Joe Abidaoud – Weston Foods
Most of us buy staples like bread and milk from supermarkets and groceries, but these stores need to purchase their goods from somewhere, too.
Since joining Weston Foods in April 2020 as the vice president of information technology, Abidaoud has helped Weston Food digitally transform for a better customer experience, which includes providing the virtual tours and online ordering that have been essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are a premier bakery for all of North America, creating everything from the buns on chicken sandwiches at restaurants like Popeyes and KFC to the cakes and scones people purchase on a daily basis,” Abidaoud says. “We are determined to provide more efficient, convenient methods of delivering.”
Bytes of cake and bread
Before COVID-19 arrived, Weston teams would give potential clients a thorough tour of facilities as part of the bidding and proposal process. That way, customers could scrutinize everything from the ingredients and where they were stored to the ovens and the bakers using them.
When the COVID-19 pandemic halted these in-person tours, Weston Foods switched to video chat technology, working with the sales and baking teams to create a structured walk through of a Weston baking facility—there are 45 bakeries across North America.
Now, at an appointed time, clients connect with a sales member via a video chat and the sales member provides them with a guided tour, stopping to answer questions or give a more detailed view—for example, of the vents placed around the ovens or hygienic waste disposal.
“Moving tours to the virtual arena allowed us to continue growing and for businesses to continue providing supplies to their customers,” Abidaoud says. “Pandemic or not, customers and business owners still needed bread, cakes, pies and biscuits.”
Breaking bread together
The virtual visits may have been pandemic-induced, but Weston was already working on online ordering and improved tracking of product sales, Abidaoud says.
“When you shop for something, you normally go online to some sort of e-commerce app. How do you approach that conversation when a business is purchasing from another business?” he wondered.
Digital enablement was Weston’s answer. In Abidaoud’s words, the app allows customers ordering baked goods to make purchases using a mobile device. They can also track delivery and predict future orders—for example, a business carrying Weston baked bread may be notified it needs delivery of fresh bread that morning.
The app called “Smart Order” gives independent distributors the ability to run their business efficiently, says Abidaoud. For example, if a distributor needs more of a product, it can increase its order from a mobile device using the app.
He’s also improved the sharing of information between departments. That’s been especially important as Weston is a highly integrated business throughout North America.
Even two to three years before Abidaoud joined, he says Weston’s information technology team was merging newly acquired departments with existing ones. For example, he says it’s better to have one overarching HR department than many. As of early August, the process was 60 percent complete.
“It has to be a collaborative effort with all teams. This helps IT understand the challenges each team is facing and provide solutions that help everyone from the bakers to the customer service representatives,” Abidaoud says.
Bread, butter and a coin toss
Throughout Abidaoud’s life and career, he’s used technology to help others. In high school, he wrote his first program using Turbo Pasqual to simulate a random coin flip. Why, he reasoned, waste time with fingers and physics when a machine is much more efficient?
He quickly progressed from coins to computer networks, earning diplomas from Saint Mary’s University and the Information Technology Institute. He then programmed software for industries including banking, telecom, retail energy, and mining, where he spent ten years.
Unlike those random coin flips, Abidaoud made a conscious decision to enter a new field when he took the job at Weston. He says after hearing the team shared his goals for tech improvements—apps and predictive ordering among other initiatives—he was sold. It was a bonus he could apply what he’d recently learned while earning a Master of Science in Technology Management from Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, he says.
When he’s not leading coworkers, he’s guiding his children. Leaving behind his computer, they cycle up to 20 kilometers. Other times, they’re camping at Emily Lake in Ontario or playing an occasional game of golf.
“My 12-year-old is a much better golfer than me,” Abidaoud says, laughing. “I’m proud of that.”
View this feature in the Fall II 2021 Edition here.
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