Organizations associated with the food and beverage sector have a lot of options of enterprise resource planning systems or known as ERP systems, available in the market to choose from. However, due to the wide range of options, it might be challenging to pick out the appropriate system. This blog will aid in delivering answers to the question that is, what is the best ERP system for your food and beverage organization?
We have helped several of our clients through their digital transformation journeys within the food and beverage space. Thus, we can tell you for fact that there are a lot of considerations that need to be considered when evaluating potential ERP systems.
Besides the traditional manufacturing needs, such as MRP, bills, materials, and routings, food and beverage manufacturing has many considerations which are very unique including manufacturing-specific elements related to recipes and blending materials that are critical to the manufacturing operations, the regulatory and safety considerations, and lot traceability for recalls and more. This leads us to propose our top 10 list for this industry which seems a lot different than our general top 10 lists.
From our general experience in helping clients within the food and beverage space, we established a list of different criteria, including total cost versus value, the general functionality for food and beverage manufacturers, vendor viability, and customer install base. Our top 10 systems are based on these criteria besides others that are not mentioned. In the end, I will also talk about the vendors that did not make the top 10 list and explain why.
Number 10 is Sage 100 Cloud, which is one of the larger ERP vendors in the marketplace with strong capabilities within food and beverage. Sage 100 Cloud focuses more on small and mid-sized organizations; particularly in the manufacturing space, in addition to the supply chain. Sage also has fairly strong finance and accounting capabilities, therefore, it allows you not only to think about your manufacturing operations but also how you tie together your entire operations, finance, and accounting.
Besides the capabilities we have mentioned, Sage 100 Cloud has some unique capabilities. An example of one of the unique capabilities of Sage's workflows and business process capabilities is the fact that it has some sort of machine learning ability to identify errors in the transactions and the documents within the system, it offers a great way to increase your organization’s efficiency, increase your accuracy, and thus, it only requires human intervention as an extension where needed.
The major downside of Sage is that it is not a 100% cloud solution yet, making its name Sage 100 Cloud misleading. This implied that Sage customers end up using cloud capabilities while still relying on on-premise capabilities to tie together their entire operations. However, this problem is not unique to Sage, many vendors in our top 10 list are struggling with this issue as they make the migration from their on-premise solutions to the cloud.
Another downside being that several clients reported that it is not as user-friendly as other systems in the marketplace. From our observations of seeing Sage in action, we noticed that it is not the most user-friendly or the most intuitive system to use. Finally, Sage’s cost can be fairly high for small and mid-sized organizations, making it hard to justify the investment in the product. Yet with all these cons, Sage lands at number 10 on our list.
Number nine on our list is BatchMaster, a unique product in that it is built on the SAP Business One platform, therefore, it is sort of a customization of Business One tailored specifically for the food and beverage space. This implicates two benefits, it is built on a proven platform with SAP, which helps in giving it credibility, besides the benefit that it is primarily focused on food and beverage, and process-related manufacturers.
Another benefit of BatchMaster is that it is sort of a two-tier ERP system, which means that it is meant to be integrated potentially with other core ERP systems. For example, it integrates well with back-office ERP systems like products such as Sage and Great Plains, and obviously Business One on the financial side, and with accounting systems like QuickBooks. BatchMaster is a great option to tie to your core manufacturing operations.
Moreover, since it is focused on mainly small businesses, it is usually more affordable. It does not require buying capabilities that are unnecessary for food or beverage manufacture. In addition, Sage customers rate their customer service higher than some other vendors such as SAP which is one of the larger ERP vendors, probably because they are not as big, even though they do have a lot of customers throughout the world.
BatchMaster downsides include the non-user-friendly interface compared to other vendors in the marketplace. Our top 10 list includes some with a very clear and intuitive user interface. From a technical perspective, it only interfaces with one database at a time, which can be a challenge, especially when operating in a best-of-breed environment or with a legacy environment with multiple databases. Moreover, BatchMaster's is not suitable for international, big, diversified, and highly complex organizations.
Finally, it is worth noting that BatchMaster is built on that SAP Business One platform, and even though SAP is a proven company with its S/4HANA ERP system, it has not gained as much attraction in recent years as other small ERP systems. So the viability of the Business One platform and how that might affect the viability of BatchMaster is something that should be considered. With that, BatchMaster is number nine on our list.
Number eight is a product called IFS, you can find in my YouTube channel a review dedicated to this product. The reason for placing number eight is because of its numerous general core capabilities that are particularly needed to run food and beverage organization elements, such as MRP, recipes, food safety, and regulatory issues. Moreover, it is an international product, thus, multinational organizations considering some of these second-tier ERP systems in our list, IFS is a good candidate.
Compared to other systems, IFS has a fairly clean and intuitive user interface, and so, in terms of the user interface, it is one of the strongest systems on our list. Finally, organizations with additional needs outside of food and beverage manufacturing, like asset management or field service component of the business, should consider IFS, as its strength in these two areas renders it a potential option for filling some of those additional needs.
