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Implementing Success: Q&A With Produce Pro Software's Dave Donat

Since its inception in 1990, Produce Pro Software has made it the company’s mission to propel produce forward. Pairing a commanding understanding of the perishables industry with software savvy, Produce Pro Software has worked to create, support, and sell a truly all-in-one ERP software.

From wholesalers, distributors, and foodservice providers to the grower/packer/shipper segment, Produce Pro Software offers expert service and customizable solutions to some of the industry’s most well-respected clients.

Through its nearly three-decade-long history, Dave Donat, President of Produce Pro Software, has been one of the company’s driving forces. Among the chief architects of the Produce Pro system, Donat has spent almost three decades servicing produce providers and meeting the needs of fresh food professionals where they live. I asked Dave to shed some light on the company’s services, the qualities that make Produce Pro Software unique, and the ways in which the company is primed to provide next-level solutions to its customers now and in the future.

Robert Schaulis: Why has Produce Pro Software found so much success as a solution provider for wholesalers, distributors, and foodservice companies?

Dave Donat: This is primarily because of our deep knowledge of the industry. We are truly experts in our field. When it comes time to implement a new customer, we, of course, have the full-featured Produce Pro software. But, we also have experienced consultants who are ready to assist customers in using the software to its fullest potential. We have seen various different types of operations over the years. We know what works and what doesn't. Plus, we can offer counsel on best practices in the industry.

RS: How can the grower/packer/shipper community take advantage of the strengths of Produce Pro Software’s various business solutions?

DD: What we have seen is that the needs of the grower/packer/shipper community have really started to overlap with the needs of distributors and wholesalers. The core challenges always revolve around real-time inventory, customer service, and just-in-time delivery. The produce industry is fast-paced, no matter what part of the supply chain you are in. Over the years, we have serviced customers throughout the fresh supply chain, creating functionality to help at every step. We pride ourselves on being able to have an answer for every business process our customers throw at us. Produce Pro software ought to "handle it" with ease, and we believe it does.

RS: Why is Produce Pro Software uniquely suited to addressing the needs of the grower/packer/shipper?

DD: We are uniquely suited to the grower/packer/shipper community because we understand their business case. Farming is made up of ever-changing variables. Our software is designed to handle all of the functions in their world. This includes everything from acreage, labor costs, crop types, materials, equipment, spraying schedules, harvesting, and individual plantings. The more you can track these variables, the better you can manage an operation, from the field through distribution.

RS: Can you briefly walk me through what implementing Produce Pro Software’s ERP software would entail for that particular segment?

DD: Our team is dedicated to making sure our customers are satisfied with every phase of our relationship, starting with implementation. We pride ourselves on our implementation process and break it down into three segments: before, during, and after implementation.

First, we take the time to learn every facet of their business—enabling us to recommend and design robust, stable hardware solutions, with the end goals of maximized uptime, stability, high-performance, and reliable backups. During implementation, we are always accessible and assign a team of implementation specialists to work closely with each company and oversee the entire process. Our software deployment experts make sure our software aligns with each unique business operation—especially considering the specific nuances of the grower/packer/shipper operation.

We also train staff members with proven methods to help them effectively learn and use the software every day. After implementation, this support continues with access to our expert support team at any time. It’s all designed to enhance each individual operation and ensure that the final transition runs smoothly to ensure success.

“Produce Pro doesn’t just serve the perishables industry; we live it. In fact, many of our employees have spent decades in the produce business. That gives us a true insider’s perspective, and it’s something you won’t find at most software companies.”

—Dave Donat, President, Produce Pro Software

RS: How would you describe the value proposition of Produce Pro Software’s ERP solutions to, say, a grower who was skeptical of changes to his or her operation?

DD: Produce Pro is an all-in-one software solution. The software has been built with and for our 200+ customers. Produce Pro solutions are driven by our customers. We always listen to their recommendations and strive to meet their changing needs. We not only handle all facets of distribution but also work done in the field handling farm tasks, sprays, blocks, and other facets of the grower operation. Packers utilize our solution to gain efficiencies allowing visibility into true costs. But, our value is not just in our software. Our people are what sets us apart from our competitors. Our staff is unique in that they have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge across all markets. They, in turn, bring that knowledge back to the customer.

Produce Pro doesn’t just serve the perishables industry; we live it. In fact, many of our employees have spent decades in the produce business. That gives us a true insider’s perspective, and it’s something you won’t find at most software companies.

