Linkfresh, a leading global provider of supply chain Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software for the fresh produce industry, is rolling out various new solutions as part of a major expansion of the business into the corporate world of fresh produce. With demand on the up for ERP software, PBUK learns how Linkfresh’s latest Microsoft-based tools can help produce businesses to better control their costs and remain competitive.
This year, Linkfresh – which counts Produce World Group, Total Produce and The Giumarra Companies among its international clients – is launching new releases of its corporate ERP package and mobile solution, as well as a virtual reality service and the ‘LINKFRESH University,’ an online knowledge hub for fresh produce companies.
“Linkfresh is in expansion mode,” confirms tech veteran Andy Makeham, who joined the company as CEO in 2016. “We are madly recruiting in both the UK and the USA as both sides of the business are growing.
“The fresh produce sector is under enormous pressure,” Makeham continues. “Companies need better control systems, so demand is increasing for ERP.”
Today, produce operators the world over require greater efficiency, automation, traceability and compliance in the face of eroding margins, increasing labour costs and a lack of labour availability, coupled with tightening or changing legislation, due to factors such as Brexit.
“Produce businesses need all the technological help they can get, and that’s why Linkfresh exists,” states Makeham. “Our software allows you to identify where you make money, and where you don’t. We’ve had quite a lot of success of late.”
To support its growth, Linkfresh predominantly needs developers and consultants to work with the company in the UK (at its Cambridge headquarters] and in the USA (California).
At the end of July, Lisa Padilla was appointed as Director of Business Development in the USA. Padilla previously worked for California-based cloud and hosting specialist, Zumasys.
The expansion, Makeham explains, is largely the result of Linkfresh developing a “big brother” version of its mainstay Microsoft ERP solution for fresh produce companies, on top of buoyant sales of the firm’s well-established, mid-market solution.
Over the past 20 years, Linkfresh has built up its business around developing the Microsoft Dynamics ERP software for mid-range produce companies, typically with 20-60 users.
Now, the firm has imported Linkfresh to Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations or D365 (previously known as Dynamics AX), which is suitable for produce corporates that require 500-2,000 users at a time.
New corporate solution
“Over the last three years we have invested and developed with Microsoft a new version for the big corporates,” Makeham says.
“Now we have brought a new product to market called LINKFRESH 365. Several major corporates in the fresh produce world have selected this solution. Our new D365 division is kicking off with a vengeance.”
In the past couple of months, Makeham says Linkfresh has received orders from four produce corporates in the UK, the USA, South Africa and Australia. “They are big names and you’ll know them,” he suggests.
Indeed, Westfalia – one of the world’s largest avocado producers with global operations – is confirmed as one of those new customers.
Following an extensive solutions search with specialist ERP consultancy firm iPlan, Westfalia is deploying the Linkfresh 365 system for its farming and fresh produce functionality across a number of countries in which the company operates.
“iPlan worked with our client Westfalia to evaluate a number of solutions in the agricultural sector that can co-exist with their Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP system,” explains Abré Pienaar, Chief Executive Officer of iPlan.
“We considered and worked with several farming and a couple of packhouse solutions; and found LINKFRESH to be the best by far in terms of functionality.
“As for technology, we also found it straightforward and easy to develop an integrated AX+LINKFRESH solution, which we piloted successfully at one of Westfalia’s subsidiaries in a foreign country.”
Makeham says Westfalia went through a comprehensive, four-month ‘proof of concept’ period, during which the software was piloted in Mozambique.
“Westfalia was the first to see it and adopt it,” he reveals. “They need to get production costs down, and have better visibility over their global growing operations.”
Just this month [August], major UK-based fresh produce group Gomez in Canterbury, Kent, also signed up to LINKFRESH 365 to streamline and manage its end-to-end business operations including: procurement, planning, production, inventory, logistics, quality control, finance and sales.
“Our data and processes were fragmented across several different systems with limited interconnectivity, blurring our business performance visibility,” notes Steve Parmenter, CIO at Gomez.
“We had very little business process automation, and we were using manual processes and workarounds, which were prone to error and a drain on our resources.”
