LEWISVILLE, Texas -- Fleming Cos., one of the first food-distribution companies to join the rush toward the Internet, has high hopes for Cerespan.com, the spinoff of its proprietary Visonet technology that's now intended to become a portal for cross-industry commerce.
Cerespan.com's Web-based offer includes a consumer-products promotion area, an order-management system, a bid-auction feature that permits buyers to aggregate their power, an item catalog and communications facilities.
In an interview with SN here, Mark S. Hansen, Fleming's president and chief executive officer, said the wholesaler essentially spun off for industrywide use the technology it had developed two and a half years ago to facilitate business-to-business solutions for Fleming-related retailers and vendors.
"We developed the Visonet technology and realized we had a solution that worked well for Fleming. But, that said, we also realized that there was a need for a technology that looks like our Visonet technology to act as a portal to the whole industry." And, he acknowledged, if Fleming hadn't acted to make the technology available to more industry players, it might have been duplicated and the advantage lost.
So, three months ago, "We decided to spin it out into a freestanding company and make the technology available to those in the industry who want to use it. We're in the process of developing third-party funding for the business and also developing third-party participation to broaden the business." The for-profit enterprise, in which Fleming retains an equity interest, is based in Atlanta under the leadership of James B. McCurry, its CEO. McCurry is a co-founder of Babbage's, an entertainment-oriented software retailer. Equity positions are to be solicited from others.
"Cerespan.com technology works all the way up and down the supply chain, as opposed to single transactions between buyer and seller. It's a supply-chain enabling technology that allows manufacturers to have a glass pipeline into retail so they can drive sales for their merchandise. Likewise, retailers can look back up into the supply chain and make promotional decisions based on the portfolio of what's out there," Hansen observed.
He said 19 of the nation's Top 20 consumer packaged-goods manufacturers use Cerespan.com technology and that it's currently in 4,000 stores, giving it an advantage over the now-forming retailer and manufacturer exchanges.
"Cerespan" is a coinage that derives from Ceres, in Roman mythology the goddess of agriculture, and the word "span," as in bridge.