During the pandemic, nut lovers were alarmed to see shelves in their favorite part of the supermarket empty\u2013and devoid of the roasted delicacies they craved.\n\nNow, we finally understand why.\n\nIn addition to the usual threats\u2013droughts, wildfires, and weather\u2013California almond growers had to contend with wild fluctuations in supply and demand while transportation resources became limited, unreliable, and expensive.\n\nThis was challenging news for Sacramento-based Blue Diamond Growers, the world's largest almond processing and marketing cooperative.\n\nThe state \u201cprovides 80% of the world's (almond) supply,\u201d Aubrey Bettencourt, President and CEO of the California Almond Alliance, explained to KCBS Radio. "Part of that is dependent on our ability to transport it around world. The inability to move that product, that is sold but cannot be delivered, means a cash-filled crisis, because we get paid once the product is delivered.\u201d\n\nOut of their tree\n\nThis was compounded by the fact that Blue Diamond\u2019s processes, systems, and documents used for managing the cooperative\u2019s $300-million supply chain and logistics functions were limited by a number of manual processes. With workers dependent on a disjointed network, the conditions created by the pandemic made it all but impossible to consistently satisfy demand.\n\nWhile customers worried about the uncertainty of orders being filled, customer service representatives were required to navigate through 10 different systems and data sources for answers. At times, it took days for customers to receive a reply.\n\nDuring this period, lead time for securing freight increased from three weeks to five months, while the early stage of planning new promotions stretched from two months to five.\n\nThe chaotic environment also hampered the ability of the cooperative to create a 12-month demand and supply plan for the fiscal year. With so many disparate documents and systems, consolidating, validating, and analyzing the data and metrics was time consuming, leaving limited opportunities to run scenarios and simulations.\n\nThe circumstances accelerated the need for Blue Diamond to move to a completely digitized supply chain\u2013and there was little time to lose.\n\nKernel of hope\n\nOriginally founded as the California Almond Grower's Exchange in 1910, Blue Diamond now represents approximately 3,000 growers and ships to nearly 75 countries. The organization\u2019s efforts are largely responsible for California\u2019s almond crop being the state\u2019s largest food export.\n\n\u201cAlmonds are all we do,\u201d the cooperative boasts.\n\nIndeed, the organization\u2019s catalog includes everything from wasabi and soy sauce almonds to low-sodium treats to almond milk.\n\nYet, to maximize returns for each grower, Blue Diamond must regularly develop new products while operating with efficiency, scenarios the old supply chain system did not particularly enhance.\n\nSince 2014, though, Blue Diamond had been working with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software leader SAP. Now, the cooperative turned to the German multinational to utilize its transportation management, logistics, business planning, analytics cloud, and other capabilities to build a world-class supply chain solution.\n\nPlanting the seed\n\nDeployment occurred in phases over 2021 and 2022, building off the SAP and ERP ecosystem foundations.\n\nThe enhanced supply chain visibility and planning tools helped eliminate shortages due to supply and freight issues, while the organization now had a single source for responding to customer inquiries.\n\nThe new system allows planners and support representatives to comprehensively plan ahead to meet demand, relieve supply gaps, and identify transportation gridlock.\n\nIndeed, supply planning, which used to take place once a month, can be done weekly or even daily.\n\nMeanwhile, the number of related systems supported by the IT team declined from five to one.\n\nRather than being assigned low-level Excel tasks, planning employees have been endowed with new responsibilities, redefining themselves as product managers and experts.\n\nWith a more comprehensive management view across the business, Blue Diamond has been able to meet the industry standard of keeping two months of inventory on hand at a particular time. This is a 20% reduction from the prior method of stocking 75 days of product.\n\nAnother noticeable change: scenario planning can be concluded in 20 minutes, down from the previous six hours.\n\nAn incredible $1 million has been saved in logistics costs, and order fill rates increased to 99%\u201310% more than the industry average. Forecast accuracy has improved by almost 10%, as well.\n\n\u201cWe have created a solid foundation for an intelligent, data-driven cooperative that provides the best value for our growers,\u201d observed Steve Birgfeld, the cooperative\u2019s Vice President of Information Technology and Services.\n\nThe development of a state-of-art supply chain earned Blue Diamond Growers the distinction as a finalist at the 2023 SAP Innovation Awards, a yearly ceremony honoring organizations using SAP products to craft meaningful change.\n\nThe solution provides a roadmap to improve production planning, scheduling, plant maintenance, sustainability, and other critical areas as part of an overall movement of \u201cresilience disruption.\u201d You can read how Blue Diamond accomplished this in their Innovation Awards pitch deck.