We called up Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager at P&S Frozen Foods, to see how their food safety journey was going and how Icicle was empowering them to thrive after being acquired. What we discovered was impressive – among other things, the facility had dramatically reduced their inspection times more than even we would have expected.
Meet P&S Frozen Foods
P&S Frozen Foods started as a family-owned business in Kelowna, British Columbia over three decades ago. Their mission was to blend Hungarian-style pastry with British-style sausage rolls and turn it into a frozen product that could be finished at home. The product became a huge success.
“What we do is we take a very difficult product to make at home and we do the hard part; all the customer has to do is put it in their oven and take all the glory.”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
With their own production facility, they were able to branch out into other products and developed a brand with a wildly loyal following. Their food was so good that every now and then they still get calls from customers asking about their favorite products, even those that were discontinued decades ago.
In 2016, P&S Frozen Foods was acquired by two companies that needed a facility to produce Asian-inspired comfort foods, like potstickers and wontons, and it has turned out to be a great collaboration. The company is now growing faster than ever, expanding into new product categories, and thriving as a business. But the acquisition wouldn’t have even been possible if Paul hadn’t been proactive about food safety back in 2012.
The Challenge: 90 Minutes With An Inspector Every Single Day
Times were changing for food safety, but most companies were – and are – still working on paper. As Paul noted, “We will kill a whole forest to check the temperature of a freezer every day.” But these changes don’t always come easy; it is necessary to make the fundamental shift to trusting the right software to do the work.
There was also the issue of the dollars and cents; big customers like Sobey’s, the second largest food retailer in Canada, require their suppliers to have higher levels of food safety and quality through third-party certifications like SQF. Paul attended an SQF training program, but by the time it was over, he realized there was no way he could get certified on his own. He was far too bogged down by other business and food safety responsibilities, including 90 minutes daily with a federal inspector from the CFIA. He knew the way forward was to digitize his food safety processes. His pen and paper systems were just too inefficient. They were the roadblock to growth.
“We literally wrote down lot codes on one piece of paper. And when we put it into production it was put on three pieces of paper and they had to somehow balance out. It’s shocking how much we had to do just to make an invoice.”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
He needed digital backups, he needed better lot code tracking, he needed to get away from the inefficient spreadsheets – and he had no starting point in the current paradigm of the business. Paul knew there had to be some sort of software that could empower him to finally get on top of food safety and recordkeeping in general, so he started looking.
Research brought Paul to a few software solutions online. He downloaded a couple and tried setting things up for a few days. It was a struggle – there were no guides, no customer support, no information at all. And then Paul realized why: the software he was trying to use were just glorified Word processors. They weren’t really all that different from what he was already doing, and they weren’t capable of empowering Paul in the ways he most needed.
So Paul did what most did back in 2011. He went back to his own spreadsheets, disappointed. Thankfully, Gerry Gerbasi, a food safety consultant working with P&S, had another idea.
The Best Solution is Always in the Last Place You Look: How Paul Found Icicle Food Production Software
Gerry referred Paul to Icicle. As a new company, Icicle was in beta testing at the time and focused mainly on food safety elements like automated HACCP plans, but that was just the thing Paul had been looking for. More specifically, Paul was looking for a food manufacturing solution that was built to put not sales or accounting but food safety first.
“The industry is demanding more from food companies and we used Icicle to get there.”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
We worked with Paul to bring P&S Frozen Foods’ food safety plans into Icicle, systemize inventory management, and train their staff. In just a few weeks, P&S was running a cloud-based, connected system that would make audits and food safety easier than they could have ever imagined with old school spreadsheets.
When Paul first started using Icicle in the very first stages of development, he had it set up to generate HACCP plans and prepare for audits and inspections but didn’t use it day-to-day. Since then, the software has grown immensely through the feedback of valuable beta users like Paul. Today, the staff at P&S Frozen Foods use Icicle all day and every day, Paul told us. The company now has not only food safety, but a complete warehouse management solution that they dreamed of – and more.
At Paul’s request, we added features to meet the needs of P&S over the years:
- Adjusted For Compliance: CFIA wanted establishments to identify exact physical locations on the plant for where cross-contamination hazard could occur. When Paul realized Icicle didn’t have this ability yet (no one did), we built the functionality needed in under 48 hours.
- Automated Inventory Reports: With inventory managed in Icicle, we were able to automate report creation for Paul. This saved him hours of time each week and helped him optimize raw ingredient ordering.
- Inventory Unit Conversions: Previously, the shipper or receiver had to constantly convert from kilos to pounds, etc. Icicle now converts inventory units automatically so that P&S’s staff doesn’t have to devote brain power to what computers do better – automation.
- Purchase Orders and Receiving: When P&S Frozen Foods’ new owners asked for purchase orders and shipping receipts that had previously been unnecessary, Icicle was able to roll out this new feature quickly so Paul could improve his traceability systems even further. During the work with Icicle creator Steve Burton, Paul wondered…why don’t we integrate shipping and receiving logs so that Icicle can just populate the information without manual transcription? This was a great suggestion and that’s how Paul’s suggestion formed the basis for a whole series of convenient new, interconnected features in Icicle.
