Big Mountain Foods Expands Market Reach with Icicle ERP’s Compliance Management Solution
We sat down with Big Mountain’s plant manager and project manager, Patrick O’Sullivan, to talk about their company’s exciting growth in the booming plant-based market. A complete compliance management solution, Icicle ERP enables Big Mountain’s outstanding approach to operational excellence, quality, and food safety.
Meet Big Mountain Foods
Started in 1987 by mother-daughter team Kimberly and Jasmine Chamberland, Big Mountain Foods makes delicious vegan, gluten-free products like their Cauli Crumble, Mushroom Bites, Veggie Patties, and more.
2021 has been a big year so far. Big Mountain made the big leap to a much larger, 70,000 square foot facility in Delta, BC. In September, they garnered the prestigious New Hope Network 2021 Expo East NEXTY Award for outstanding new products in the natural products industry (their Original Chickpea Tofu creation). Not only do they have exciting new products, but they are also expanding sales into the United States and locking in wide-reaching customers like Walmart.
To manage their rapid growth, Big Mountain hired Patrick O’Sullivan, a dairy scientist and operational excellence expert (having a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt) who brings 35 years of experience to the company. When Patrick joined the team, he was excited to be a part of the plant-based boom in the food industry, and he’s especially happy to work with a company that prides itself on being a leader in clean labelling and sustainability.
I think it’s a really exciting time to be in the plant-based [sector] and we as a company have a large vision. My background is in big companies and it’s remarkable, but being small to medium you have the ability to actually mold this the correct way.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
The Challenge: Scaling Up with Simplicity, Transparency, and Efficiency at Heart
Before Patrick arrived at Big Mountain, Kimberly and Jasmine knew that their paper-based system for their production facility was not going to grow with them – into bigger spaces or into the future. They needed an advanced compliance management solution that would be able to help them transition to a larger operation.
Patrick knew what kind of software he wanted to use from his years of experience across sectors of the food industry. He wanted simplicity: simplicity in data management and in useability. Patrick had seen dozens of other applications used by facilities in several countries, and he noticed that many of them were basically built in-house for the exact needs of the facility. “But they were very inflexible and normally took a lot of people,” Patrick told us. The software couldn’t be so complicated that it became a deterrent to regular use.
In terms of their specific needs, what Big Mountain needed most was a system that would support regulatory compliance, including HACCP, meaning that food safety and recall management was high on their priorities. Since Big Mountain is an allergen-free and gluten-free facility, they also needed to make sure their new facility could implement the highest standards of allergen control and traceability. Not only are undeclared allergens the leading cause of food recalls, but any mistakes could have a huge cost for customers who were relying on Big Mountain’s labelling. Patrick also needed a compliance management solution that was reliable and robust enough to manage allergens and traceability.
When it came to Patrick’s own requirements, his lean manufacturing background drew him toward maintenance management, which he sees as the foundation of a facility’s operations. The goal of lean manufacturing as a methodology is to find a streamlined path to the end goal in a more efficient and effective way, and maintenance management requires above all else reliability and performance. Equipment downtime translates into lost productivity and higher costs, so Patrick was highly motivated to adopt software that could achieve predictive maintenance for maximum uptime and production output. And in the end, it all comes back to the final customer, who is getting the finished product when they want it and with all the benefits.
“Really all we have to do is build a support,” Patrick explained, “but the foundation is there.” Simplicity was ultimately Patrick’s primary goal, which he sees as fundamentally aligned with the plant-based food market and lean manufacturing. Big Mountain’s customers appreciate their clean label approach to food production, and just like customers expect their products to be clean, simple, and transparent, so too do they expect clean, simple, and transparent production. They needed a software solution that would reflect those values.
The Process: A Methodical and Modular Approach to Food Manufacturing Success
For me personally, when I speak about complements, whoever designed the system understood the food industry. The modular approach is done in a way that’s easily understood, and I like the way everything is connected.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
Patrick’s favourite aspect of Icicle is the modular approach to operations management. All aspects of the food manufacturing process are contained in the system, able to operate organically and in relation to one another. Maintenance and production management, inventory management and food safety modules – all of these working together helped Patrick craft a bulletproof quality management system for Big Mountain.
Patrick was pleased that each of the Icicle modules is built with the kind of simplicity you can only achieve with very hard work, as he knows well. “I’m assuming the person who designed the modules was somebody who’s worked in the food industry, has hands-on experience, and can understand and appreciate some of the complexity,” he speculated. And he especially appreciated that these modules can interface with one another, share data, and help create a clear path for Big Mountain to reach their goals.
