NEW YORK -- Brokers are using information technology to solidify their position in the new marketplace created by Efficient Consumer Response business practices. As the marketplace changes from a "push" to a "pull" way of doing business, "brokers have taken the necessary steps to build their technology tool boxes," said Mark Baum, senior vice president of National Food Brokers Association, Reston, Va. He outlined these steps in a talk on category management here at a promotion conference sponsored by Spar Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y. and IBC USA Conferences, Scarborough, Mass. ECR is an industrywide effort to streamline the grocery distribution pipeline by using new business practices such as continuous replenishment and electronic data interchange. "Brokers are utilizing a variety of information technology applications to facilitate various aspects of category management," Baum said. "Brokers are making the needed investments to sustain both integrated systems and stand-alone applications in their desire to develop or maintain an advantage over competitors and align them closely with customers and principals," he explained. "These investments include decision-support systems, presentation software, shelf management, syndicated and causal data systems on the business-building side, and electronic data interchange and continuous replenishment programs on the supply side."
Baum said that brokers over the years have invested in technology such as electronic shelf management systems. More recently, they increasingly are using syndicated and causal data systems for retailer and market evaluations, micromarketing and customer development analyses. They also are starting to take part in activity-based costing and management.
"Life in the information age is different. The value placed on information -- good information -- continues to rise. Information-laden management tools will increasingly become more a part of what this industry does and how it is done," he said. Baum said the broker is an "indispensable part" of successful category management, which helps the industry move toward its ECR objectives. "They generate strategic information which becomes actionable. Proper category analysis and planning, with clearly-assigned roles, coupled with the right category tactics that are implemented when the broker is equipped with the right information, equates to delivering the right products in the right store, merchandised into the right consumer's cart," he said.