RS: What sorts of barriers to entry—real or imagined—might grower/packer/shippers struggle with when implementing ERP solutions? How does Produce Pro Software break down or ameliorate those issues?

DD: One of the biggest barriers to entry is simply change management. Whether it be individuals, managers, or entire companies, in one way or another, everyone is inherently resistant to change.

If a company is implementing a new ERP, they clearly had some good reasons to do so. They should have a vision as to why they made this move. The key is communicating these reasons to the entire company, to get everyone on board with how the new ERP will make their jobs easier, how it will get them better information, and how everyone will be able to communicate more efficiently within the entire company. Having everyone on board, rowing in the same direction, will make the implementation process and adoption much smoother.

RS: Tell me a little bit about the user interface for Produce Pro Software: How does the interface make what I imagine are often very complicated data sets and processes manageable and digestible?

DD: This is what we hear from our customers: They want the system to be intuitive; they want it to be simple, and, they want it to be fast. We take those parameters to heart. You can have a great system, but if it is not easy for day-to-day users to interact with, you are going to get into trouble.

So, for starters, we take great pains to make sure the Data Entry portion of the system is fast, with minimal keystrokes to get the job done, while still getting all the information entered that will be needed down the line. Then, when it comes to inquiries and reports, we want things organized and easy. Users need to be able to quickly drill down to the information they want. We listen to our customers. We find out, ‘What kinds of information do you want to know?’ But also ‘Where in the system is the best place to see this?’ and ‘What functions go best together?’ We don't want people jumping in and out of screens for things they need to look at constantly. Ultimately, the user experience is just as critical as having solid data.

When it comes to reports, we want this area to be as self-service as possible. Produce Pro has over 200 different reports in the core system. Each one of them can be filtered and sorted in a myriad of ways. You can select what data columns to see on your report. And, all of this can be done by the customers themselves. Our goal is that we want the core reporting of Produce Pro to contain everything a customer needs to run their business, without needing to manipulate the data further outside the system.

“This is what we hear from our customers: They want the system to be intuitive; they want it to be simple, and they want it to be fast.”

RS: Are there any particular success stories that you can share with me in which a grower, packer, or shipper has achieved extraordinary results with Produce Pro Software’s services?

DD: Produce Pro can provide a full 360-degree view of the grower operation. By utilizing Produce Pro, they can streamline manual processes and eliminate spreadsheets all while giving true visibility into their operations. Reducing time spent on entering data can increase profitability across the board. Traceability has been a key factor—especially now. Produce Pro can help achieve traceability down to the case. Grower settlements have been a pain point and a complicated process for growers. Through reporting, Produce Pro can provide a better understanding of profits and losses and where dollars go in order to optimize profits season after season.

RS: Food safety has been a hot button issue of late, with the CDC issuing strident warnings on romaine lettuce late last year; how can Produce Pro Software help companies improve food safety programs and ensure traceability throughout the supply chain?

DD: First off, our real-time, pallet-based inventory system is designed specifically for full traceability. Our customers know what happens to each and every box that goes through their facility. No matter how many times you pack it, repack it, transfer it, or sell it, Produce Pro will give you full accountability of your inventory.

Food safety, specifically with regard to recalls, has indeed been a popular topic. To that end, we have built a Recall system into Produce Pro. Our Recall Entry screen gives our customers complete visibility into everything that has happened to recalled product along with the customers who received it. But, it doesn't stop there. We have also created a workflow for you to record all contact and communication made to customers, easily record who was called, what they said, enter a credit if needed, etc., all within the system.

This recall functionality was designed in partnership with our customers to really represent everything that happens in a true recall and provide all the information they need at their fingertips. It makes what can be a stressful situation much more organized and manageable.

RS: What's next for Produce Pro Software? Are there any recent or forthcoming developments in the works for Produce Pro Software that you can tell me about?

DD: Produce Pro looks forward to leveraging and enhancing the functionality and flexibility of the software to address the ever-changing needs of our customers and evolution of the industry.

Nearly 30 years into its endeavors, Produce Pro Software is still striving to be the best partner possible and to help its partners provide the safest, freshest products from farm to fork. With end-to-end solutions that include sales order entry, purchasing, manufacturing, inventory management, routing and logistics, accounting, E-commerce, EDI, document imaging, analytics, and warehouse management, Produce Pro Software might not be the first thing you think of when you think of farming, but they provide indispensable support in an increasingly complicated world and ensure that a simple, fresh, and healthy meal is never outside of possibility for the modern consumer.