We caught up with Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods, to learn how Icicle has helped his business foster a data-driven food safety culture from day one.
Meet TMRW Foods and Their Quality Plant-Protein
TMRW Foods is an innovative plant-based meat manufacturer with sustainability at its core. Based in Port Coquitlam, BC, the company produces a range of tasty meat alternatives: from burgers and breakfast patties to grounds and sausages.
Their goal is to create a more compelling food experience and a more sustainable food system by making exceptional meat alternatives from high-quality ingredients. Rather than replicating animal protein, TMRW Foods takes plant protein to the next level by making products that offer a unique, satisfying, and sustainable addition to any person’s diet.
Product development began back in 2018, with a burger competition in the office that quickly picked up steam. The first prototype of the TMRW burger was grilled in 2019. Dean and his team haven’t looked back since. In April 2020, the company opened a new production facility and it now has national distribution with retailers including Wholefoods, Nesters Markets, and more.
The Challenge: Finding the Right Data-Driven System for TMRW Foods
TMRW Foods is all about embracing a sustainable and healthy future, and Dean knew that the right technology would be necessary to execute his vision. Dean set his mind on a high-level ERP that would take a data-driven approach to managing every aspect of the business, from food safety and quality control to procurement, production, quality assurance, purchasing, facility and equipment maintenance, and more.
High on Dean’s priorities list was a data-driven traceability system that was easy to use and would give TMRW Foods total confidence in their products – above and beyond the minimum standards of regulators. With a data powerhouse as the backbone of his facility, he knew he could leverage the same technology for tracking inventory comprehensively, automatically calculating production costs, and tracking productivity.
As a company with sustainability at its heart, TMRW Foods was looking for a paperless solution for data logging and inspections. A cloud-based system would also remove the need for time-consuming paperwork and enable Dean to find all the information he needed in one place.
Finally, he wanted a system that everyone on his team would use regularly, and that meant that it had to be easy to use and train people on.
From his previous experience, Dean knew that once you implement a management system, it is a big challenge to change it. To ensure that TMRW Foods would start off on the right foot, he focused on finding a “fluff-free” ERP system that stuck to the most important aspects of production, safety, and quality.
The Icicle ERP System Brings Production Automation and Food Safety Together
TMRW Foods reached out to their local food industry association, BC Food & Beverage, for recommendations on a high-performance ERP system like the one he had in mind. They recommended the food and cannabis ERP system, Icicle, and Dean began the process of researching Icicle and other solutions on the market for comparison.
“The point at which I was like, ‘Yeah, I think [Icicle] could work for us,’ was when Steve did the demo and he was just really awesome,” Dean remembered. Icicle Technologies Inc. CEO, Steven Burton, was able to answer Dean’s high-level, complex questions on the spot and speak to the trajectory of Icicle’s development. “The idea that he was willing to kind of jump into it himself, and to tackle those questions was very cool, and so it felt like a good fit for us,” he explained.
Seeing Icicle live in action during the demo also gave him ideas – and solutions for problems he didn’t know could be solved.
“The ability to build a HACCP plan into the system and to have it generated was the biggest surprise. At the time we were building out a HACCP plan separately. When we found out that we could actually build the plan directly into our system versus having two separate pieces running concurrently, that became an attribute that we saw as being very valuable as well. When we realized that was a possibility, it became something really very cool to us.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
With the HACCP and food safety piece addressed as the core of Icicle’s design, Dean was ready to get started. He knew TMRW Foods would need support throughout the process, which was just one more reason to go with Icicle.
“The [Icicle] team is very contactable and easy to communicate with, which to me is a really important thing. I find it very challenging to work with large companies where you’ve got to go through a series of different operators before you can get to any of the people who can really help you.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
The Process: Building a Dynamic Model of the Production Process
Once TMRW Foods decided to go with Icicle, Dean and his team could really get to work building their facility from the ground up. Dean was laser-focused on carefully designing a strong and flexible structure for TMRW Foods, which he could then build upon with his team.
The first step was visualizing their production process based on previous experience, but also making assumptions about TMRW Foods’ innovative processes. With Icicle, Dean’s team could virtually model their production processes and easily see what they needed to improve, and what Icicle could automate for them.