Building a Stellar Big Mountain Foods Facility from the Ground Up
With the perfect compliance management solution for Big Mountain’s new facility, Patrick approached the task of setting up their new food production software like building a house. “A lot of our effort has been directed toward building a strong foundation and making sure we’re getting the full benefit out of it,” he explained. The process for adopting Icicle at Big Mountain is steady and methodical, improving and growing step by step so as to preserve the integrity of their core vision. Utilizing the award-winning Icicle food ERP system has allowed them to get a head start on that process.
I think we’ve been fortunate that some of that early development work was done [in Icicle], and now it’s really a matter of how we can better leverage [Icicle] to optimize for our particular operation.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
Consistent with his overall approach, Patrick started small, building up a core team of power users who could see the full potential of the compliance management solution they were designing. From there they developed task teams to carry out the work as defined.
With the core team, Patrick maps out the entire workflow of the facility, locating each role in the facility and production process and prioritizing all their work based on safety, food safety, and critical productivity. Once everything is prioritized, team members are able to execute the necessary jobs according to a set timeline. The core team meets on a weekly basis to check in and manage equipment maintenance, corrective maintenance, and emergency maintenance issues, as well as check in on the food safety program as a whole.
Employee Onboarding and Icicle Support
When Patrick started using Icicle, he noticed right away how easy it was for new users to start. “[Icicle] certainly made a very positive impression because I’m familiar with other systems,” Patrick explained. In his experience, other compliance management solutions that had all the features he needed were not user friendly enough for regular use. Seamless integration of employee workflows into Icicle was an essential part of success.
Behind any software there’s people, so it has to be in a language that people can understand.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
One of the things that made Icicle particularly helpful from the start was its visual representation. Patrick appreciated that users can grasp the structure of Icicle intuitively, so that when they look for something, they find it where they would expect to find it or get help easily. Icicle’s task management infrastructure makes it easy for all staff and managers to stay on top of their work.
“I should recommend the service too,” Patrick added. “The willingness, the background, if you ever come to a potential issue or if you see an area that you want to improve on or enable or make it better, I think that service support from Icicle has been really quite good. The Icicle team is always willing to reach out in advance before an obstacle ever happens, and I think that’s another plus factor.”
Navigating the Unexpected: COVID-19 Responses and Supplier Management
When the COVID-19 pandemic began during their expansion, Big Mountain was able to take the massive challenge in stride. Their existing food safety and quality programs made it only necessary to create a few new protocols, and they could easily build those new requirements into their quality management system, integrated with Icicle. With Icicle’s COVID-19 Prevention and Control system, they could bridge together all the information and procedures that needed to be followed: keeping track of people coming into the facility, conducting pre-screening procedures and temperature checks, communicating policies with staff and visitors, and more.
Icicle helped us to operate quite safely basically in spite of a pandemic.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
But Patrick’s approach to the global pandemic was not only reactive, but proactive as well. In fact, Patrick calls his approach “tactical management planning.” “It’s like when you drive a car,” he illustrated. “It’s not that you’ll have an accident, but you must always think about the other people that could hit you.” When it came to COVID-19, Patrick was all about planning and contingency plans: with ingredients, for example, he lined up back-up vendors and maintained constant communication with them.
[Vendor management] is a very strong feature of Icicle; not only does it give us information at our fingertips but it’s like a direct line to the vendor. Icicle makes it much easier. This is an area that could be very complex. […] I think this is an area that’s really adding value on our end.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
“We’re still human, systems break down,” Patrick acknowledged. “But again, we have contingency support and protections in place. I think that’s important and that’s where Icicle is very supportive and helpful.”
The Result: A Clear Picture of a Plant-Based Future for Big Mountain Foods
In other words, with Icicle as the backbone of their operations, Big Mountain could focus their energies on growing their company and realizing their vision. Utilizing an ERP system made this shift immediately attainable through freed-up time and a suite of analytics dashboards and data tools. With Icicle, Patrick could take information from all the different Icicle modules – food safety, traceability, vendor management, maintenance, etc. – and build out what he calls an “overall company scorecard.” This readily available data can then be used to drive better decision-making and especially early decision-making.
Acing HACCP Audits with Centralized Data
The impact of Icicle’s compliance management solution on Big Mountain’s regulatory compliance was swift and dramatic. All the regulatory requirements from different authorities and certification bodies (from HACCP to Halal to gluten-free and vegan) are combined into one compliance management solution, helping Big Mountain stay on top of regulatory expectations. With centralized data in Icicle, conducting onerous tasks like a mock recall can now be completed in less than five minutes.