IFS downside is its overwhelming technology for small organizations, like those with revenue under 100 million. The reporting capabilities of IFS are a bit slow and limited compared to other systems, however, it is improving every day. Finally, the customer support of IFS as a vendor is not as strong as others. These are some of the pros and cons to take into consideration when considering IFS, which is at number eight on our list.
Our number seven is another mid-tier ERP system called IQMS. This product is highly focused on manufacturing, and food and beverage manufacturing in particular, instead of being broad satisfying everyone’s everything needs. It's an end-to-end ERP system, therefore, it will not carry out only the manufacturing tasks that are this review’s topic, but also warehouse management, financials, and product life cycle management, and all other sorts of ERP types of capabilities.
The operations occurring at the level of shop floor are tied and well integrated into the core IQMS solution thanks to the integrated MES or manufacturing execution system capabilities. It also supports multiple languages and currencies, which can be regarded as ideal for international organizations. This qualification is something that big multinational organizations with international needs might want to look at and might consider IQMS as a system that can fulfill those needs.
However, IQMS still includes a few downsides and risks. One downside is that its cloud capabilities are limited compared to other systems. It lacks some of the email integrations, such as tracking emails related to different functions and workflows within your ERP system. Many clients are still heavily dependent on the on-premise solution that IQMS provides. Moreover, clients have reported higher rates of bugs in the system that are still being worked out.
Finally, IQMS is not well-known because is not a huge ERP vendor. From one perspective, you might get more attention from them, but on the flip side, they do not have quite the ecosystem and the infrastructure to support their product as other large vendors in our top 10 list. Therefore, you could mitigate the risk of considering IQMS by making sure that you have identified a very strong implementation partner on the technical side.
Number six is SYSPRO, which, like many in our top 10 list that focuses on manufacturing distribution and food and beverage, it performs very well and is used by many of our food and beverage clients. Because it is focused on manufacturing, it offers flexibility in accommodating different business processes and workflows within food and beverage. Being highly customizable and more configurable, it can personalize and change the software without necessarily changing the source code or the software.
It is also scalable, which expands its use in small space organizations, but some larger mid-sized organizations use it as well. Therefore, it is the perfect system for organizations growing from small to mid-sized range. They also provide a hybrid of on-premise, cloud, and mobile solutions, which is considered a robust solution when bringing the best of all worlds together. there is a lot of flexibility and robustness in what it offers compared to other options.
SYSPRO downsides include the steep learning curve. It is a very powerful and robust system, but some clients struggle more with its learning curve than they do with other systems. Some workflows and business processes in the system could be more automated like other ERP systems. Finally, one of the risks is found in the data integrity checks that can happen and can be challenging in terms of how to deploy and use this software longer term.
Number five is QAD, another product that is reviewed on my YouTube channel. To summarize the review, it is specific to food and beverage and has many capabilities that you might need. QAD, as a viable alternative, is considered as one of the large scalable systems suitable for large global or complex organizations that would not venture to implement an SAP or an Oracle. QAD provides scalability, international capabilities, as well as general food and beverage manufacturing capabilities.
QAD other benefits include the fact that it has a low code development environment. If flexibility is one of your requirements, but you want to avoid the customization trap, presumably because your code options are low and insufficient to change the software by configuring and personalizing it, with QAD you do not have to customize or break the system unlike many other systems in the market. That is another advantage that QAD offers.
Finally, the maturity of QAD's cloud solution is superior, as it has been a native cloud solution since 2008, which may not sound long enough but it is definitely longer than many other systems in our top 10 list. The importance of this maturity is perceived in the struggle facing systems that are missing it while they transition to the cloud. From that perspective, QAD has a bit of a head start.
QAD’s main downside is that it does not have a robust ecosystem of implementation partners and system integrators yet, although, the company is starting to make progress in that area. However, for large organizations, even if QAD seems a good fit for you, the next question becomes, do you have the right technical implementation partner that can scale accordingly to keep supporting you. You need to make sure you have the right implementation partner if you consider QAD.
Another disadvantage of QAD, when compared to other products in the marketplace, is that it is incapable to handle high volume manufacturing as well as some other systems in the market. QAD is a limited system for extremely high volume manufacturers; therefore, such manufacturers should consider the possibility that there might be other systems that are a better fit. With all that said, these pros and cons are enough to land QAD at number five on our list.
Number four is one of the smallest ERP systems, a product called ProcessPro. However, ProcessPro is one of the most focused systems on food and beverage manufacturing, and as its name suggests, it focuses on process manufacturing, very important due to its uniqueness and distinction from discrete manufacturing of widgets that do not involve food and beverage. Moreover, it is a complete end-to-end ERP system that also performs financials, warehouse management, and more.
As a highly focused product, ProcessPro provides your business with a suitable alternative among the other products available in the market. The most important feature of this product is most likely the very strong food and beverage-specific capabilities of the system. When you think about lot traceability, formula management, costing, financial reporting, and such elements that are specific to food and beverage manufacturing, that is an area where ProcessPro really thrives.
ProcessPro has a few downsides, the first concerns diversified organizations taking part in activities outside the world of food and beverage manufacturing, since ProcessPro does not do other types of manufacturing, it might not be the best fit. Moreover, ProcessPro has a user interface that is a little bit outdated and less intuitive compared to other systems in our top 10 list. Besides, the customer support from ProcessPro direct is slightly lacking.
