From Manual Processes to Paperless Automation: A Case Study with Natural Grocers

Meet Natural Grocers

When the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was introduced in 2011, it became a big motive for food companies to improve their quality assurance procedures to meet upcoming compliance deadlines, one notable example being HACCP requirements. We sat down with Sheryl Grider, QA Manager at Natural Grocers, to find out how they met this challenge. This family-operated business was founded in 1955 on the idea that everyone should have access to healthy food. They currently own over 140 retail stores across the west as well as a distribution center in Golden, Colorado.

Photo Credit: Natural Grocers Facebook

The Food Safety Challenge: FSMA Deadlines

When Sheryl started at Natural Grocers in 2012, there wasn’t an easy system in place for food safety documents: everything was email and paper, including hold and release logs, SOP documents, QA forms, and incident reports. Sheryl knew that these tasks would be made much easier and more efficient with software, so after some online research she presented a number of software solutions to the management of Natural Grocers to show how they could save time with FSMA compliance.

Sheryl found most of the options either not user-friendly, too expensive, or lacking in functionality. One software solution, however, stood out: Icicle, the food production software developed by Icicle Technologies Inc.

“Icicle was the best fit for Natural Grocers both in terms of functionality and pricing. In particular, I was very interested in Icicle’s ability to automatically generate HACCP plans.”

Icicle Generates Automated HACCP Plans

How does Icicle’s automatic HACCP generation work? Icicle builds a virtual model of a company’s operations to manage production that enables automation of several core processes. Once Natural Grocers signed on as an Icicle client, they defined their products in the system and then used Icicle’s smart hazard suggestions feature to associate hazards with each step of the production process. Sheryl then used an intelligent, user-friendly tool to conduct hazard analysis so that she could generate a complete, internationally-compliant HACCP plan that is always ready to go for inspections and audits.

For companies like Natural Grocers that had previously been doing most of the work manually, this came as a huge help. Not only does it save a lot of time, but it simplifies the task significantly. Setting up an automated HACCP plan meant Sheryl could take advantage of Icicle’s many other features, such as incident reporting and inspections.

Photo Credit: Natural Grocers Facebook

Icicle Makes Teamwork Easy

Before using Icicle, the food safety and QA teams at Natural Grocers had to share multiple versions of Word documents via email. Sheryl knew that this was not an efficient way to manage food safety within a team.

“I used to have to send around Word forms for corrective actions around to everybody, but it was hard to get people to complete them. With the task assigning feature, everything is streamlined – no more scanning and sending documents.”

If a deadline passes before the task is completed, a notification alerts Sheryl of the delay.

“We also recently began using the teams feature,” Sheryl told us. “We have a new employee who is dealing with all the work requests for equipment maintenance. With this feature, I can easily assign maintenance tasks to the corresponding team member.” The teams feature allows for the most efficient allocation of resources by assigning tasks to specific team members, meaning it’s useful not only for maintenance management but occupational health and safety, sales, and other areas as well.

Another team-building feature that Sheryl recently started using is the meetings interface, which was added to Icicle in 2017 to comply with GFSI requirements as well as occupational health and safety regulations. She now has the ability to define a meeting, set an agenda, indicate who has been invited, indicate who attended the meeting, and assign tasks. Minutes can also be attached to specific agenda items for easy reference.

Photo Credit: Natural Grocers Facebook

Icicle Supports Third-Party Certifications

Natural Grocers is unique in what they purchase and sell. They reject products containing pesticides or artificial sweeteners, and focus instead on providing high-quality products like grass-fed beef and organic produce. “It’s great that we can add kosher, organic, and other requirements suppliers might have,” Sheryl said.

“We plan to move to be completely non-GMO by 2020 and Icicle’s third-party certification can help us with that.”

Third-party certification fits into the broader supplier or vendor management aspect of Icicle’s infrastructure. Sheryl’s goal is to have Natural Grocers use this feature so that they can better control their supply chain and manage suppliers. “This way, when we plug in a new supplier, they just go through certain checkpoints instead of having to analyze and make the decisions myself. This can help us implement more rigorous controls.”

Looking Ahead: Icicle’s Expanding Features and Exceptional Customer Support

For Sheryl, knowing that Icicle’s roster of features is constantly expanding is a huge bonus. “I hope to implement inventory management to manage equipment and production orders and runs,” she said.

“I know that soon we’ll have more people in the company using Icicle so we can use it to its full potential. The relatively small percentage that we do use is helping me save a lot of time.”

When it comes to understanding all the ways Icicle can help, Sheryl learns new features simply by looking around the application. “I’m getting very comfortable with it and it is very intuitive,” she said. “If I have a question, I just pop over an email. The Icicle team has been incredibly helpful and responsive.”

For other companies, Sheryl recommends Icicle for food production management. “A lot of the benefits of Icicle were unexpected,” she explained. “I didn’t realize it would be so fantastic; if you start with Icicle right off the bat, everything can be tracked from the beginning with everybody on board.”

Photo Credit: Natural Grocers Facebook

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