At the 2022 edition of eTail 2022 in Boston, the VP Digital at Dawn Foods, Gireesh Sahukar, shared how a composable stack enabled the company to handle change on the way to becoming a digital-first wholesale manufacturer.
That “The only constant in life is change,” is one of the things we keep hearing time and again. Yet, when the Greek philosopher Heraclitus coined the famous phrase, he probably couldn’t imagine the pace of life in our world today and, even more so, in technology.
This is how Michael Scholz, VP Product & Customer Marketing at commercetools, started the conversation with Gireesh Sahukar, VP Digital at Dawn Foods, at eTail East 2022, a leading eCommerce event. The keynote session, “Keeping Up With Constantly Evolving Commerce,” touched upon exactly that: change, transformation and how to handle it all.
How do businesses manage and change their data models? What advanced features do companies need to add? What about social media selling, metaverse and conversational commerce? Whatever’s next, Dawn Foods has found the secret recipe to guide its next wave of growth. At the keynote, Gireesh shared insights on how the company achieved this result.
Manage change = composable commerce
Dawn Foods is a century-old American wholesale manufacturer and distributor of bread, baked goods, mixes and other food products; a traditional B2B company that, up to a few years ago, had no eCommerce footprint. When the company decided to explore eCommerce, the team at Dawn Foods decided to take on a composable approach because “as we started to build, we started to see we could do core foundational changes at the architecture level pretty quickly,” Gireesh revealed.
How many of you can say with any degree of certainty that you can change into your cart data model and not break the rest of your site – or the entire eCommerce business – and live to tell the tale?
This benefit became apparent when during a demo, one of their business users pointed out lacking information in a shopping cart. “One of our developers added the charge and calculations, and polished it. There was no outage to the site. The demo went on and the next time we went to the cart, the change was there.” In light of this experience, Gireesh asked the audience: “How many of you can say with any degree of certainty that you can change into your cart data model and not break the rest of your site — or the entire eCommerce business — and live to tell the tale?”
In addition to real-time changes, Gireesh knows that you must be ready to tackle change regardless of what type of business you're in. “Nobody saw TikTok coming in 2019 and it just burst on the scene. Having a composable architecture means you’ve got a technology framework and the operational aspect of doing eCommerce [that] you can plug and play these emerging channels and the opportunities of eCommerce.”
Going further, Gireesh added, "The composable stack gives you the flexibility you’re looking for to differentiate your business from competitors. (...) The fact that composable has technologies sit a layer below your presentation, you control what you’re presenting to your customers, you control the face of your brand.”
When Michael asked whether he agreed with Gartner’s statement that the companies that adopt a composable approach will outpace their competition by 80%, Gireesh concluded simply with, “Yeah, 80% sounds right.”
From platform to stack
During the talk, Michael noted a subtle change in how Gireesh described a composable commerce solution: “I recognize that you didn’t even mention the word ‘platform.’ For you, it’s about a commerce stack, a commerce portfolio.” Michael pointed out that commercetools is phasing out the word “platform” out of the company’s vocabulary as the market evolves toward a new paradigm: A very flexible, extensible data model that is fundamentally different from legacy platforms.
“That’s true.” Gireesh agreed. He explained, "If you bought an off-the-shelf platform and built your eCommerce site on top, you’re basically tied into that data model. Making changes to that data model is not easy because you don’t control that data model. The vendor controls it. With composable architecture, you break free of that vendor constraint. (...) You’re defining your model and leveraging your data the way you want to.”
Being able to ditch vendor lock-in also plays a significant role. Gireesh pointed out that with composability, “You can play with any particular vendor, you can move to other technologies back and forth.” For example, Dawn Foods started with a search vendor and switched to another after a year. The team migrated to a new provider in six weeks during Christmastime —again, without a hitch!
Composable architecture is where we want to go. It gives us the flexibility for our business for 2020 and beyond.
Lastly, Gireesh mentioned that at the beginning of Dawn Food’s digital transformation process, he felt it would be easy to pick a legacy commerce platform. However, “We consciously broke away from that approach. Composable architecture is where we want to go. It gives us the flexibility for our business for 2020 and beyond.”
This decision shaped how eCommerce took off for Dawn Foods. “Today, 50% of our business runs on eCommerce 24 months since launch,” Gireesh concluded.
Baking innovation into the future
Gireesh is optimistic about the century-old company as it continues to lead the wholesale baking market. He has exciting plans for the future, such as exploring conversational commerce to utilize social media networks to boost the company’s sales conversions. “This is where composable commerce shines,” he said. He further explained that taking the user off the social platform is not feasible, so companies need a "buy button" embedded in the external platform connected with the eCommerce architecture. “This is where the composable architecture adds that kind of flexibility. You’re passing all that data into the API sitting behind the ‘buy button.’ You’ve got the user and the transaction information, and you can process the order from there. It eliminates friction.”
Dawn Foods is also constantly innovating, such as with how it can transform the supply chain, get better at invoicing, collections and more. While eCommerce cannot solve the inherent constraints in agriculture supply chains, it does provide visibility into what and where the constraints come from. Gireesh shared how a pricing engine “adapts our pricing as we see the flow of future commodity pricing, so we can take into account how these commodity prices are doing. When they’re due for delivery, we adjust the pricing appropriately.”
Becoming digital-first changes everything
Finally, how have these changes impacted staffing and the corporate mindset? Answering questions from the audience, Gireesh revealed that Dawn Foods’ focus on eCommerce has changed staffing — for the better. The company created a 19-person strong innovation hub in Boston with brand-new employee roles including product managers, developers and eCommerce operators. Sales teams have remained, but their work changed. “We trained and upskilled them to be more trusted business advisors,” Gireesh pointed out.
Michael agreed, sharing that, “What I’m seeing when talking to customers is a productizing of roles in the overall organization, not the traditional business versus IT anymore.”
It’s on you to explain what composability means, and you have to explain ‘why and so what?’ to your organization leaders. (...) You have to connect composability to your business metrics.
Driving a composability project and a mindset shift comes by educating the technology leaders first. Gireesh explained, “It’s on you to explain what composability means, and you have to explain ‘why and so what?’ to your organization leaders. (...) You have to connect composability to your business metrics.”
It’s a tough and long journey. Gireesh said, “It can be done once you educate your senior leaders.” He explained to Dawn Foods’ CEO, “This is what we’re going to build, here’s why and what is going to do for our business. We laid out a five-year goal and said we wanted to be digital-first and have a digital-based model by the end of 2025. We started there and worked our way down to the technology peers.”
Clearly, that change is a constant remains a timeless human truth. What’s new – and probably would have surprised Heraclitus big-time — is how constant change can be a really good thing.
Watch the full interview with Dawn Foods’ Gireesh Sahukar at eTail East 2022 here.