Gordon Food Service: Delivering new and improved customer ordering experiences

About Gordon Food Service

Since 1897, Gordon Food Service has been known for offering customers uncompromising quality and heartfelt service. The company has grown to become the largest family business in the foodservice industry, serving foodservice operators in the United States and Canada.

Industries: Food & Beverage
Location: United States

About Solstice

A Google Cloud Premier Partner, Solstice, part of Kin + Carta, is a digital innovation firm helping companies respond to new opportunities through world-changing digital solutions.

By working with Solstice | Kin + Carta to build a new customer ordering application using Google Kubernetes Engine, Gordon Food Service is differentiating itself in the ultra-competitive wholesale food distribution market.

Google Cloud Results

  • Increases customer satisfaction and competitive edge with streamlined ordering
  • Provides high availability and near-limitless scalability for customer-facing ordering application
  • Improves responsiveness to customers' feature requests by more than 99%
  • Enables complete workload portability and redeployment in less than 1 hour
  • Helps protect customer orders and order history with robust security and disaster recovery

Went from 4 to 2,920 deployments a year

Gordon Food Service began more than a century ago as a local butter and egg delivery service. Today, it's the largest family-operated broadline food distribution company in North America, serving approximately 100,000 business customers. Much has changed, but the company's commitment to customer service and satisfaction remains the same. Gordon Food Service offers best-in-class products and menu design assistance to restaurants, schools, universities, and hospitals, helping them provide their own customers a satisfying and nutritious dining experience.

"Solstice brought a customer-driven development methodology that helped us build what our customers actually want, instead of what we thought they wanted. They had a proven process for that approach, along with experience working on Google Cloud Platform. It's been tremendously successful."

Tom Pearce, IT Manager, E-Commerce, Gordon Food Service

For years, Gordon Food Service captured customer orders through two on-premises systems: an internally developed CRM application for U.S. customers and an off-the-shelf ERP system for Canadian customers. Although the customer ordering experience was good, Gordon Food Service saw an opportunity to improve it. Customer expectations were changing, and the company wanted the B2B ordering process to be more like a modern B2C shopping experience. In addition, market disruptors and new competitors were putting pressure on Gordon Food Service to innovate.

"We needed to go faster," says Craig Van Arendonk, Director of IT - Customer and Sales at Gordon Food Service. "The competitive landscape required us to put new features and functionality in front of our customers faster, so we needed to think differently about ecommerce and our digital strategy."

To modernize its flagship ecommerce ordering application and differentiate its brand against existing competitors and new entrants, Gordon Food Service approached Solstice, a Google Cloud Premier Partner, to help deliver a pilot to its Canadian customers. It wanted the new system, called Gordon Ordering, to be operational in approximately six months. To achieve this tight timeline, Gordon Food Service chose to develop and deploy the application on Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

Building a better ordering process

To simplify customer ordering, Gordon Food Service wanted a clean, intuitive design anchored on a first-class search experience. It also wanted to accelerate app innovation by moving to a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) model that would allow it to incorporate customer feedback and deploy new features daily instead of on a quarterly release cycle.

To accomplish this, Gordon Food Service (GFS) and Solstice built the new ordering application using microservices on Google Kubernetes Engine, a managed service that enables rapid application development and iteration by making it easy to deploy, update, and manage applications and services. Using agile software development methodologies, GFS and Solstice delivered the pilot in just 209 days, leveraging Cloud Build for fast, consistent, automated container builds. A Google Technical Account Manager helped Gordon Food Service keep the project on track by coordinating the right people to make the sprint successful.

"Before moving to Google Cloud Platform, the idea that we could take a customer's feature request and put it into production in less than 24 hours was man-on-the-moon stuff. Now, we do it all the time."

Craig Van Arendonk, Director of IT - Customer and Sales, Gordon Food Service

"Solstice brought a customer-driven development methodology that helped us build what our customers actually want, instead of what we thought they wanted," says Tom Pearce, IT Manager, E-Commerce at Gordon Food Service. "They had a proven process for that approach, along with experience working on Google Cloud Platform. It's been tremendously successful."

Canadian customers now benefit from substantially improved search functionality and a streamlined look and feel. For example, autofill suggestions, "did you mean," and spelling corrections help customers find the products they're looking for faster and easier. Soon, U.S. customers will enjoy the same functionality.

Increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction

Every day, customers provide feedback about Gordon Ordering and request new features or enhancements. Often, the development team can put the changes into production the next day. By establishing ongoing, iterative feedback loops with customers, Gordon Food Service is increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction.

"Before moving to Google Cloud Platform, the idea that we could take a customer's feature request and put it into production in less than 24 hours was man-on-the-moon stuff," says Craig. "Now, we do it all the time."

Users who initially started with the old ordering application experience improvements on a daily basis, yet the changes are seamless enough that their overall ordering experience remains consistent. Not surprisingly, GFS customers really like the new system, and the company notes it has received many accolades.

A scalable, flexible digital platform

The Google Cloud infrastructure makes Gordon Ordering much easier for engineers to maintain, as clusters are automatically upgraded and kept up to date with the latest release version of Kubernetes. When GFS experiences seasonal fluctuations in order volume, Kubernetes Engine will allow it to quickly scale up and down to match demand. As U.S. customers are brought on board, managed services such as Cloud Pub/Sub and Cloud Datastore will also scale easily, without increasing operational overhead. In addition, the cloud infrastructure provides higher availability, robust security and disaster recovery, and easy workload portability between regions and across clouds.

"If we needed to, we could tear everything down and build it back up in less than an hour and redeploy anywhere. That's the beauty of having Google Kubernetes Engine behind Gordon Ordering. Since we launched, we've had zero customer-facing downtime, so customers can always place orders."

Derek Pontius, Software Architect, Gordon Food Service

Because restaurants typically operate under tight timelines and can order food items from a variety of suppliers, GFS loses business when its systems are unavailable or running slow. GCP helps solve this problem by allowing the company to deploy its ecommerce environment in multiple data centers, each with its own scaling capabilities.

"If we needed to, we could tear everything down and build it back up in less than an hour and redeploy anywhere," says Derek Pontius, Software Architect at Gordon Food Service. "That's the beauty of having Google Kubernetes Engine behind Gordon Ordering. Since we launched, we've had zero customer-facing downtime, so customers can always place orders."

Unprecedented agility for a competitive edge

Gordon Food Service is now deploying new features and fixes into Gordon Ordering eight times a day on average, instead of being tied to a quarterly release cycle. Critical issue turnaround now averages 4 hours and 40 minutes from the time the issue is discovered until the fix is in production and verified. As a result, code and service quality have dramatically improved.

For example, when a customer accidentally ordered 14 cases of onion rings instead of 1, Gordon Food Service quickly updated the "Did you mean to order so many?" warning message to be more prominent. Unless users confirm their purchasing intent, the warning message now follows them around the application, all the way to their shopping cart.

"Moving to Google Cloud Platform will help us be more competitive and serve customers better," says Craig. "Whether it's a hospital customer wanting more nutritional information to meet dietary constraints or a school that wants to track its orders to get reimbursed by the government, we can make it easier for them."

About Gordon Food Service

Since 1897, Gordon Food Service has been known for offering customers uncompromising quality and heartfelt service. The company has grown to become the largest family business in the foodservice industry, serving foodservice operators in the United States and Canada.

Industries: Food & Beverage
Location: United States

About Solstice

A Google Cloud Premier Partner, Solstice, part of Kin + Carta, is a digital innovation firm helping companies respond to new opportunities through world-changing digital solutions.