Common Market

Common Market implemented the Food Connex Cloud food management system, based on the Progress® OpenEdge® application development & SaaS platform. By automating its entire operation, The Common Market has made a significant impact on the local food-to-city problem, growing its business by 200% over six years to serve 200 customers through its work with 100 local farmers. And the company recently launched a new farm-to-work program, which is already serving 1,000 families.

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SS_Common Market

Challenge

To serve more customers and ensure total transparency and traceability across its business, Common Market needed to replace its manual operations with a more sophisticated, automated approach to business management.

Solution

The company selected the Food Connex Cloud food management system, based on the Progress® OpenEdge® application development & SaaS platform.

Result

By automating its entire operation, Common Market has made a significant impact on the local farm-to-city problem, growing its business 20-fold over six years to serve 200 customers through its work with 75 local farmers. And the company recently launched a new farm-to-office program, which is already serving 1,000 families.

Story

Challenge

Most people would choose fresh, nutritious food if it were available to them. But unfortunately for many, that is not an option. Over the years, the gap between the farm and the consumer has continued to widen. The consequences have been particularly hard on cities and the most vulnerable communities.

This farm-to-city problem is what Tatiana Garcia-Granados and her husband, Haile Johnston, set out to overcome six years ago. In 2008, the two founded Common Market in an effort to establish a distribution link between threatened local farms and urban communities lacking access to affordable and healthy, fresh food. Today, the company provides the infrastructure to connect public and private schools, hospitals, universities, grocery stores and workplaces to good food grown by the region’s sustainable farmers. Starting with just a few farms and customers six years ago, Common Market has made a significant impact on the local farm-to-city problem, growing its business by 20-fold over six years to serve 200 customers through its work with 75 local farmers.

A significant factor behind the organization’s sustained growth is the company’s IT infrastructure. In its first year of business, Common Market was able to manage operations manually and by using QuickBooks for their accounting needs. “Working with only a handful of farmers at the time, we were able to keep things straight ourselves,” explains Garcia-Granados. “But as we started to grow and serve more farms, we realized it was going to be impossible to keep that total transparency and traceability that was so core to our mission. As part of our effort to restore that relationship between farmers and consumers, we track the identity of the farm throughout our whole process and then include that information on the labels and invoices. We knew eventually we wouldn’t be able to provide that level of information with our manual processes. We needed a more efficient and automated way to run our business.”

Solution

After reviewing the various options on the market, Common Market chose Philadelphia-based software provider Integrated Management Solutions and it’s Food Connex Cloud Food Management System, based on the Progress® OpenEdge® platform. “We were really excited to support a local business. And they met our three primary requirements,” says Garcia-Granados. “First, they offered a cloud-base solution. We didn’t want to be relegated to sitting in our office. We needed a system that empowered us to be on the farms or with customers, submitting orders and viewing inventory in real time.”

The second key factor was the solution’s ability to support the company’s high standards for transparency and traceability. Common Market maintains a high
level of transparency and accountability at every step in the process, from growing and producing to storage and distribution. “For us that was a mandatory feature; how much information we could actually store and print on the labels and invoices about where the food came from,” says Garcia-Granados.

And third, cost played a significant role in the decision to choose Food Connex Cloud. “Food businesses are very low margin organizations, and so we needed to be conscious of the cost of the solution. We couldn’t implement a technology system that was going to absorb our entire profit margin,” explains Garcia-Granados. “With a cloud-based system there is no hardware or software investment, no ongoing costs associated with maintenance and no need for on-site IT support.” Common Market also appreciated that Food Connex Cloud would easily integrate with their existing QuickBooks accounting system.

Today, Common Market relies on Food Connex Cloud to run their entire operations, from purchasing, pricing, and invoicing to inventory management and real-time sales reporting. Common Market’s goal is to get good food from the farm gate to the wholesale customer as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible via one order, one delivery, and one bill. Food Connex Cloud has made that possible.

Common Market aggregates food in its warehouse and delivers five days a week to its 200 customers throughout the Delaware Valley. Customers order case-load quantities of food from Common Market’s consolidated availability list, representing the full bounty of seasonal food produced in the local region by Common Market’s network of sustainable farmers. Food Connex Cloud tracks all of the activity associated with the company’s sales, inventory and deliveries.

“With Food Connex Cloud, our customers now know exactly where their food is coming from,” says Garcia-Granados.  As Common Market receives product from the farms and fulfills customer orders, Food Connex Cloud tracks all of the vital information. Then using the product’s “brand feature” they are able to automatically include information on the invoice or labels about the individual farms that produced that specific product. “With Food Connex Cloud we are able to maintain our grower’s identity throughout the process of distribution so that our customers know exactly what they are getting and from where. We provide our farmers’ name and location on each case of food, as well as on each invoice so our customers can be confident that they are getting the freshest local produce available.”

Common Market is using the picking labels option in Food Connex Cloud, which makes things easier for both Common Market and its customers. Because the customer’s name is clearly labeled on the product, the drivers and customers no longer have to check product against an invoice during delivery. The invoices themselves are also much cleaner and easier to understand because Food Connex Cloud displays the catch weights and quantities properly, such as by eaches and cases.

Because Common Market serves so many institutional kitchens, like hospitals and schools, they are required to have a third-party food safety audit. The company also conducts mock recalls twice a year. “These are complicated efforts, and without an automated system they would take hours or even days to complete,” explains Garcia-Granados. “But with Food Connex Cloud, it is as simple as running a report. The system creates automatic traceability, which is a critical issue in food safety within our industry.”

Result

Garcia-Granados says implementing Food Connex Cloud has had a dramatic impact on their business and ability to serve the community. “Our sales grew from $100,000 in 2008 to $1,700,000 in 2013.  That’s an average annual growth rate of 57% over six years. It would have been impossible to realize this level of growth without Food Connex Cloud and Progress OpenEdge.”

But for Common Market, it has never been about the money, but the mission. “Food Connex Cloud was such a game changer for us because it allowed us to serve more customers, work with more farmers and support more products,” says Garcia-Granados. “We started with just one-day-a-week delivery and we are now up to five-day-a-week delivery, which means we can support more customers and their diverse needs. That would have been impossible to accomplish manually.”

The ability to automate operations has impacted every level of the organization, says Garcia-Granados. “Now that we can support multiple deliveries per week, we are attracting larger customers which is increasing our sales. In the past it took us all week just to manage the basics for one-day-a-week delivery, including order entry, reporting and inventory management. Now, all of that is taken care of automatically in real time, which gives our staff more time to focus on fulfilling our mission and supporting the needs of our community.”

For example the increased efficiency, productivity and visibility afforded by Food Connex Cloud and Progress OpenEdge have enabled the company to launch new initiatives. Common Market recently unveiled a farm-to-office program and has already partnered with 28 workplaces. “So many employers really want to create a healthier workplace and culture. So we have been partnering with them to figure out how we can make food a part of that conversation. We are already serving about 1,000 families through the program, and it is growing fast,” says Garcia-Granados. Today Common Market is able to manage the farm-to-office initiative with Food Connex Cloud just like any other part of their business.
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