As a salesperson for bakeries in Boston and around the metropolitan Massachusetts area, Angelo Marcoccio knows how bakers like to stay in communication when it comes to submitting orders: texting, phone calls, emails — and, yes, sometimes even fax.
“There are some customers that know what time I usually get to their bakeries, and if I’m not there, they’ll text me, ‘Hey, you coming?’ With bakers, it's like clockwork, it’s almost like a routine,” said Marcoccio, who works as a salesperson for Dawn Food Products. “Bakers are creatures of habit and a lot of times they look forward to seeing the salesperson. But sometimes, they don’t want to see you.”
The times when a baker may not want to see a salesperson? During the holiday crunch or during busy morning business, Marcoccio said, when orders are coming in at several times the normal volume.
For the 44 percent of bakers who have one to four employees on staff, time is of the absolute essence. Bob Howland, Dawn’s first-ever chief digital officer, said that with the large user base the company has, they’ve been able to start taking the bakeries of yesteryear into the digital age.
“Frankly, our industry and our company have not kept up with advancements in other industries,” Howland said. “At Dawn, we got a sense of the rapid technological advancements taking place elsewhere, and as with many major aha moments, the trigger came when we stepped away from our day-to-day operations to focus on digital.”
The result of the aha moment turned into Dawn’s digital innovation hub, which has been working with bakeries across the country to transform their manual, time-consuming procedures with digital processes.
And, if all goes according to how Dawn projects, the world of baking might be looking very different very soon.
Bringing bakeries into a digital age
Dawn finds itself in a unique position: Since the food service industry is largely inundated with manual and antiquated processes, there’s less technical debt to navigate and plenty of space to build new solutions from scratch.
“We’re starting from a clean slate, without any constraints of priors, and developing a new platform in a greenfield fashion,” said Dawn’s Senior Director of Digital Technology, Gireesh Sahukar. “This is exciting, as it’s a new initiative for Dawn that has the ability to transform how we work as a company and lay the groundwork for our next 100 years.”
For example, Dawn had zero e-commerce capabilities when Howland came on board in February 2019, and he said that enabled the digital innovation team — a group of technologists in Dawn’s Boston offices — to take time to assess the solution provider market and key technology trends.
“We looked at what approach to a platform would be ‘fit for purpose’ for our business,” Howland said. “We talked to everyone and landed on a headless commerce back-end platform with key components, like product information management and the content management system.”
Headless commerce is quickly emerging as the future of e-commerce, Sahukar said, adding that it enables companies to look beyond monolith platforms — Hybris, ATG or IBM, for example — and build an e-commerce site using more modern tech.
“For Dawn, these chosen platforms and technologies will allow us to build great experiences for our customers without having to worry about the underlying platforms becoming outdated or unsupported,” Sahukar said.
Howland said that having the freedom to assess what works best for users — for headless e-commerce or any other greenfield project — gives his team the flexibility and control to build a simple user interface for bakers. Sahukar added that the technology and how it scales are up to the team to decide.
For technologists at Dawn, that means a healthy mix of independence and structure to chase the right kind of technical projects.
“We’re building something truly fit for purpose, from the ground up, in the right way — possibly the first and only time most people will have a chance to do this in their career,” Howland said. “New team members are bringing experiences from their past and having a direct influence on what we do and how we do it.”
The first of those greenfield projects came about in spring 2019 via a minimally viable product: a digital ordering portal.
The pilot program
In April 2019, Dawn rolled out a minimally viable product (MVP) of its ordering portal to over 100 customers. For some bakers used to the tried-and-true (albeit, often slow) methods of email, texting, phone or faxing, making the switch to digital seemed unnecessary.
Why fix something if it’s not broken?
According to Howland, just because ordering was working doesn’t mean it was working well. The digital ordering portal sought to fix some of those inefficiencies.
“We find that bakers are much more technology-savvy than we’d expected,” Howland said. “While they may not all have laptops or Macs, they all have and use tablets and mobile phones. The balance with any new product launch is to balance functionality with the user experience.”
In order to place an order in a non-digital world, bakers wait for a Dawn sales rep to visit the store and manually take stock of what the store needs.
“When you are running a bakery and you’re waiting for a sales rep to come in to just take the order, these bakers — as they’re baking — are writing their physical list with a pen and piece of paper,” said Lacey Berlin, a digital platform sales manager at Dawn.
Additionally, when reps visit bakeries that have yet to make the digital transition, reps often have to go through the bakery’s order line by line to ensure the baker hasn’t forgotten any essential ingredients they may have ordered in the past.
And, if a baker is interested in rolling out a new bakery item to its customers, they would have to consult with a rep to determine if the ingredient exists within Dawn’s inventory and if it is in stock.
“Dawn has over 5,000 items: it’s a lot for an experienced baker or salesperson to try to find the item,” Marcoccio said. “It’s a challenge sometimes.”
When the time came to introduce a new method of ordering through its portal, Dawn reps were required to really be in their customers’ shoes, even if for a short while.
“When we first launched digital, it was 100 percent necessary for us to go in there and walk bakers through what it looked like to enter an order through the portal,” Berlin said. “But as we moved forward, we also realized that the hand-holding with the portal was actually unnecessary.”
Within the MVP portal, bakers are able to put in an order at any time.
MVP IN ACTION
“For bakers, they’re able to enter their orders when it's convenient for them instead of looking at their watch and waiting for a rep to come in,” Berlin said. “At the end of the day when the bakery closes, they can close the cart through the portal, hit send and that’s it. It’s really about the ease and the functionality and the convenience for them.”
Following the launch, Howland said that Dawn’s team at the innovation hub went back to the drawing board to include more capabilities that give time back to bakers’ days.
“Our near-term focus is to introduce online tools across the key customer touch points,” Howland said. “Our premise is not to replace manual processes but to let the customer choose how to best work with Dawn. If we do this right, the online channel will become our dominant channel and the company will reinvent its go-to-market approach.”
The proof is in the product
When there’s a whole digital enterprise to build, Howland said it’s safe to assume the roadmap is pretty busy.
“We have lots of exciting plans for the back half of the year and beyond to expand our digital product catalog in parallel with our online ordering,” Howland said. Additionally, his team is planning to expand to different market segments and countries, and create digital engagement channels with Dawn’s customers.
Dawn’s impact on bakers will continue as they roll more products out to market, but Sahukar said the real potential is for technologists who are looking to build everything from the ground floor.
“A complete new launch from scratch used to be a multi-year journey for most enterprise technology teams: delivering it in four months is unheard of,” Sahukar said. “And that’s what Dawn is doing.”