In addition to these technical sorts of limitations, ProcessPro has another constraint that is the limited implementation resources in the marketplace compared to other systems in our list that have a more robust implementation partner network in the market and more product options to chose among. Therefore, you need to make sure that the potential implementation partner is something you will be comfortable working with. With that, ProcessPro places at number four on our list.
Number three on our list is a product called Plex Smart, owned by a company named Plex Systems, which is a cloud-based manufacturing ERP system. The beauty of Plex or Plex Smart is that it has been in the cloud since its inception, while several ERP vendors in our top 10 list are still making that migration from their on-premise system to cloud solutions. Plex has got around 20 years start ahead on the cloud migration.
Plex, being a native cloud solution, is fairly mature and very focused on manufacturing, and especially food and beverage. Thanks to the focus, the product offers all the typical food and beverage capabilities you might be looking for, in addition to features like MES integration and tying it to your ERP system, as well as compliance translating in the very strong regulation and safety. The system updates are quick, easy, and real-time compared to other systems.
Some of Plex downsides include the user interface and the usability of the system that is not as intuitive as other systems, its scalability that is not ideal for large multinational food and beverage manufacturers, besides it is known to have slow customer support when compared to some other vendors in the marketplace. With these pros and cons, it is enough to land Plex at number three on our list.
Number two is another system that focuses primarily on manufacturing and distribution, Deacom is a system with strong food and beverage capabilities. Besides manufacturing needs, it also operates accounting and finance needs of the organization. Deacom is good for small and mid-market, as well as large manufacturers. Moreover, it is very affordable compared to some other systems. Owing to that, Deacom business value and the ROI of the investment are higher than other systems in our list.
One of the downsides encountered with our clients is the disruptive frequent updates. The product is not as streamlined and easy to use as some of the other systems in the market, which makes the workflows not as smooth and as efficient as they could be. Moreover, many Deacom customers struggle with changes that they make in one part of the system affecting or undermining other parts of the system, which seems like change management issue type.
Number one is attributed to Aptean, a company that has been around for a long time, and in recent years they have become extremely acquisition-minded and extremely focused on the food and beverage space. An example of their adjustment, they acquired two food and beverage-focused systems, Ross ERP as well as Just Food ERP, which they have sort of tied all together into a core food and beverage offering for customers looking for ERP systems.
Food ERP as a separate system would have rated very high on our list if it were not acquired by Aptean, but since they are part of Aptean, we will include it in the Aptean umbrella. Food ERP was built on the Microsoft platform, something like the SAP platform built BatchMaster, which we introduced earlier. Knowing that you have a strong foundation in Microsoft is a plus, and the technology is tailored to fit food and beverage in particular.
Aptean finishes number one on our list because of the hyper-focused effort it dedicates to focus on food and beverage, which permits fast and economic implementation compared to other systems. These benefits are very important and largely what makes it finish number one on our list. It delivers more value, and the implementation can begin with a core pre-configured, industry-specific type of solution offering that other vendors just simply are not able to match.
From a downsides perspective, Aptean includes a few such as being not as intuitive as some other systems, having somewhat of a clunky user interface, its system might be focused on food and beverage processes and workflows, but it is not the easiest system to use, its workflow issues that we hope they will work out over the years, and finally, it lacks the implementation network, partners and re-seller that many big vendors provide.
Aptean is a focused system, which may mean that it is not as big as some other systems, but it is not a small vendor by any means. As I mentioned, they have acquired many different companies, but they do not have that household brand name as an SAP or a Microsoft or whoever other acclaimed systems. With all of that, it is enough to land Aptean at number one on our list.
This top 10 is a tough list to create because of the good vendors that did not make it. Several systems would knock out this list for large, diversified organizations. For example, SAP S/4HANA is not included, not because it is not good, but because it lacks that hyper-focus of the food and beverage ERP. However, for global and highly complex organizations trying to standardize and drive massive scale, S/4HANA might be in your top three or even your number one.
Oracle ERP Cloud is another system used by many foods and beverage manufacturers; and Oracle NetSuite, a product used by smaller food and beverage manufacturers. Although the manufacturing capabilities of NetSuite is limited, it is used by a fair number of organizations on the distribution side. Microsoft D 365 and Epicor are two other systems that operate within the realm of manufacturing, but they lack depth and robustness of capabilities when it comes to food and beverage.
While considering all the details that I provided, you should think about your needs, your priorities, and the type of system that you are looking for and expect that your considerations might completely shuffle this top 10 list and that you might even pull in some of these lastly mentioned systems or even other ones into your top 10 list. So, make sure you take that all these aspects into account as you consider your options.’
For more information and more details, I encourage you to download our 2021 Digital Transformation Report. This later includes rankings and ratings of all different types of systems, it comprises as well independent best practices for how to make your organization transformation more successful. I encourage you to check that out through the quick access links which I have included.
I hope that you found this information useful. I hope you found this information useful and if you have questions regarding this top 10 food and beverage list, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. I am happy to be an informal sounding board as you move through your digital transformation journey.