That’s a big plus, that we can do a recall in about a five minute job. I’ve seen it take up to three or four hours, documents lost, no continuity between the documents. I like the way everything fits and relates in Icicle.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
When Big Mountain had their most recent HACCP audit, the auditor was highly experienced and thorough, completing the audit in a day and a half. “We were very fortunate that we had all the tools on hand, and that we were prepared for a much higher level than he was coming in to do,” Patrick explained. With Icicle’s compliance management solution, Patrick’s staff was able to lay out the structure of their operations for the auditor, easily access documents and records, and conduct their mock recall in record time. “With Icicle, it made it much easier to navigate with him and it certainly supported our success when it came to HACCP certification,” he continued. The system Patrick and his team have built in Icicle gives him confidence that they will obtain SQF certification in the next six months.
Looking Ahead to Big Mountain’s Waste-Free Growth with IoT Technology
With Icicle as its food production engine, Big Mountain can set their sight toward the possibilities of the future. Part of their vision is to become a waste-free facility by 2025. “Waste is not just a product style we’re looking at,” Patrick emphasized in our interview. They are tackling waste from all angles: optimizing production and inventory use, reusing materials and upcycling, water and energy efficiency, thoughtful product design, and going fully paperless in their state-of-the-art facility.
Switching to fully-digitized production management is an important part of their goal and plan. With Icicle’s cloud-based, digital environment, Big Mountain can share data between tablets on the shop floor, provide universal access to customized templates, facilitate automated IoT communication between devices and machines, and more.
Many of the machines Big Mountain is buying are already geared towards the future of IoT, internet-enabled technology, through which machines can communicate with each other on site and off site. Icicle takes the data collected by these machines and transforms it into usable, meaningful information that Patrick and his team can then use to make decisions about production and maintenance – and this is very exciting for Patrick because it gives him granular insights into waste, efficiency, and productivity.
Investing in Icicle Yields Benefits in All Business Areas
Big Mountain’s investment into their comprehensive, high-performance food production management system has paid dividends. “If we had to do all this paper-based, you’ve certainly saved one or two people in a smaller company. Of course, if you’re a much bigger company, that [benefit] multiplies,” Patrick noted. “I think it requires very little maintenance once the system is set up,” he elaborated. “It becomes almost self-sustaining, which is a good thing.”
For Patrick, his return on investment shows itself in a wide array of areas of the business (especially vendor management and predictive capabilities) but one of the biggest advantages for Patrick is the safety and peace of mind that comes from having a bulletproof food safety and traceability system:
But the other return on investment: what’s the cost of failure? People forget about that. If you can’t do a recall in five, ten minutes, it may be too late. What happens if there is an issue or a potential issue with the product and you can’t do an effective recall? You have to shut down your facility, you have to identify the source of the failure, if it’s a physical hazard or if it’s a biological hazard, or tied in with your gluten-free and allergen controls that are so important. If you can recall quicker that means you have confidence in the information that is on hand to you.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
Without such rigorous systems in place, food companies are vulnerable to human error that can have negative effects on brand reputation and, in Patrick’s words, “whole system integrity.” “ So when you look at return on investment,” he continued, “really it should be measured in terms of the reliability and robustness of the system. If you can deliver on that, the return on investment is unlimited when you think about it because otherwise you could lose your brand, you could lose your company.” That trust with the consumer is a critical component of Big Mountain’s business philosophy.
Even more significant than Icicle’s ability to conduct safe recalls is Icicle’s ability to help users mitigate risk and catch deviations early, or as Patrick put it, “basically preventative quality control in another language.” Instead of waiting for failures to happen, with Icicle, Big Mountain can get ahead of any issues that might arise before they become a bigger problem and especially before they reach the consumer. Centralized smart data, sophisticated automation technology, and IoT communication all make that possible.
You minimize all that risk! That’s the real return on investment. Icicle is certainly supportive at making it all more robust and that’s why I think it’s a really good tool.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
Big Mountain Foods Recommends Icicle for Food Production Software
For Patrick and Big Mountain, it all goes back to their customers. Icicle’s compliance management solution helps Big Mountain deliver on their promise of reliable, clean, and safe production. Complex regulatory certifications are a part of that strategy and Icicle helps them integrate all of these goals together into one unified, digital system.
“I’ll be quite upfront. I’ve worked with a multitude of different types of software in the past,” Patrick noted. Those systems were not only prohibitively expensive for many companies, but they require a lot of heavy lifting to implement and maintain.
For our size company, as we grow, seeing what we have in Icicle, it’s modular, it’s evolving, it’s growing with us. It removes the complexity and gives us simplicity. I think for growing companies who really want to make things more manageable, Icicle is definitely an enabler and I think the big benefit is definitely the user-friendliness and service.Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager and Project Manager at Big Mountain Foods
“I think that’s what’s great about our company,” Patrick concluded. “It has a clear vision and all we have to do now is make it happen.” Icicle and the Icicle team will be here to support Big Mountain every step of the way.
A big thank you to Patrick for sharing his thoughts and time with us!