“In just a short time, Icicle went from basically a nice way to present a HACCP plan to auditor to total warehouse management. All our staff now log in to Icicle and use it. From the beta phase to now, Icicle is on the leading edge and dropping new features that we didn’t even know we needed.”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
Within a year, P&S Frozen Foods was running a tight operation with all their data connected and stored in the cloud – and the rewards were significant.
The Result: Automation Saves Time and Money and Dramatically Reduces Audit and Inspection Times
For Paul, the benefits of implementing Icicle were pretty obvious right from the start.
“Automation takes a lot of my workload off my hands. Before Icicle, I’d sit with a binder to verify every document, spend days of my life signing these things that could have been digitally verified. Now it’s one click and done. It made no sense in hindsight to do it that way.”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
In addition to relieving Paul’s daily workload, P&S Frozen Foods was able to be a lot more efficient in all sorts of ways. For one, because Icicle is hosted in the most secure cloud in the world, his employees can finish their work on their phones while riding the bus, get meeting updates remotely as minutes are uploaded into the cloud, and answer client requests when they’re not in the office. Another benefit is that P&S used to have two full time bookkeepers at two different sites. With Icicle, they can easily maintain a single offsite bookkeeper part-time because all the documents are managed automatically in the cloud. Most importantly, they also save money by preventing major errors that are a constant hazard to the food industry as a whole:
“Anyone who runs a food business knows that one of the toughest parts of the job is to have the right orders at the right time and ensure that they are coming in on time. If you have a delivery of $30,000 on the dock and you can’t print the shipping receipt, it makes perfect sense to have a cloud-based system that can help you side-step the problem all together. If you have 12 people waiting to do the work and they can’t start because one ingredient is missing and they’re waiting for someone to run to the supplier and come back…I weep for the amount of money wasted. It’s totally avoidable. A good warehouse management solution is able to help us keep track of all of this and Icicle is able to do it for us.”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
Balancing Expectations of Different Auditors, Inspectors, and Clients
Icicle has improved P&S Frozen Foods’ ability to respond to the needs of their clients and regulatory agencies. Balancing all of these expectations is no easy task. As Paul pointed out to us, there is a sense in which food safety is subjective. On the base level, auditors will see things the same way, but they have different ideas about preventative measures. With Icicle, Paul can lay out all sorts of different options without having to implement them in his facility. He can run tests, keep track of data, and show the auditor all the information they want to prove that he has met his obligations.
“Icicle has made it much easier to bridge the gap between the needs of the company, the requirements of third-party auditors, and the requirements of federal inspectors, because they’re not always the same!”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
This is especially useful when it comes to inspections and the time spent on them per day. Due to Canada’s heavy regulation of the meat industry, the daily inspection from CFIA took 90 minutes on average. The inspector would arrive, ask questions, and Paul would have to chase down documents. But with Icicle, the auditor could view most of the essential documents remotely from his office. They show up for a few final daily checks and are out the door in ten minutes, reducing inspection times by an astonishing 88%.
Paul’s SQF audit, when it came around, was no different. Successfully obtaining SQF certification was crucial for P&S Frozen Food’s business because big customers like Sobey’s require SQF from all their suppliers. Without Icicle, Paul knew that they would have to hire a QC person to organize all their files. With Icicle, securing SQF certification was laughably easy (literally).
When the audit came to the traceability test, Paul was all ready to go: using Icicle, he ran through the requested traceability test in minutes. The first 30 minutes of the traceability test, however, was spent in a confusing back-and-forth with the auditor before they understood what had happened. The auditor was asking a question without understanding that the answer was already up on the screen – in fact, the information was readily available before he’d even finished asking the question. Needless to say, P&S Frozen Foods passed their first SQF audit with flying colours.
“At the stage we were at when we implemented Icicle, I don’t think we would have passed SQF audit with the score we did and that would have lost us millions of dollars in business.”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
Icicle’s benefits didn’t end there. This past summer, Paul was caught off guard when he found out that their SQF audit would now also look at threat and vulnerability assessments. The Icicle team happened to introduce TACCP and VACCP plans weeks before P&S Frozen Food’s audit and, because Icicle is built to grow with your business and easily adapts to new regulations, Paul was able to get his TACCP and VACCP plan in order before the audit, saving them from losing costly points with the auditor.
The Regulations are Coming!
One of the things that stands out to Paul about Icicle is its ability to help him adapt quickly and easily to increasing regulations, especially as the Safe Food for Canadians Act came into effect for most food companies this year. The meat and poultry industries are the most regulated in the country, and for good reason – so many things can go wrong! For that reason, other food companies should look to the meat industry for queues of what’s to come. Many of the requirements in the new regulations have been in effect for P&S Frozen Foods for years because of the inherent risks and hazards of the sector. Other companies need to be afraid of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, Paul told us, and they will need a fast solution to meet regulatory requirements.
We asked Paul if he had any advice to other food companies:
“What could go wrong with Icicle? The only thing I can think of is that new users won’t take the help of the Icicle team to get started. You need to buy in and have someone train your staff properly. At the end of the day, your products and customer service can only get better. From a small family-owned business like we were all the way to the largest corporations, the integrity and ease of access of your data is crucial for your business going forward. Icicle is necessary for your success.”Paul Tolnai, Operations Manager
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