Going far beyond a document management system or form-filling application, Icicle creates a dynamic model of production that is fully integrated with the HACCP food safety methodology. Using Icicle, TMRW Foods was able to create an intelligent model that understands the relationship between ingredients, allergens, hazards, and regulatory requirements, helps them make those associations, and updates changes automatically through their whole system.
With TMRW Foods’ production processes, hazards, and hazard controls laid out in Icicle, they can easily and intuitively use Icicle to automatically generate comprehensive HACCP plans whenever the need arises..
Merging HACCP and Traceability in One, Data-Driven Place
Harnessing the power of data, Dean’s team could then move onto their automated traceability program. “The whole traceability setup, that was something that was pretty daunting to us going into it,” Dean told us.
In order to tackle this task, Dean emphasized the quality and structure of their production information. “Once you have a good structure, it’s much easier to slot all the following bits in,” Dean explained. He continued,
“I’ve found that certain management systems are incredibly robust and very powerful, but if you’ve got chaotic information structures it doesn’t really help. People are not going to be able to use it, and as soon as you start creating doubt around the accuracy and the validity of the information in your system, the less effective it becomes.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
For TMRW Foods, implementing a traceability system that was trustworthy and bulletproof was top priority.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a really robust traceability system, not just so we can appease regulators, but because if anything happened, we wanted to feel like we could very confidently go and trace it, and be able to report that information to whomever it might have affected. That part [of Icicle] was really cool for me, and I think that the way that we’ve managed to incorporate [traceability] and the way that it’s followed all the way through our system, is really helpful.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
Dean also loved the fact that everything was saved in one place, allowing the team to make iterative adjustments as their plan developed and updating it multiple times before the facility even opened.
Icicle’s User-Friendly Interfaces Make Employee Training Easy
Dean was already training his staff to use tablets, so it was easy for them to get to grips with Icicle simultaneously. Although many of the team hadn’t worked with data management software previously, Icicle’s user-friendliness gave them the direction they needed with all the pertinent information (like relevant SOPs) at their fingertips.
When employees follow a procedure using an inspection checklist created in Icicle, they get prompted at each step of the process. These built-in workflows help reinforce the correct procedures and reduce the risk of human error.
With Icicle, Dean was able to lead his team through many simulated production runs until everyone was familiar with the process and data-capture points (some of which were reinforced through visual signs in the facility). “It was just a question of clearly structuring who’s responsible for what, giving people enough of an understanding of the overall functionality of the system,” Dean elaborated, “and then getting them to just use it and use it before errors have any significant kind of consequence.”
At the end of each day, they would review the whole process, further reinforcing the system they were building and giving them a foundation of information that they could use to inform their actual production.
For TMRW Foods, the focus is always on the big picture. Dean shared his vision with us,
“We have a really high standard here, and we wanted to ensure that that standard was set and that it was nurtured and fostered while the team was still small. Now, whenever we add people to the team, they’re basically perpetuating a really good system, because they’re learning from the others who have gone through this process.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
By creating a robust, data-driven system, TMRW Foods is able to reduce its reliance on the expertise of individual team members and make it easy for new employees to get up to speed quickly, without the need for constant micromanagement.
“The longer-term goal is that you could remove anybody from our team, including myself, and our system would be able to keep things moving at a fairly high level of execution, and Icicle is an absolutely critical component of that.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
Stay on Top of Daily Tasks with Task Management
Dean knew he wanted to create a system that would enable people to work together harmoniously, using data to enhance their processes and maintain an exceptionally high standard across the board.
As Dean pointed out, it is important to strike a balance:
“We definitely don’t want a highly bureaucratic micromanaged culture as we keep growing… and it’s not just having a bunch of processes and steps in place to inundate people with reporting and data capture. It’s more really distilling it into what are the most important elements of our operation, building this centralized system that helps ensure that we keep doing the right things at the right time without constantly needing to be reminded, or without constantly needing to have somebody driving that.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
Icicle’s task management infrastructure makes it easy to stay on top of all sorts of tasks, including facility maintenance. Often, it can be difficult to remember all the different tasks that need to be done.
In Icicle, recurring tasks can be scheduled and assigned to specific team members, with reminders until the assignee records a completed job in Icicle. Notes can be added to each task, allowing for clear communication across the team. For Dean, this was invaluable:
“For the team to have those parts of it be built into the system so it can remind them that, ‘Okay, yeah, we need to do the grease trap,’ or, ‘we need to clean out the hood.’ Stuff like that was awesome.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
Enhanced Visibility for Managers
Icicle’s simple dashboard interfaces make it easy for managers to gain a clear overview of their entire facility. “I was immediately struck by the fact that [Icicle] is pretty simple to navigate and easy to find the important pieces, and to also understand how it all comes together,” Dean told us.
