, the company processes the information in batches. A separate application sorts and massages the data into meaningful tables that are structured for efficient hierarchical reporting. Fresh information is available each morning for reporting and analysis via a BI environment called UtzFOCUS, built with Information Builders’ WebFOCUS BI software.

Spicing Up Sales

Using UtzFOCUS, managers can quickly gather and analyze current sales and distribution information. For example, a regional manager can see if a store has not been properly serviced, then find the source of the problem, and correct it quickly. The system also delivers daily sales breakdowns— product-by-product and store-by-store—in a form that is easy for busy salespeople to digest. Users can determine how much of a certain product is selling on any given day, how much was sold into a particular store or chain, at what price, and in response to which strategic promotion.

Putting real-time information into the hands of the people who need it most is an important part of the operation. Decision makers at the company look at sales information every day to get a current view of demand, not just at month’s end to analyze sales. Regional and district managers use the reports to make daily decisions about inventory and sales. For example, often they compare the previous week’s sales results to the sales from the same week a year earlier, drilling down to isolate areas of interest. UtzFOCUS enables the company to root out problems such as lagging sales in a particular region or store. All of the information is accessible via standard Web browsers.

A Taste of Things to Come

The company has proven that it can synchronize supply and demand by quickly exchanging information between headquarters and the field. Currently, it’s exploring ways to tie daily production more closely to sales in order to minimize reserves of bags, shipping containers, and other supplies—and thus allow the factories to maintain just enough inventory for current needs.

Utz Quality Foods is also discovering ways to deliver portable analytics to the sales team using a technology called WebFOCUS Active Reports, which will allow salespeople to manipulate the DB2 data offline. Instead of simply receiving standard reports from the daily sales data, users will be able to interact with the data to make decisions on the spot.

Thanks to this system, the company is growing faster than any of its competitors in its core markets and products. The BI environment and associated data integration tools continue to increase the effectiveness of sales promotions and to improve customer relationships.

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