Using Scanner-Based Pack Out to Meet New Consumer Demands

Scanning + Labeling Technology Help H. Brooks Boost Revenue

H. Brooks and Company is an industry leading fresh producer wholesale distributor that provides fresh produce to food service companies, grocery stores, and even mom-and-pop stores that has been redefining freshness for more than a century.

“Now all the pickers have to do in the pack out room is scan one item and the program does the rest… The pickers just input the quantities they made, hit the final button, print the label and it’s done.”

Kathy Schulte, H. Brooks

Measuring the Hidden Costs of Pack Out

“These days we’re doing a lot of what we call tray wraps,” says Kathy Schulte, IT Project Manager at H. Brooks. “This kind of packaged produce is a big thing for companies like the WINCO and Trader Joes of the world—so it’s become a big thing for us.”

H. Brooks needed a way to put together these repacked products in a way that ensures traceability, captures the actual cost of processing, monitors shrinkage, and helps offset pack out labor costs.

“There is no really good way to quality sort or make something in different sizes unless you have pack out,” Schulte says. “In any product we repacked in the past we never got anywhere close to 100% return on our investment because we were never seeing how much was wasted or what hidden expenses we were missing. Like just about every other produce company, we were never seeing accurate costs.”

Templates + Bar Codes Streamline a Previously Unwieldy Process
The pickers take a mobile printer and scanner with them on their pallet jack, and when they get to the product they scan the pallet label, which includes a bar code. The bar code tells the scanner the product number, description and the buyer’s PO number.

The scanner program prompts the operator to enter the quantity being removed. After the quantity is entered, the scanner prints out a label with a scan code on it. The label shows the product number, name and quantity of product that was removed from the warehouse.

“The scanner prints one label for each box of product. The pickers attach the list of labels to one box and proceed to the next. Once the label is scanned, the program looks up the template from the item number.“

“We have a flag in the pack out master table that tells the system that this transaction is template-only and will be copied into an active pack out. The header links the product to a template, using the raw product number listed in first position of the reference. This is the trigger to begin a pack out.”

Intelligent Software Means Less Labor
Schulte says that once H. Brooks implemented the Silver Creek Visual Produce System’s pack out solution, pricing accuracy on anything it ran through pack out went from 20% to nearly 100%. At the same time, the company has seen its labor costs plummet.

“Now all the pickers have to do in the pack out room is scan one item and the program does the rest. When they scan corn, for example, the computer software system knows what the pickers can do with it. On their scanners the pickers can see a list of all the different SKUs they can pack corn into. The pickers just input the quantities they made, hit the final button, print the label and it’s done.”

Previously, Schulte says, someone would have to write the pack out order on paper. Then they would walk the order over to the office, where someone else would have to key it in.  With the new system in place, managing pack out has gone from one full-time employee position to something one person can do in only an hour a day.

H. Brooks and Company has quite a history. Harry Brooks, an enterprising 12-year-old with a horse, a produce cart and $15, founded the company in 1905. More than 100 years later, this Minnesota-based company is an industry leading wholesale distributor providing fresh produce to food service companies, grocery stores, and even mom-and-pop stores. The company has more than 8,000 items in its inventory—3,500 to 4,000 of which are active at any one time. And like many other distributors, H. Brooks is growing its revenue by repacking many of those items to meet the specific needs of specific customers.

But the company was having trouble keeping track of its inventory and cost as product moved through pack out. Silver Creek Software now provides H. Brooks and Company with a very quick way to pull large quantities of raw product, run them through processes that capture the PO, the cost, and the overhead, and then turn them into properly priced and traceable finished products.

An End to Negative Selling
In the past, before H. Brooks starting working with Silver Creek Software, the company used a system that created parent/child relationship. Once the child went negative, the parent would just feed it. In this older approach, Schulte says, the company was always selling negative on the finished product before the pickers would break it up.

For example, when a custom order came in the pickers might stop what they were doing, open up a box of cilantro, count five, put them in a little bag, put it on their cart, and go back to the order they were working on before. “That is such a huge waste of time because you’ve got multiple people at an open container. We would sell those little 5-count cilantros with no inventory on hand, no sense of how much labor it took, or how many supplies were used. Then the next day we’d just fulfill it with an inventory transfer. It was just a mess.”

Using Scanners to Generate Pallet Labels
Schulte and her IT team knew that they wanted a scanner-based pack out solution so that they could use the system without interrupting work flow, and so that the data would be constantly up to date. Similar systems that use scanners to move inventory are usually incorporated into much larger warehouse management systems (WMS), which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Building on its long history in the industry, Silver Creek was able to provide H. Brooks with a powerful scanner-based system for a fraction of the price of a WMS. Schulte explains how the Silver Creek system works:

“Every morning a list of 40 to 60 items is created for the pack out room. Since scanners can scan a code to start a process, we decided to have the pickers create pallet labels when they pick product for the pack out rooms. Then we run the list through a sales order so the pickers have a ticket to pick from.”

Traceability at the Push of a Button
In the event of a product recall, H. Brooks can use Visual Produce to trace any product or repackaged item upstream. The bar code printed from the scanner and attached to the package contains the original PO and what date that product passed through the H. Brooks warehouse.

“What actually gets attached is the pack out number. That number goes on our G10 label so that any product we touch has a G10 label on it, and that G10 label has a pack out number. If we get a recall, we can instantly go back to the pack out number, see that the P.O. from ABC Farm came in in 6/1, and that it was packed into a certain number of corn trays or bagged onions.”

A Smart Solution That Pays for Itself
Generally speaking, Schulte says, H. Brooks and Company’s major benefits from using the Silver Creek pack out solution include savings of both time and movement, and the ability to accurately price repacked products. The net effect is that the company has a much better understanding of its gross profit, and increased efficiency has helped H. Brooks offset the cost of the pack out program itself.

“Our business model is really pretty simple. We package things, they go on a truck that night, and they’re in the grocery store by the next morning. In the past, when that next morning came around we were still doing the paperwork to get the order posted from the day before. Now with Silver Creek everything is pretty much real time and we can move product in and out faster and with better control. That’s good for our customers and great for our bottom line.”

About Silver Creek Software
Silver Creek Software was established in 1983 in Boise, Idaho. Silver Creek Software dedicates its business exclusively to our Visual Produce ERP solutions. Visual Produce is a financial management program that is customizable and designed to address the business needs of fresh produce wholesalers, distributors, packers, shippers, processors, brokers and growers.