After cornering the produce accounting market in Great Britain and then South Africa, Prophet turned its attention to the United States and believes it is now poised to do the same here.
Mick Heatherington, vice president of sales for Prophet North America, recently told Western Grower & Shipper that the company’s latest enterprise-ready, supply chain-focused, accounting software is gaining inroads in the United States and should make tremendous sales gains in the next year. He noted that a very large project at Sunkist is currently being installed, while a 150-user system at 4Earth Farms recently went live. He also mentioned that Alpine Farms in Florida and Index Fresh are adding Prophet’s PR3 system. “We have surpassed our targets (over the past five year) and in the next five years we expect significant growth,” he said. “We’ve had a great reception from the industry for our software technology.”
Based on past performance, Heatherington said the success has not been a surprise. He explained that Prophet started its life in 1989 with a goal of creating and installing an accounting software package for the wholesale produce industry in the United Kingdom. At the time, the Prophet executive said about 70 percent of the produce sold in Great Britain passed through the hands of wholesale produce houses.
The Prophet staff thoroughly analyzed that business and created a software package that accomplished exactly what the larger wholesalers wanted to do. Heatherington said the package did an excellent job of very accurately keeping track of the cost of sales as product came from the grower community, passed through the hands of the wholesalers and was distributed to retailers. He said the clever package wasn’t based on accounting ledgers but was able to deep dive into actual costs to give that wholesaler a clearer financial picture of his operation.
Prophet became very popular and had users throughout the U.K. As the industry switched from a middle-man dominated buying culture to direct sales, Prophet adjusted its software package and continued to grow its market share.
“We adopted a unique way of marketing the software,” Hetherington said.
The firm created a licensing agreement, similar to a subscription, which would give each user the benefit of upgrades as they were developed. While there was some customization for the product, in essence every customer ran the same software, which allowed for economies of scale and constant improvement. Sales spread throughout Europe and then the firm expanded into South Africa, which is one of the major produce suppliers for Europe. “Today a vast percentage of South African exports are exported on our platform,” Heatherington said.
Five years ago, the founders began investigating the U.S. market. “We started by buying a small business in Bakersfield, and we have expanded since then.”
Following the business model that was successful in Europe and South Africa, Prophet analyzed the U.S. produce industry for a couple of years before developing the U.S.-specific software package. It has developed a software system that takes into account the peculiarities of the U.S. produce industry. As such, he said many areas have been taken into account such as the food safety arena and the changing produce environment which has seen tremendous growth in the value-added category.
As such it is poised for huge growth in the next few years. “We have targeted certain business. We like to choose our customers. We look for those firms who embrace technology and are progressive businesses.”
He added that the perfect Prophet customer is a firm that is fast-moving, expanding its product line and looking internationally. He said that is where the company has lots of experience and can partner well with U.S. produce firms.
As part of the company’s research into the U.S. market, Prophet became involved with Western Growers and its Center for Innovation & Technology. Hetherington said Western Growers’ effort to promote technology and move the industry forward mirrors Prophet’s view. “We became sponsors of the Center because it is a great way to give back.”
Prophet is headquartered in the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles and is currently pitching what Heatherington calls its “advanced software package” to a myriad of produce industry suppliers.
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