Desperate for a Four'n'Twenty meat pie? There'll be an app to help you find the closest shop soon, according to its maker, Patties Foods.
The 44-year-old Victorian-based company, which rose from humble beginnings as a country bakery, is in proof-of-concept stage to port information from its internal stock database onto a web portal for the public. The portal would provide information on local pie shops and retail stores, and their product availability. Searching for any of the manufacturer's products - Four'n'Twenty, Nanna's, Herbert Adams or Creative Gourmet - on a mobile phone could potentially bring up a list of the nearest stores to stock your chosen food.
"We need to go through and do a proof of concept and see if it actually makes sense in doing it," the manufacturer's IT general manager, Zelko Erdec, told Computerworld Australia.
The concept arguably has more traction amongst what Patties Food calls "out-of-home outlets"; small pie shops and corner stores that want to find their nearest distributor and see what stock is available for order at a moment's notice.
However, Erdec has adopted a "build it and they'll come" approach to the concept, believing the project would "empower consumers", and he's not alone. The software provider behind the information database, Quofore, believes the implementation would be a good demonstration of brand loyalty.
"What manufacturers spend a lot of money on is building their brand and connecting with consumers," Quofore Asia Pacific managing director, Angela Lovegrove, said. "If people have a desire for a particular top brand, they'll go out of their way to find it."
Even for Quofore, the potential project is a new concept. For nine years, the company has offered a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform allowing consumer goods manufacturers to monitor brand execution in retail stores. Using data from point of sale, field studies, competitor activity and in-house data, companies can effectively ensure that any promotion and placement agreements are followed through on the retail end.
As Lovegrove puts it, the aim is to get a "get to a perfect shelf for our customer."
Quofore's system, which has been taken up by the likes of Procter&Gamble, Cadbury and Dyson, can be effectively implemented off-the-shelf with few customisations - like Kraft - though also offers a wide range of configuration. According to Lovegrove, 90 per cent of Quofore's clients opt for the SaaS system, in which both the application and data are held on global data centres hosted by Rackspace. Others have opted for on-site hosting, though Lovegrove said this is usually due to existing server arrangements.
Patties Foods is one of those who held off on the cloud-based option, though Erdec said he had no reservations about it.
"I know cloud computing is all the rage at the moment, and we'd be mad not to have a look at it. We're just not sure if it suits us or not at this point of time."
The 500-strong food manufacturer initially deployed the software two years ago to manage distributed assets like pie warmers to the out-of-home outlets. Following its success, it more recently rolled out the operation to cover retail stores as well, monitoring promotional activity and whether stores are out of stock. The database largely relies on information entered manually from the field, with 102 sales representatives using Windows CE-based ruggedised PDAs.
This is fed into the company's on-site SQL Server database, which can be accessed from the web-based Management Suite through either Internet Explorer or Firefox.
Other companies utilise mobile phones or tablet PCs instead of PDAs, which Quofore caters for through a Java-based application available on any J2ME-compliant device. It has considered offering support for the perennial bane and simultaneous saviour of IT, the iPhone, but Lovegrove said the company's actual goal is to become platform agnostic.
Since field work is the most important data flow for the Patties Foods implementation, the company isn't currently taking advantage of Quofore's automated sell-through data from point-of-sale information. Erdec said he was looking at implementing the capability, though Lovegrove said the data could usually provide out-of-stock notifications to companies within 24 hours.
"Most people perceive that retail stores are very good at making sure everything's on the shelf all of the time, that's not always in the case," Lovegrove said.
Instead, Erdec says it's about the human touch.
"It's about being proactive, in a position where you can actually visit the store on a regular basis, you can build up the clientele, the relationship and make sure that stock is available to the consumer."
It's also about ensuring sales representatives meet their key performance indicators (KPIs). But, of course, interest in all of that tends to disappear when you start talking about a tool that lets you find the nearest meat pie.
Coming to a mobile phone near you.