When Fargo, North Dakota-based SunButter started, the company was answering a call from the USDA for a new peanut-butter alternative to serve in schools. Peanut allergies have been rising among school-age children, nearly tripling since 2001. So the idea of creating a new spreadable seed-based butter made from leftover sunflower crops was the perfect solution to keeping everyone’s favorite “PB&J” on the menu. Soon a fast-growth retail strategy followed. And today, SunButter is carried in 26,000 retail locations in addition to schools nationwide.

SunButter is a mid-sized business that sells through distributors. The leadership team’s growth strategy focuses on increasing same-store sales, adding additional SKUs, and attracting new buyers to the category. But like most CPG brands, figuring out the right inventory levels and keeping products in stock over the last few years has been a challenge.

“We thought keeping up with sales during pandemic buying was tough…but what’s more difficult is keeping distributors stocked amid labor shortages, supply chain challenges, and the rising cost of carrying inventory and logistics,” said Justin LaGosh, managing director, SunButter.

Sales FOMO is real

Back-to-school time is a big sales season for SunButter, driving 40% or more of its annual sales. But LaGosh found that he was spending hours poring through pivot tables and spreadsheets from multiple retailer and distributor portals to understand how much product to produce and ship. With limited time, he had to prioritize compiling data for just the top accounts, leaving other opportunities on the table.

The team even tried building its own data lake and a model for detecting retailer voids, but the manual process of exporting data, adjusting naming conventions and re-uploading spreadsheets over and over again only shifted their time to new administrative tasks that didn’t address the root problem.

LaGosh needed to have greater visibility into inventory to ensure that no sales opportunities were lost across retail partners due to out-of-stocks—but he knew that an essential part of the equation was missing. He needed a tool that could aggregate and analyze all the partner data, all in one place without much administrative oversight. 

“How do you pinpoint problems, lead your sales force to the right areas, and ask the right questions about supply chain operations without a tool to analyze data?” he asked. 

A ray of light

To tackle the problem, LaGosh looked at tools that could easily integrate with supply chain portals, deliver real-time data on inventory across the entire supply chain and retail partners, and help elevate the exact distributors and retailers that need attention to reduce voids. The solution that rose to the top was Crisp.

With the new platform in place, LaGosh’s team could finally make smarter decisions to get the right amount of product to exactly the right channels. One of the first places they started was understanding and anticipating demand. The team now analyzes sell-in and sell-through data to project potential sales, which allows them to have a data-driven conversation with channel partners to drive higher order volumes.

“When we tell a buyer they’re not ordering enough, it’s easy to sound like we’re just salespeople trying to sell more,” LaGosh explains. “But when you can say that register sales are growing at 15% and you’ve only ordered 8% more than a year ago, and you’re going to miss sales, that’s much more believable.”

This insight is helpful to buyers, who manage hundreds of products and don’t have enough time to analyze demand for each brand and SKU carried. It also helps them see SunButter as a true partner, helping retailers take advantage of every sales opportunity to boost their own revenue.

LaGosh’s other top priority is detecting and resolving out-of-stocks and voids as quickly as possible. Because Crisp integrates seamlessly with their multiple retailer and distributor portals to provide real-time sales and inventory data, he can identify potential stock-outs and problem-solve very quickly to avoid losses.

This has allowed SunButter to improve distributor fill rates and communicate with partners early on about possible inventory lags or voids. Because of this, LaGosh estimates that Crisp data helped SunButter save $250K in avoided stock-outs in just the first year alone.

Access to real-time data has also improved SunButter’s retailer relationships and pointed out bottlenecks in the supply chain. For example, LaGosh was speaking with a retailer who thought their stores’ out-of-stocks were due to a supplier shortage. But when LaGosh pulled up the Crisp dashboard, he was able to quickly track orders and shipments through the distributor, call the facility, and show that the order was in fact filled, but hadn’t been picked up yet by the buyer.

Ultimately, this level of transparency helped the retailer see the disconnect and better manage their own process so they could capture more sales.

Creating efficiencies

LaGosh and his team no longer need to sift through spreadsheets and manually analyze data because it is automatically pulled from retail and distributor portals into user-friendly dashboards. The elimination of this manual management saved LaGosh 10 hours per month and condensed 2-3 hours per week of problem-solving using spreadsheets into less than 30 minutes.

The team also tracks sales performance to understand what’s driving sales and where there are opportunities to improve. By viewing sales and distribution by geography, LaGosh can identify what strategies higher-volume stores are using that can be applied to other locations.

For instance, if overall sales at a particular retailer increased after stocking SunButter’s newest chocolate SKU, LaGosh can use this data as a sales and marketing tool with other retailers. LaGosh also monitors data across regions and chains to make sure marketing dollars and promotions match inventory levels and demand potential

“If I’m going to spend marketing dollars, I want to drive sales where they’re growing already,” he explains.

With the right tool finally in place, LaGosh can refocus on sales leadership, and count on his team to monitor their own accounts, make smarter decisions based on reliable data and quickly adjust sales strategies to take advantage of opportunities that they were missing before.

“I push the whole sales team to use Crisp,” he says. “Now, I expect them to come to me and say, ‘here’s what I found, and here’s what I did about it.’”