We sat down with Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings, to learn how Icicle has helped his business grow and expand, even during the pandemic – and how they are helping other up-and-coming food businesses too.
Meet Honest Dumplings
Honest Dumplings began just six years ago, when Ray Ma and her husband Chris Lerohl started selling gourmet dumplings inspired by the delicious array of flavours from China, where Ray was born. With no previous experience of the food industry, the couple started running their business from home and selling their dumplings at the farmer’s market in Edmonton, Alberta. People loved the product, and Chris and Ray were keen to grow their business and scale up.
They soon realized how difficult it was for small food businesses to compete with big conglomerates and to market their product to a national audience. Ray and Chris quickly saw an opportunity to not only build the infrastructure and processes for themselves, but to create a food business platform to help other small businesses making outstanding local products to grow their opportunity beyond regional borders.
After talking to another local farmer’s market brand enjoying growing success, South Island Pie Co. (who sell the tastiest New Zealand-style meat pies), they decided to create the Uproot Food Collective. Uproot offers the common and necessary infrastructure, systems, distribution, sales and marketing, and other resources that local brands need under one banner, making it viable for them to get to national markets and beyond.
Today, Honest Dumplings and the other brands of the Uproot Food Collective are growing aggressively, expanding into nearly 200 stores in Alberta and BC alone and bringing the chocolate masters at Natural Kitchen Delights under their umbrella as well. But before their vision could be realized, they needed to tackle the complex production, regulatory and logistics that awaited.
The Challenge: Putting Food Safety First
While Ray and Chris were busy building their facility to grow their business, they also had to get up to speed with food safety regulations for food manufacturers, both in their province of Alberta and federally. The meat industry is heavily regulated and the range of dumplings produced by Honest Dumplings meant that there are multiple steps for various kinds of fillings — which translate into a lot of critical control points to track for their products. They also use a variety of top quality ingredients and sub-products, which made traceability a bigger challenge. With the rollout of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, the requirement for traceability and transparency is now also a compliance requirement by both the government and national retailers.
For a business in a major transition period, Chris knew he needed help or all of his time would get sucked into a giant set of binders and paperwork. “We had just developed our basic HACCP plan and it was all paper-based,” he told us. “Before our facility even opened, we quickly realized that we didn’t want to be in a paper-based kind of world and we wanted to get in to have a cloud-based kind of solution or a digital solution.”
Chris’ network in the Albertan food industry presented a solution. A tip from the gelato masters over at DaVinci Gelato led him to Icicle, the Canadian food production management system. After comparing a number of software solutions, Chris was impressed by Icicle’s functionality and its specific focus on food safety, which was exactly what he was looking for.
“There were a lot of traceability programs and HACCP programs on the market but they were built around other industries with a food industry module or add on. We liked that Icicle is based on the food industry first.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
With its HACCP-based approach, Icicle presented Chris with a wide range of solutions that he needed, from digitized and automated food safety and advanced traceability to inventory management and production forecasting. After evaluating other software on the market, Honest Dumplings decided to bring in Icicle to help them jump into the next stage of their business.
The Process: Building a Seamless Food Production Process Through Icicle
Just three years ago, Chris and Ray had been making dumplings out of their house. They made their HACCP program and all the other parts of their business like their dumplings: from scratch. They took the same kind of hands-on approach to setting up their Icicle account, building in the HACCP program that they had been developing previously and working out from there.
The process wasn’t without its challenges, as Chris explained. Learning how all the pieces would work together came with a steep learning curve. While Chris isn’t sure he would recommend this approach to everyone, like the HACCP program itself, he took on most of the implementation process on his own and saw it as an opportunity to learn exactly what he needed and wanted.
“I’m glad that we built [our Icicle account] ourselves as well because I think we are able to be a power user of the software now and modify the functionality to meet our needs and make sure that it works with the way we want to be running our business.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
When they did come up against problems relating to their complex production processes or something else, the Icicle team was there to help them along. When Honest Dumplings went through their first HACCP audit and came back with a list of items to work on, Chris reached out to the Icicle team and all the issues were addressed within about a week. “Working with you guys has been phenomenal,” Chris told us. “Anytime there has been an issue or there has been something that needed to be changed or we needed to upload bulk data, the Icicle support team was able to do that as well.”
Icicle Makes Even Complex Production Processes Work Easily for Everyone
Honest Dumplings produces 8 SKUs of dumplings, along with other Uproot Food Collective product lines. Each of those product lines offer a variety of products as well. As the operational complexity grows, there is an increasing number of critical control points to process, monitor, and track. With Icicle’s smart suggestions tool and other time-saving features, Chris can easily add new products into his HACCP program.
“Icicle is phenomenal at handling that complexity. Once Icicle is set up, it’s so easy to add a new product or do a product extension and implement that into the HACCP program because [Icicle] is already pulling from the generic product that has already been set up.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
“I love the way we have [Icicle] set up,” Chris continued. All the parts of the production process are tied together in one centralized, automated system. As a business owner and CEO with a packed schedule, Chris loves how Icicle notifies him and his team about what needs to be done and when.
“I don’t have time to really “project-manage,” but Icicle is doing it for us. And it’s even more than that; we have amazing people who are able to execute their roles in the system we’ve developed through Icicle.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
Icicle’s Maintenance Management presented the perfect example. When Chris and his team set up their maintenance schedule – including lab testing for things like water hygiene and allergens in the facility – any users with the correct permissions can access the dashboard and see what needs to be done this week or next week, with task management to ensure that everything is done correctly and in a timely manner.
