Buddha Brands Embraces the Philosophy of Supply Chain Integration
Buddha Brands, a provider of plant-based food and beverage products, including Hungry Buddha keto bars and Thirsty Buddha coconut water, has seen tremendous growth during the past decade. To sustain its success, however, the company needed more robust integration between its electronic data interchange (EDI) solution and enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.
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Buddha Brands is a market leader in plant-based, healthful food and beverages, and creator of ThirstyBuddha beverages and HungryBuddhasnacks.
Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania-based TrueCommerce, which offers a unified commerce platform linking customers, suppliers, channels, and systems to help users focus on customer experience and keep pace with omnichannel expectations.
Previously, employees downloaded purchase order information from the EDI solution and then had to key the same data into the company's ERP system.
"It was double data entry and it was not efficient," says Johanne Pilon, supply chain manager with the Montreal-based company. Over time, these inefficiencies could hinder Buddha Brands' growth trajectory.
Many larger retailers expect—or even demand—their suppliers to connect with them through EDI, or the transfer of data from one computer system to another using a standard message formatting. For some companies, however, integrating EDI capabilities with their other financial and operating systems proves difficult. Some implementations only partially succeed.
EDI, in theory, streamlines communications between companies, helping them leverage growth opportunities without having to continually add staff. One hitch? "Although people would suggest EDI is a standard protocol, everybody uses it differently," says Ross Elliott, president of TrueCommerce, which helps companies connect across the supply chain.
He provides an example: The payment term of "net 30" may also be written as "n30" or "net30," among other variations. These small differences can wreak havoc with the automation EDI is trying to achieve.
Transport, Transform, Translate
To compensate for the myriad ways in which different companies can name the same process and to accurately transmit EDI information to the companies using it, three steps often have to occur: transport, transform, and translate.
First, the system must move or transport information between two companies—in this case, Buddha Brands and its customers. Then, it needs to be able to transform the customer's document type to the document type required by the companies' ERP systems. Finally, the system may also need to translate the contents to ensure, as in the above example, that the terms are in a common format.
For several years, Buddha Brands had been working with another EDI vendor to integrate its EDI solution and automate its order entry, invoicing, and related processes. Pilon and her colleagues also wanted to connect through EDI with the company's third-party logistics (3PL) partners so they could more quickly dispatch orders and receive fulfillment.
Their efforts failed to bear fruit. In part, this was because the integration was complex; the resulting solution would need to handle multiple types of taxes as well as recycling and deposit fees, among other charges. In addition, the company "lacked the proper guidance, consultancy, and help through this project to move forward," Pilon says.
Pilon began exploring other EDI providers that had experience with NetSuite, the company's ERP solution. To assess potential partners, she asked them to review a range of costing scenarios and tax calculations and explain how their systems would handle them.
TrueCommerce "always came back to me with a consultant who knew exactly what I was talking about and could make it happen," she says.
Business in Every Direction
"Our catchphrase is 'do business in every direction,'" Elliott says. TrueCommerce, based in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, focuses on connecting companies to more than 100 channels and partners. That includes online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart to leading e-commerce platforms like Shopify and Magento, and dozens of ERP solutions. The goal is a "single-pipe approach," Elliott says, so companies don't need multiple vendors to make connections.
While TrueCommerce works with companies of all sizes, its sweet spot is those with annual revenues of between $10 million and $500 million. Its cloud-based solutions can securely establish connections and pass information back and forth across the web.
Once Buddha Brands and TrueCommerce decided to work together, Pilon set a deadline of three months for the first EDI implementation. It was an ambitious goal, but the two companies were able to convert a warehouse in Langley, British Columbia, from the previous vendor to TrueCommerce on schedule. "The system is fully integrated and working like clockwork," Pilon says.
One key to the implementation's success was comprehensive testing. "We tested every single transaction with every scenario that we could think of," Pilon says, including errors such as shortages and overages.
Now, when a purchase order comes in, Buddha Brands verifies its accuracy and approves it. Then it's automatically acknowledged and dispatched to the warehouse. Once the order has shipped, the warehouse sends Pilon's department the bill of lading or shipment documents, which are populated with order shipping information, such as lot number and quantity. The order shifts to an item fulfillment or shipment document, with an advance shipment notice automatically issued to the customer. After that, the customer is invoiced.
In addition, Buddha Brands receives credit and remittance advice and forecasts from some customers. "It's all touchless," Pilon says.
The Gift of Time
The automation saves time. "Since most of our major customers use EDI, orders and all related documents come in automatically and we don't spend any more time keying in orders or doing long and manual advance ship notices," Pilon says.
This shift has boosted morale, as employees no longer spend their days re-keying information, but can concentrate on communicating with customers and the company's warehouses, and conducting analyses.
"The value-added work, not the data entry, is what stimulates my teammates," Pilon says. "I have a happier team and one that works to service the customer rather than punch data."
The instructional approach TrueCommerce consultants take has also been key to the solution's success. For instance, TrueCommerce showed Pilon and her colleagues how the EDI database works, enabling them to incorporate future changes in pricing or taxes without having to engage a third party.
"You become a lot more independent and a lot more knowledgeable about the technology that you're using," Pilon says.
Pilon adds that Buddha Brand's partnership with Amazon would not have been possible without a solid EDI integration that reduces data entry. Absent an effective EDI integration, Buddha Brands likely would have had to expand its workforce to manually process the orders.
Buddha Brands is now able to manage these orders by exception within its NetSuite ERP solution. The EDI solution runs more or less on its own and in the background.
"Amazon produces an order and Buddha Brands sees it in their NetSuite order inquiry," Elliott says. "We do everything in the middle."
Incoming orders are instantly visible in NetSuite, facilitating shipping and planning. The automated work processes also reduce errors, providing more opportunity for value-added work.
Another feature, the TrueCommerce Scheduler, automates the import and export of EDI transactions at prearranged times. For instance, it can be set to pull documents from NetSuite and send them to a 3PL or customer at scheduled intervals, freeing Buddha Brands employees from having to take time to complete these jobs manually.
Buddha Brands has also been able to cut some external order processing fees. Previously, some customers would issue fines if the company couldn't confirm orders within 24 hours. Now, many of these fees have been eliminated because many orders, along with supporting documentation, enter the systems automatically. Employees no longer need to key in orders to complete manual and lengthy advance shipping notices.
Just as important, when Buddha Brands adds a customer that requires EDI capabilities, Pilon and her team can be confident that meeting this requirement won't strain the order processing and logistics functions. This is key, given the pace at which Buddha Brands launches products and signs new customers.
Buddha Brands plans to convert two other warehouses in California and Toronto to the TrueCommerce solution. Both of those schedules have slowed because of the pandemic, Pilon says.
Worth The Effort
Pilon notes that many companies postpone changing their EDI solutions, concerned about the upheaval it will likely cause. Instead, they make do with systems that only sort-of work. That strategy can become an obstacle to effectively leveraging growth opportunities.
While switching EDI partners often imposes some temporary pain and extra work, it's usually easier to tackle this initiative while a company is smaller.
"The bigger the project implementation, the harder it is to switch suppliers," Pilon says. "Cut the ties and go for a supplier that you know will bring you to the finish line." Not only does this help support the organization's success and growth, but employees will be happier and more productive.
"I can't imagine going back to the way things were before," Pilon says. "I now rely on how easily the information flows through to our customers and our warehouses."