Managers are able to quickly check that the process is running smoothly, without the need to be on the floor. Data on productivity, costing, safety checks, QC checks and more is easy to access. Inspections and logs can be reviewed easily to ensure that data is being recorded accurately and to a high standard.
All this enables Dean to make sure the team is following the process and address any issues before they become a problem. Striking a balance is an important aspect of Dean’s approach:
“I think there’s only so much involvement you can have in person on the floor before kind of just getting in the way and being annoying, and so I like the fact that, because I understand the system fairly well, because I’ve worked with it all the way through, it allows me to see pretty quickly if things are running smoothly.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
The Result: Icicle Makes It Easy to Look to the Future of the Food Industry
Icicle makes it easy for companies to keep all of their documentation, processes, and HACCP plans in one place, simplifying day-to-day management and paving the way for outstanding audit results, too.
When TMRW Foods had their first audit using Icicle, they received an incredible 98.3% compliance. “Icicle definitely facilitated our ability to meet these high standards and to get the third party audit done and pass it at the level that we did,” Dean noted.
Information can be recalled at the click of a button, reducing audit time by up to 88%.
Secure Compliance with COVID-19 Regulations
When the pandemic hit back in March 2020, bringing with it new COVID-19 regulations, TMRW Foods was already prepared.
Its highly detailed HACCP program meant that the facility was already highly sanitized and hygienic. Dean explained that it didn’t feel like we had to specifically create certain tasks or certain actions to ensure that we were meeting government regulations to mitigate risk for COVID.”
The team was already in the habit of carrying out regular inspections, sanitizing points of contact multiple times a day and maintaining extremely high standards of hygiene. This meant that when the pandemic began, TMRW Foods was able to keep their production going in the confidence that they were doing everything they could to reduce risk within their facility.
With Icicle’s COVID-19 Prevention and Control System, TMRW Foods were able to create a screening record for everyone that enters their facility – including all employees – in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
Auditors and inspectors can also be granted remote access to documentation, reducing the need for on-site visits and unnecessary social contact during the pandemic.
Data-Driven Dynamic Costing Helps TMRW Foods to Grow
When we asked Dean what his favourite Icicle feature was, he didn’t hesitate: production costing, which provides actual costing rather than estimates to give users a highly accurate, real-time understanding of their costs.
“I obviously do a ton of financial modelling,” Dean explained, “and we follow a lot of assumptions. [Dynamic production costing] is incredibly useful because it’s wonderful to be able to see or to vet your assumptions based on what’s actually happening on the floor, based on your output, and everything that went into that, including waste.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
This data-driven approach to costing enables TMRW Foods to optimize their production process as the company continues to evolve. It has recently added breakfast patties and four new sausage SKUs to its offering, alongside its burgers and grounds, and demand for its products continues to grow.
“We’re growing because there’s a demand and we’re trying to meet that demand. I think that everybody senses the opportunity with regards to what the plant based market is becoming, and the rate at which it will likely grow. It’s still a fraction of the overall protein market, but I think people understand that over the next few years there’ll be a ton of growth and a ton of exciting things happening in the space. I think everybody’s just trying to kind of find a few businesses to be there, to meet that need and that demand, and so we’ve moved very quickly and we hope to be able to do so at an even faster rate next year.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
A Bright Future Ahead for TMRW Foods with Icicle
As the plant-based market continues to grow at a rapid pace, TMRW Foods are ready to meet the demand for exciting products that offer a sustainable alternative to animal protein.
The company is currently working towards non-GMO certification, with plans to add soy-free, gluten-free, and other allergen certifications in the future.
We asked Dean if he had any advice for other food companies considering Icicle. He said:
“I would definitely recommend Icicle, and for numerous reasons. It’s affordable to implement, and it’s easy to learn how to use, and for your team to learn how to use. The team is incredibly responsive, and very personable, and overall it really, really simplifies our ability to do things consistently. For that reason it is very much worth the investment.”– Dean Blignaut, Co-Founder and President of TMRW Foods
A big thank you to Dean for his time – we can’t wait to see what the future has in store for TMRW Foods!