SERCA Going On-Line for Customer Service Orders, Ease

Chances are that much of the gleaming, fresh produce, that delights the eye in the local Sobey's Produce area, or appears on a plate in your favourite restaurant, has passed through the SERCA Atlantic Food Service building in Caledonia Estates.

SERCA Atlantic, formerly Clover Produce, and previously part of the Sobey's, food company held by the publicly traded corporation, Empire Inc., emerged as the operating group in food service distribution stretching across Canada. This name change and expansion resulted from the Sobey's acquisition of Oshawa Food Group, and of Oshawa's subsidiary Serca Food Services serving commercial and institutional clients.

During 1999, the new regional operation emerged as Serca Food Service Inc., Atlantic Division, which is wholesaling to Sobeys Inc.(SBY-TSE) stores and food service products to a wide range of customers including restaurants, institutions, health care facilities, and hotels.

With a new name, same mandate, and same Moncton location, Serca Atlantic mission is to deliver food products to customers and Sobeys stores as efficiently and fresh as possible.

Sobeys Inc. is the combined food businesses of Empire and Oshawa merged into a national food company. As of 1999, Sobeys, operates 948 stores across Canada with revenues in excess of $10 billion, (1999 figures), making it the second largest retail and wholesale grocery chain in Canada. In New Brunswick, Sobeys Inc., operate 23 Sobeys, 5 Foodland, 13 Needs and Green Gable convenience and 8 Lawtons drug Stores.

Sobeys Inc., parent company of SERCA Foods is lead by Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer DOUGLAS B. STEWART, and is head-quartered in Nova Scotia. Throughout his 32-year career in the Canadian food industry, Stewart has developed operational and senior management experience in corporate and franchised supermarkets, as well as wholesale and foodservice distribution in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Despite the growth of Sobeys to become a national player on the food service industry, the issues for the Moncton distribution centre are still local and still customer focused.

Ron Kennedy, General Manager of SERCA Atlantic, Moncton, says he is delighted to be part of a national group presence, as a result of the Sobeys national acquisition of Oshawa Group. He explains that despite the new Division name and national operation size, the SERCA operation in Moncton is still focused on serving the consumers of Atlantic Canada.

"From our Caledonia location, which we had expanded recently to 97,000 square feet, we continue to serve all of New Brunswick, from here as well as all the Sobey's in PEI and Sydney, Nova Scotia. No matter how you slice it, Moncton is the convenient location to get time sensitive deliveries completed, " says Kennedy.

"As Clover, we had been selling to all food service customers and the Sobeys stores, but now we are part of a national chain that specializes in the needs of commercial and industrial customers, as well as the consumer grocery stores," he adds.

"We are growing in product lines and in the number of people employed to serve our market," says Kennedy. "Today we employ 175 in Moncton and have over 600 lines moving through the SERCA warehouse, dry, wet, frozen, and fresh, moving over the loading docks unto trucks," he says. Kennedy adds, "we are a busy hub all on our own. This place never shuts down, because fresh is shelf life and that knows no clock."

"Moncton's very convenient for us and the customers we have to reach keeping fresh alive" he says, as lift trucks and pallets do a carefully choreographed dance step through the massive building, which is broken into uses by temperature holding requirements.

"The Moncton location has come a long way since that day in 1978 when I joined the former Clover facility and we were operating from 13,5000 square feet on the edge of the old Caledonia Park, long before the new expansion of Caledonia Estates. As a company today, we are growing and adding new functions everyday that build our relationship to customers," says Kennedy.

SERCA's latest and newest function is to expand the Web based SERCA online, called "SERCAnet", to local regional customers, which is similar in operation to a customer accessed ordering service already launched in the Ontario region.

"What SERCAnet does is provide a method for customers to place their specific food product order over the Internet on our SERCA Web site. Their order is processed and automatically reduces inventory available and provides costing quotes as well as sample recipes", says Kennedy.

"Were working with about 60 initial customers and going through the implementation and experimentation phase right now," says Kennedy. "This new system puts our inventory closer to our customer and improves our service level to our customer," he adds.

"Staying focused on the customer and responsive to what they need to succeed is the name of the game for SERCA. Now were adding the Internet-based customer service site to the tools we use to help get product to our customer, and to get them there when they need them," says Kennedy.