Gaia Herbs boosts consumer confidence with supply chain transparency and traceability
- Jason Phillips of Gaia Herbs shares how integrating IFS Cloud has helped to streamline production, provide support to customers and staff while prioritizing sustainability and quality.
For over 30 years, Gaia Herbs has been a leading herbal brand in North America committed to creating the highest-quality health and wellness products. Offering more than 200 herbal products, the company sources herbs and ingredients from herbal farms around the world, including from its own Certified Organic farm nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. Whatever our source, we are proud to nurture our products from seed to shelf, operating under ethical principles and with a strong sustainability and social impact ethos.
With a wide and varied portfolio, and a large customer roster, our business manages a complex and ever-changing order book. A recent upgrade to our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software plays a central part in the smooth running of the company and takes a role in helping us minimize our carbon footprint and operate in a climate change aware way.
Streamlining the business in challenging times
Like many businesses, we have had to address supply chain issues which have the potential to negatively affect order fulfilment. Demand trends for our products during the pandemic have been volatile and unexpected. Early on, concern for immune health was acute and demand was high. Then, later, as people were wearing face masks and socially distancing, the peak of the usual cold and flu season didn't fully materialize and demand for immune support products was diminished. This had a dramatic effect on what is usually a very busy period.
Having a single ERP system in place could not have happened at a more important time, as it provides a very detailed, granular picture of both sales and demand forecasting. It helps us answer questions such as, "What do we need to look at in our product line? Where do we need to focus our innovation?" Innovation is a key component right now, and it's where we'll leverage customer feedback to define where we go next with our products. We can make instant decisions, look at the impacts of supply chain shortages and what we need using material requirement planning and master scheduling. We weren't able to do this previously with Excel wizards.
While dealing with all this disruption, Gaia Herbs needed to remain financially sustainable and ensure maximum efficiencies. There have been some very visible, very significant gains in productivity as a result of the move to the IFS ERP system, including a 25% reduction in time spent in month-on-month financial closure and a reduction of between 80 and 100 hours a week in manual work populating the company's end-user focused Meet Your Herbs web portal. Meet Your Herbs is the name for Gaia Herbs' industry-leading and complex traceability program, established to provide complete ingredient transparency to our customers. Through this program, consumers can enter the ID number located on the back of any Gaia Herbs product to learn where the ingredients came from; how the herbs were grown, harvested, and extracted; and the tests the product(s) underwent to validate purity, integrity, and potency.
Additionally, our new software systems allowed us to quickly add additional streams of revenue to the business too. Our previous business model was to sell to wholesalers. Last year, responding rapidly to the big shifts in consumer behavior due to the pandemic, we moved our website and direct to consumer business in house, and now utilize web services to get our orders from our Shopify platform into the ERP system, which we use to fulfill them.
But it's not just about the bottom line for us. The company has a very strong sustainability ethic. Gaia Herbs implements sustainable practices on our farm and is committed to regenerative farming. This ethic runs through everything we do. With this new technology, the company now has the ability to understand the sustainability factors in, for example components used and printing. The tiniest details cumulate to minimize environmental impact and help Gaia Herbs be mindful of our carbon footprint and help to improve conservation efforts and sustainability practices throughout the whole business.
One area where we have automated previously time-consuming manual processes is in compliance, especially with our work with the Bureau of Tobacco and Alcohol. We use alcohol-based ingredients to run our processes so everything is chemical-free and safe for human consumption. We file our recipes with the Bureau of Tobacco and Alcohol and get rebates for not using that alcohol as alcohol. We've been able to do some pretty complex things in terms of tax calculations, alcohol usage and alcohol recovery within our system. With the IFS system, we have access to that data and have negated manual data work.
A focus on customers and on the team
In all of this, of course, Gaia Herbs exists to serve our customers and build brand loyalty. The importance of meeting customer expectations is paramount, and they are higher than ever, as the focus on health and well-being has become even more important. This doesn't always mean doing things as quickly as possible.
An important example of this revealed itself in our dispatch process. At one point our customer service team requested the ability to leave a time gap between customer orders being placed and actual dispatch, to allow time for potential customer changes. To achieve this, we added some custom code which effectively created a countdown system that gives the customer service team enough time to handle order changes. This level of attention to detail shows a true customer-centric approach in action.
Another area where we've been able to improve the customer and employee experience is in payment processing. In the past, the customer service team used a third-party application to process credit card payments. Now we are integrating the whole process within the ERP system, which is faster and easier for the in-house team, and inevitably that speed gain is passed straight to the customer.
Service is also an important factor when considering the staff. The visibility across the whole organisation that's been provided by ERP means people can see that every action they take has an impact on another group, and that the whole organization is, in effect, an ecosystem. This is good in terms of creating a sense of belonging, and the expectation is that it will lead to a better method of identifying which processes are ideal for automating going forward.
One of the things that we faced as a business, like many others during the pandemic, is staff turnover and labor shortage. So, improvements in people's ability to use systems without resorting to technical support has been very welcome. New, streamlined and more accessible systems have led to a reduction of about 40% in helpdesk tickets. This has freed up our technical teams to focus on other projects such as the discounting mechanics and payment processing options.
Incremental changes across the whole business
What I most appreciate about IFS Cloud is that it is ‘evergreen'. Twice-yearly updates mean that we will always have access to the very latest software versions, and can avoid the distraction, cost, and complexity of major upgrades. This simplifies budgeting and planning – but also means we can avoid interrupting our broader business and technology objectives.
Right now, for example, there are plans to implement machine learning to help with machinery maintenance and with efficiency gains. The products we make are highly variable, and batch processes are used. When there is a glitch, the IFS system is helpful to understand why, so this way issues can be rectified and moving forward the formulas that make up a product will be perfect every time. Also, we work with liquids frequently, and measuring out accurate dosages is really important. Using Internet of Things implementations alongside machine learning may also really help in these areas.
We are also excited about the new sustainability module that will be coming soon. As a Certified B Corporation, we are committed to using business as a force for good, so protecting the health of our planet is something we're always concerned about and looking for ways to make continual improvement.
We have found that ERP is a good fit across all aspects of the business, helping to streamline production, order fulfilment and financial systems, better support staff, fine-tuning the production line and working within environmental and climate change aware ethics. Two years into an organization wide ERP implementation, a lot of progress has been made and we look forward to discovering new ways that this system will continue to provide positive contributions.