How Ferrara Unifies People and Data to Improve Customer Experience

Candy is sweet – and tech savvy. For more than a century, global candy maker Ferrara has been the driving force behind many of the world’s best-loved confections. Cutting-edge speed, agility, and accuracy help Ferrara keep each of its brands – ­­from faithful standards to its newest acquisitions – performing at their peak.

“Ferrara is an innovative candy and sweet snack company, and we take that very seriously,” Vice President and CIO George Lesko said in a video shot at Ferrara’s new headquarters in the heart of Chicago. “We require a lot of information when we’re making decisions about how to build our portfolio of brands, and how to grow those brands.”

Part of building Ferrara’s portfolio depends on acquiring iconic brands, according to Lesko. No stranger to icons, the 112-year-old sweet maker is a Chicago institution, and its high-tech head office is in the equally iconic Old Post Office building, which still hosts vintage hardware from its parcel-processing past.

“It’s a historic building,” Lesko said in a breakroom with a view of another Chicago icon: the Willis Tower. “We’re happy to be part of its resurgence.”

Ferrara is also part of a resurgence when it acquires a new brand.

“When you acquire an iconic brand like SweeTARTS, for example, you want to be able to integrate that into your business as quickly as possible,” Lesko said, a century-old mail chute spiraling in the corner behind him. “You want to get the consumer insights, the retail information, and the supply chain information all in one place so that the consumers don’t have to wait.”

When You Need to Know Now

“The SweeTARTS brand is so valuable because it’s one that our consumers love,” Patrick Degnan, vice president of Sales Operations and Integration at Ferrara Candy Co., said. “And its complimentary strength to our existing portfolio allows us to build on our long-term strategy.”

Real-time access to data from new acquisitions helps Ferrara sales teams quickly start talks with retail customers about those brands, according to Degnan. Speaking knowledgably about all of Ferrara’s brands establishes trust, which is crucial to mutually beneficial relationships.

“In a prior acquisition, it took us over a year to have access to sales data. SAP HANA allowed us to do that within weeks,” Degnan said. “It gives our customers confidence in us; it shows that we understand the brands that we bought; and it allows us to make business decisions to drive overall profitability for us and them.”

Access to real-time data is valuable to both Ferrara and its customers, according to Degnan. It pinpoints where problems might exist, enabling agile and timely fixes.

“If there are areas where [a brand] isn’t performing up to expectations, we can’t go weeks, months, and years without knowing that,” Degnan said. “Our retail partners find tremendous value in our ability to report in real time.”

Seamless Reporting from Day One

“The differentiator is these tools have allowed us to acquire companies and, on day one of that acquisition, have seamless reporting of historical data from this company as well as … Ferrara’s own data coming in daily,” Gene King, Ferrara’s senior manager for SAP BI and App Development, said. “And it’s seamless to the end user.”

Ferrara’s users enjoy one-stop-shopping for data from across the portfolio – enterprise resource planning (ERP), historical, transactional, and other types of data – even if they’re stored in different systems, according to King. End users cannot tell the difference because they use a single interface, which frees up their time to better track customers’ needs.

“The real benefit is incorporating acquired brands into the business that we already have and doing it quickly,” Lesko said. “We can’t ask our sales and marketing people to go to three or four different places to get information … particularly if we acquire a brand.”

This unified approach to analytics means Ferrara needn’t “waste time” retraining employees on disparate systems, according to Lesko. It also helps Ferrara move fast and make wise decisions quickly.

“The business users love us now because we can respond to issues immediately … we’re adding so much value so quickly,” King said, standing in front of Ferrara’s massive branded latticework, which greets visitors as they enter the headquarters’ lobby. “It also makes this immediate for executives; they don’t have to wait for groups to pull this stuff together.”

Optimizing the Consumer Experience

“We’re using a lot of both internal and external resources to make decisions today,” Ferrara Director of Insights and Analytics Daniel Hunt shared. “For SweeTARTS in particular, we’ve done a lot of research on XM (experience management) – and we’re doing a lot of research currently.”

This includes exploring new innovations and product segments for SweeTARTS, according to Hunt. He and his team also use Experience Management solutions from SAP (Qualtrics) to better understand what kinds of new campaign messages would resonate best with consumers, and to identify which new flavors have the most potential.

Hunt’s team also plans to track brand health in-house via Qualtrics.

“That’ll allow us to consistently measure our brands throughout the course of the year, and then load that data directly into our data warehouse so we can use that, along with other longitudinal data,” Hunt said. “We get to start doing analytics on that data and also start to build dashboards to allow us to visualize it.”

Ferrara has grown accustomed to using data from multiple sources to drive decision making, according to Hunt. This includes determining the best way to enter a new market, identifying unmet needs, finding market gaps, and more.

“For SweeTARTS in particular as a brand,” Hunt said, “we’ve used XM to touch almost every major brand activity, from new innovation to communications.”

When IT Moves at the Speed of Business

“SweeTARTS is a strategic brand for us, and we were able to provide information literally on day one of that acquisition,” Lesko said. “The ability to move as quickly as our business is moving is really important to us.”

Ferrara’s executive leadership team appreciated seeing all of their usual enterprise-wide metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) in relatively the same format, according to Lesko.

“We were able to show information side-by-side with our other brands, [such as] Trolli and Black Forest – and it was in a format that everybody was used to,” Lesko said, branded pillows with Nerds and other logos nestled on a sofa behind him. “And that was thanks to SAP HANA.”


Follow Derek on Twitter: @DKlobucher