February 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Fresh and Fresher

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"It`s a huge time-saver just from the data entry perspective. You can pull up historical information, or data on specific points or carriers as you need to," she says. "You can compare data on the web in a couple of clicks versus posting 17 sheets of paper on a bulletin board and saying, `What happened?`" Knutson didn`t disclose what New World pays for the technology but estimates the investment has now paid for itself.

Food isn`t the only perishable product benefiting from the introduction of the Internet into the supply chain. Provide Commerce Inc.`s flagship floral web site, Proflowers.com, has built a business on the promise of flowers that are one to three days out of the ground upon delivery, versus more than a week, which is typical under traditional cut flower distribution methods. Proflowers meets the shorter window with web-based technology that makes the whole supply chain more efficient, including proprietary software it installs at flower-growing farms.

At the domestic flower growers with which it has contracts to ship product directly to customers--representing about one-third of the flowers shipped by Proflowers--the company has installed a file server/PC attached to a series of printers. For each order to be filled, the system generates a packing slip, greeting card message and shipping label all on the same perforated form.

No more collating

Under traditional models, those three pieces of information are pulled from three different systems. "But this way, the growers don`t have to collate it themselves to make sure that the right shipping label goes with the right packing slip and the right greeting card message," says CEO Bill Strauss.

Proflowers` model transfers to flower growers many of the tasks formerly handled by middlemen, putting them in the business of packaging and shipping as well as supplying product. In the process it`s propelled some of those growers forward in e-commerce by sparking the spread of high-speed Internet access in some remote areas that still didn`t have it. "When we started this six years ago, we actually installed fax machines at the growers, and we had fax servers here that sent the orders," says Strauss. "But over time, growers have installed high-speed Internet access on their own as they`ve seen their business with us grow. It`s been that profitable for them."


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