Cajun Country

Mar 01, 2003 10:30 PM  By

WHILE ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE, boudin balls, and authentic Zydeco music may be abundantly available in New Orleans, if you Jones for such stuff in Winnipeg you’re probably out of luck. This was the premise that sparked CajunGrocer.com, a Net-based storefront located in Lafayette, LA. The relative rarity of high-quality Louisiana specialty items outside the state has taken this Internet upstart a long way in a short time.

“When we got this concept off the ground, the idea was to make the unique products of southern Louisiana available to any consumer within striking distance of a computer keyboard,” says Charlie F. Hohorst III, president and founder. “We bought and sold like a distributor, but soon evolved beyond that. Now we’re in a B2B play, and have made that approach a major objective in growing our business. Since we were warehousing product already, the transition from strictly B2C to B2B was relatively easy to accomplish. Today we offer our business partners a turnkey solution. A shopper clicks on one of our partner’s Web sites and makes his selection. The order is then forwarded to CajunGrocer, where it is picked, shipped, and invoiced using the partner’s label. The process is totally transparent. When the customer receives his order he has no idea that a third party was involved.”

CajunGrocer’s incept date of January 1999 was arguably the best and the worst possible time to launch such an enterprise, given the popularity of Cajun cuisine and the imminent dot-com crash. Hohorst realized he had a captured market, as well as the business background required to connect with it profitably. Before CajunGrocer, Hohorst had logged four years as international brand manager for McIhenny Company (makers of Tabasco® brand pepper sauce).

When he started CajunGrocer, Hohorst partnered with BrightStar Information Technology Services Inc., a Pleasanton, CA-based provider of business processes automation. BrightStar helped the company build its Net store and developed the critical back-office system needed to get the fledgling enterprise off the ground.

Today CajunGrocer.com’s long list of Internet partners includes such well-known brands as Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits, Tabasco Brand Products, Reily Foods Company (makers of Luzianne coffees and teas), Cajun Injector (a maker of marinade injectors based in Clinton, LA), and QVC’s home shopping network. Operations & Fulfillment recently chatted with Hohorst about Cajun food and entertainment products, the people who love them, and how CajunGrocer helps bring the two together.

Why would a food company want or need to sell product online?

There are two sides of the grocery business, traditional and gourmet. You rarely see gourmet items at traditional grocery stores because they cost so much to slot. This is one of the reasons our business model works. The food companies come to us because they can’t sell the stuff at the grocery stores, and the consumers click on the site because they want the products, but can’t find them in their own backyards.

Which large companies do you work with now, and why did they choose to go into partnership with you?

The relationships we recently formed with Cajun Injector and QVC have impacted our business significantly. Cajun Injector kits come with a marinade jar and an injector for marinating turkeys, chickens, or what have you. For the past year and a half the company has offered a pre-injected turkey, which is promoted on QVC. We act as drop-shipper for Cajun Injector. Cajun Injector works with us because we are equipped to drop-ship fresh-frozen food. This is rare in our industry. The services provided by our company and QVC are very much in demand these days. Most people don’t have the time to labor over elaborate meals, though they still have a taste for them.

Describe your distribution channels, and the methods and technologies you use to tie them all together.

We have an in-house call center. Off-season the center is staffed by three full-time operators. When the holidays come around we hire temps to handle the additional business. Each partner is assigned its own toll-free number, and when the customer dials, the call rolls over to our facility. That’s how it works on the consumer side. For QVC and Cajun Injector we act strictly as a drop-shipper. Everything is tied together, including back-end accounting and the WMS, via our Microsoft Great Plains information system. Right now we have five partners funneling orders over a virtual private network. We chose the system we have [Microsoft SQL server] because of its extraordinary flexibility, which we’ll need as the number of partnerships we are involved with increases down the road.

What are the special challenges of warehousing and drop-shipping fresh-frozen food items, and how do you overcome them?

At the moment we devote about 2,000 square feet of our fulfillment facility to freezer space. We also keep three 40-ft. [mobile] reefers on hand for cold storage. We don’t own this facility, so it doesn’t make sense to invest in permanent, in-house coolers. Anything perishable is shipped out frozen. Speed is of the essence when shipping perishable items, especially with QVC orders, which call for a 48-hour turnaround.

What value-added services do you offer?

We are very flexible, and remain open to whatever our partner’s needs may be. Popeye’s, for example, might ask us to insert a special piece of promotional literature in their packaging. We get this sort of thing all the time, and we don’t do anything fancy to take care of it. We simply assign someone to do the job manually. We are not highly automated yet. We don’t work with RF, carousels, or anything like that. Even our gravity conveyors are not really automated, and in a way this has increased our flexibility. We don’t have to work around a rigidly automated system to provide some extra service for our partners. We just do it.

D. Douglas Graham is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, MO. He can be reached by e-mail at mahakala@charter.net.

Integrated Order Processing

According to CajunGrocer.com president Charlie F. Hohorst III, Web orders for all business partners are integrated into the company’s back-end system (Microsoft Great Plains), picked in batches of 50, and then packed. There are four packing stations for dry goods and five for perishables. Packages travel on a gravity-feed conveyor to a shipping station, where each package is weighed and scanned to generate a ship-to address. The shipping system is Starship, an interface for FedEx, UPS, USPS, and Airborne. Shipping information is written back to the original sales order in Great Plains for customer relationship management. Material handling equipment includes gravity-feed conveyors and automated tray-wrappers from ARPAC LC of Schiller Park, IL. The ARPAC equipment shrink-wraps Styrofoam coolers containing perishable foods at a rate of up to 25 pieces a minute.
DDG

CAJUNGROCER.COM

Headquarters: Lafayette, LA

Annual sales: $5 million-plus; growth of roughly 60% a year

Total employees: 30

Facility size: 20,000 sq. ft.

SKUs: 1,800

Shipments: Off-season, 400 per day for CajunGrocer, Popeye’s.com, Zatarain.com, Luzianne.com; 1,300-plus at holiday season. Also 4,000-6,000 Cajun Injectors sold via QVC.

Hourly pick rate: Cajun Injectors, 800 (all single-item orders); all other merchandise, 200 items per hour.