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Special Feature: Computer systems

Tablet features bring seafood businesses in line with new technologies

By Melissa Wood
April 05, 2013

Move over, laptops. Tablets are rapidly taking over. In 2010, there were 13 million tablet users in the United States, and that number rose to 70 million at the end of last year, according to eMarketer. 

In 2015 the number of tablet users is expected to reach 134 million, which means more than half of U.S. Internet users will be using a tablet to access the web.

Even in the seafood world, which may not be as quick to adapt to new technologies as other industries, tablets are pushing laptops out the door.

“We’re finding a lot of companies are abandoning the laptops and going with the iPad,” says Chris Anatra, president of NECS in Madison, Conn. 

NECS produces Entrée, a computer system for wholesale foodservice distributors. The company is planning to launch version 4 of Entrée this spring, and one of the biggest updates is adding new features for tablets.   

“Our tablet applications are really stealing the show for us,” says Anatra. 

He’s found that the little conveniences have made tablets a big draw. Compared to laptops, they’re cheap — Google’s Nexus 7, for instance, starts at $199 — they’re easy and they’re fast, which is especially important to salespeople eager to close a sale without distractions. 

“With the iPad they just basically turn it on, press the button and they’re immediately creating an order,” says Anatra. 

NECS has two tablet applications that can be used with Entrée: The Electronic Warehouse Manager runs on Android tablets and is made to be used internally within a seafood distributor’s warehouse, and the Electronic Order Pad for the iPad is made to be used on the road by distributor sales representatives.

The Electronic Warehouse Manager interacts with multiple processes within the warehouse, like cutting, weighing, picking, printing labels, “basically everything to get the product out the door, and it has receiving abilities as well,” says Anatra. 

“Let’s say [warehouse employees] are weighing product, the weight shows up on the tablet, they approve the weight that comes up, and it also talks to a thermal barcode printer so that they can produce a label that gets put on the box,” says Anatra. At the same time, everything is automatically updated on the company’s server, eliminating the need for a person in the office to do it later.

The company’s other tablet application, the Electronic Order Pad, is currently NECS’ most popular product, he adds. 

“[Distributors] want the sales process to be as fast as possible and at the same time, give the DSR access to as much information as possible so that they can sell more product and be effective when talking to the customer,” says Anatra. 

One special feature of the Order Pad is a gross profit review screen. While some distributors allow their salespeople to tweak prices, this feature uses color-coding so salespeople can see whether those prices fall within desired profit margins. For instance, a company may have the goal of making an 8 percent profit so a price meeting that goal will appear in green. The company may tolerate a margin between 3 and 8 percent, and those prices show up as yellow. Anything below 3 percent will display in red.

“It’s all visual and it makes the owner of the distributor happy because he’s making sure the trucks aren’t leaving and selling at a loss, and the salespeople can see what their commissions are going to be,” says Anatra. 

Tablets’ easy portability also makes them an attractive option for the seafood industry. Those travelling to far-flung destinations don’t have to lug an extra bag for a laptop onto airplanes.

“[With a tablet], they can watch a movie on the plane and they can put the purchase order in when they get to China,” says Tom Spillane, marketing director for Computer Associates in Smithfield, R.I.

At the International Boston Seafood Show last month the company introduced a host of new capabilities to its Seasoft Software, which includes mobility applications, Cloud-based storage solutions and a remote web portal.  

The SeaTrace mobile application provides information found via some eco-labels. Consumers and diners can scan a quick-response (QR) code with their smartphones that shows where the product came from. Those codes can be displayed anywhere seafood is sold, including retail display cases, menus and tabletop displays.

“They can actually see that a swordfish was landed in Gloucester as opposed to coming in from Chile,” says Jim Levy, senior account manager for Seasoft. “It really ties into the buy-local, feel-good thing.”

The company’s clients include Congressional Seafood, a major Mid-Atlantic seafood distributor in Jessup, Md., which is using SeaTrace codes to provide species information, harvest location, fisherman biographies, farm backgrounds and photographs. 

“Recent studies have found that seafood in the United States is often mislabeled and consumers are routinely given little or no information about the seafood they eat,” the company said in a release announcing its use of the QR codes. “Congressional’s new traceability program offers a way to share information about the fish they sell to restaurants and retail stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.”

When it comes to new technology, sometimes it’s the simple things that make the biggest difference. Seasoft has also added a web portal so at the end of the night restaurants can log on and place their orders directly, eliminating the need for leaving a voicemail that can be misunderstood the next day.

Another simple yet practical tool is Seasoft’s signature capture feature, which allows delivery drivers to capture signatures for proof of delivery on any kind of mobile device.    

“More and more of our customers want to use the tools that they’ve already got in the area of mobility. The tools are out there,” says Spillane. 

Email Assistant Editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com


April 2013 - SeaFood Business  

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