(Aug. 25) The e-commerce picture has changed dramatically in the past few years.

In fact, it’s probably not fair to call it just e-commerce anymore, as computer technology has advanced to handle so many more functions for the produce industry.

Though their functions may have increased, the number of companies offering those functions has decreased. Only three major players remain:

  • Agribuys, Torrance, Calif.

  • Foodconnex Worldwide, Auburn, Calif.

  • iTradeNetwork, Livermore, Calif.


While Agribuys and Foodconnex boast large retail chains as customers — Pathmark and Supervalu, respectively — iTradeNetwork seems to be making just as much, if not more, noise on the supply side.

In fact, Rob Bonavito, chief executive officer of iTradeNetwork, said his company is facilitating about $1 billion in produce transactions each month, with 2,000 customers using the system.

FoodConnex, meanwhile, has done about $15 million in produce transactions over the past 6 months, with 80 suppliers using the system.

Agribuys officers did not return calls for this story.

INTEGRATION

Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Ana, Calif., said his company has been working to integrate the iTradeNetwork system into its existing supply chain management and accounting software.

“That way, when orders come through iTradeNetwork, they’ll come directly into our system,” he said. “Previously we had been double-handling all of those orders.”

Doug Grant, director of information technology for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said his company, too, has been working to integrate the two systems.

“Initially, iTradeNetwork didn’t (have a good effect) because our staff was re-keying information on both our system and iTrade’s system,” he said. “Integrating the systems has eliminated that problem.”

CUSTOMER-DRIVEN

In fact, Grant said, Oppenheimer has been able to do more business with its retail customers as a result of the iTradeNetwork system.

And Oppenheimer isn’t the only one. Calavo and Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., said the decision to use a system like iTradeNetwork was driven by their customers, primarily retailers.

“We first looked at (iTradeNetwork) going way back,” Wedin said. “We were fascinated with the concept of modern selling and buying. But as time went on we realized that it was really going to have to be driven by the customer. Now, it has probably helped cement our relationships with the big retail customers.”

Retailers such as H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio; The Kroger Co., Cincinnati; and Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, have signed up to use iTradeNetwork’s services in recent months. In addition, Grant said, Oppenheimer signed on with Agribuys in order to do business with Dutch retailer Royal Ahold.

Dan Sutton, director of produce procurement for Albertsons, said his company has been on board the e-commerce bandwagon since the beginning. Albertsons signed on with DTN, the Omaha, Neb.-based company that eventually merged with TradingProduce.com to become iTradeNetwork.

That merger occurred in March 2001. Albertsons went on to become one of iTradeNetwork’s first retail customers later that year.

USES

Today, Sutton said Albertsons uses iTradeNetwork to transmit purchase orders and get advance shipping notices into its system directly from the shippers. The retail chain also uses the system for a variety of other functions, including pricing comparisons and contract management.

Sutton said the majority of shippers that deal with Albertsons are on board with iTradeNetwork.

“I can’t say they are all fully integrated,” he said. “The ones who are seem to really like it.”

Most users said the early fears of losing personal relationships to computer technology faded once they began to see the benefits of the system.