Maximize Employee Training for Your Business
When it came to training employees on the software, Chris didn’t have any problems getting his tech-savvy team on board. Icicle’s extensive video training library came in handy to help them learn specific parts of the software and the Icicle team was always on hand to provide support. Once they started using the system, they found Icicle to be intuitive to use regularly. Now, the Honest Dumplings staff use Icicle all the time for tasks both on the production floor with their tablets and in the office.
There are benefits to having all that data in one place. When employees are trained on specific procedures, those records are added directly into Icicle and connected to the relevant SOPs. Chris can access employee records and see everything that individual is trained on, or he can navigate to an SOP and see who has been trained on it. “Having all that at your fingertips is really powerful,” Chris explained. “It helps ensure that the team is developing in their abilities and training.”
Optimize Your Production with Data and Automation
Easy recall of data like employee training is only the tip of the iceberg. One of the biggest benefits to having an ERP system like Icicle is the ability to get a real sense of your production through a data-driven approach. Just as Chris knows that his employees are doing the right thing and following all their procedures in Icicle, he can also see how much product was produced that week, how long it took, and how much it cost. This level of visibility helps Honest Dumplings operate the business better with greater productivity and less waste, Chris emphasized.
“Having all that visibility and data really gives us more confidence in the way we operate and the understanding of where incidents or faults occur as well.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
This level of organization yields concrete benefits as well as abstract ones. In one incident, some meat set for use in production went bad. Honest Dumplings employees reviewed their records and saw that proper temperatures were maintained in the refrigerators. Chris was able to go back to his supplier and show them all their records – and get a refund on that spoiled ingredient.
Outstanding Traceability Makes Acing Audits Simple
When all that data is managed in a single, intelligent system, other major tasks are made straightforward and easy. With the Honest Dumplings staff using Icicle daily for their regular work, all their documentation is always up-to-date and accurate, removing the chance for human error as much as possible. It also means that the amount of preparation required for audits is reduced to almost nothing with Icicle’s automated system. During an audit, any request can be met immediately – making auditors and inspectors love Icicle.
“I love when I talk to some of the other food manufacturers that we know and they spent like four or five hours with an auditor because they picked something hard, and I can just click a button. Sometimes I end up spending more time with the auditor arguing with them that I don’t need to complete more steps – Icicle is already doing it.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
The Result: Icicle Helps Honest Dumplings Scale Up Rapidly
In 2021, Honest Dumplings is developing a second facility, to be federally regulated, and begin their expansion into new markets, notably to other Canadian provinces and the United States. Since Icicle is built with several international standards in mind, the shift to comply with American versions of regulations is no longer overwhelming for Chris, but merely an extension of business as usual.
“One of the things I really like about Icicle is that it can be that backbone,” Chris told us. “When we add the next facility, it’s really simple for us to transition everything we’ve already developed over to that second facility as well.”
With Icicle, Honest Dumplings Tripled Their Business During the Pandemic
The resilience of Icicle for Chris and Ray’s business showed itself earlier than expected when the COVID-19 pandemic began. As food manufacturers, they suddenly became an essential service and the type of products they make – designed to be finished at home – became even higher in demand.
When the pandemic began, Uproot Food Collective had just begun a soft launch of a store to sell to consumers directly and they were able to pivot and add an online model quickly. Amplified by public support for local businesses, they added dozens of more vendors and hundreds of products to their online store. By summer 2020, their business had already tripled in size. They also doubled their production team along with adapting their business, production, and procedures.
“What was really beneficial about having Icicle and our HACCP program in general was that we didn’t have to change too much when COVID started. We were already at such a high standard of cleanliness and sanitation. Icicle and the HACCP program gave us more confidence to keep production going during those times.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
Other challenges did present themselves. Strict self-assessment protocols for COVID-19 symptoms mean that they can be short-staffed unexpectedly if employees aren’t feeling well (these can be managed in Icicle’s COVID-19 Prevention and Control System). In the marked uncertainty of the early stages of the pandemic, supply chain logistics posed a significant challenge. Uproot Food Collective already focuses on local food in part because of the inherent fragility of a massive, sprawling, global supply chain. Suddenly, Icicle’s Inventory Management capabilities became even more useful than anticipated since Chris had access to a live report on inventory at all times and during their dramatic growth.
“Having that cloud-based system, we were able to monitor our inventory and were able to jump on securing our meat supply as well as building inventory and raw ingredients to ensure that if there was a supply chain disruption, then we would be able to keep producing. Having that information through Icicle was very valuable.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
Honest Dumplings is All Set for More Growth in 2021
When Chris spoke with us for this case study, he underscored the importance of Icicle and Honest Dumplings’ HACCP program for their success.
“Without it, we couldn’t be selling to Sobeys or [across the provincial border] to British Columbia. The return on investment for us – it’s hard to put a number on it, but I would rather say it’s essential.”Chris Lerohl, CEO of Honest Dumplings
Chris loves the way Icicle is built, from the centrality of food safety to the ease of a cloud-based software. “The value Icicle brings from that efficiency, ease of paperwork and documentation, and all the benefits we gain far surpass the cost we’re paying to use the software,” he continued.
“We would absolutely recommend Icicle to other companies. We love what it can do and I think it brings a lot of value to our organization and just gives us that assurance and better insight into what we’re doing and making sure that we’re doing it right,” Chris concluded.
We’d like to extend our thanks to Chris for his time during this interview!
To learn more about Icicle and how it can work for your business, request a free demo. Check out our other case studies, like this one about how P&S Frozen Foods reduced their daily CFIA inspection time from 90 minutes to just 10 minutes with Icicle.