Parmenter says LINKFRESH 365 was selected to take advantage of the “rich, industry-specific features and knowledge” incorporated in the solution. “It provides us with a future-proofed solution which will scale and grow to meet the needs of our business both now and into the future.”
Other new mid-range clients that have selected the LINKFRESH ERP platform to manage costs and improve visibility include a large UK fruit grower that operates more than 1,300 acres of orchards and soft fruit in in Kent, and Nu Leaf, a specialist supplier of subtropical fruits and cut flowers to major retailers in South Africa.
Leading the field
Indeed, one of the big attractions of Linkfresh is the company’s fresh produce expertise, added to its partnership with ERP industry leader Microsoft, according to Makeham.
“Microsoft is leading the field,” he claims. “A tectonic shift is going to happen in fresh ERP because Microsoft (with companies such as Linkfresh) is entering the market. Microsoft is putting so much money into ERP that it’s creating a big gap. The smaller, local providers will get left behind.
“The juggernaut [Microsoft] is leaving the station with a future-proofed system that will remain competitive. The world of fresh produce ERP is so dynamic, you have to be on your toes.”
Linkfresh has worked with Microsoft pretty much from day one to develop its software specifically to suit the fresh produce industry.
“Fresh ERP is very different to standard ERP, which always fails when deployed into a fresh produce company,” Makeham comments. “The demands are incredibly complicated. But this is very simple with Linkfresh because of the way we’ve developed our systems over the last 20 years.”
Makeham says fresh produce companies need an agile service and provider such as Linkfresh that can respond to changing market demands.
“We can get new functionality out to customers in a matter of days or weeks,” he states, adding that traditional ERP systems can be “ponderous”.
“When Tesco followed Lidl and Aldi in removing the ‘best before’ dates on fresh produce, all of sudden we had to make a change to our systems to make sure our customers could comply with the retailers.
“Similarly in the USA, Walmart suddenly imposed a 1 per cent tariff on customers wanting to be paid within 10 days or less. You need to build that into your rebate system – customers had to make sure their pricing reflected that.”
To help companies be more efficient, ensure regulatory compliance and improve their bottom line, Linkfresh claims to offer a powerful suite of software that allows users to gather data easily, and to provide clarity from field harvest through shipment to customer – all in real time.
“We spend a lot of time working at the leading edge,” claims Makeham. “We have a road map for the next two to three years, and invest a continual rolling amount of money in innovation. We are also Microsoft’s chosen partner, and they invest about £100 million a year in updates.”
The latest Microsoft-based offerings from Linkfresh include a new mobile solution and a virtual reality tool.
Customers can also embrace Microsoft's Social Listening service, part of the D365 stack, which monitors social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to track users’ sentiment globally.
“The traditional, small, local provider of fresh produce ERP can’t get near to these types of developments,” states Makeham. “The juggernaut is starting to roll.”
The soon-to-be-launched mobile solution enables Linkfresh’s ERP system to work across all devices from laptop to smartphone. In turn, this allows growers in the field or forklift drivers in the packhouse to access and collect data in real-time.
“The whole point of fresh ERP is real-time information,” points out Makeham. “Having our functionality work on mobile devices is key. Now we have a whizzy solution that comes as part of the LINKFRESH stack.
“Very often with mobile solutions, the same code base cannot be used across all devices. With the Microsoft Universal Client, you can operate on any device without the need for customised software. Microsoft has made life easy for us.”
At the company’s forthcoming LINKFRESH Live event in October, the firm will release a virtual reality tool where users can ‘walk around’ their data to make it more readily understandable.
“Our customers asked us for better analysis and visibility of their data,” Makeham reveals. “Microsoft has integrated to a technology called HoloLens, and we can take advantage of that. No other company has done it before, but I think it will benefit all customers.”
Finally, at the end of August, Linkfresh will unveil a new version of its online knowledge hub as the rebranded ‘LINKFRESH University’ to share its intelligence, case studies, white papers, videos and more.
“We’ve been doing fresh ERP for 20 years so we’ve learnt how to do it right,” claims Makeham. “By sharing white papers and how-to guides, we can act as a pathfinder and thought leader.
“Also, customers are spending a lot of time online researching the software they want to buy. We want to attract people to our website during that research phase.”