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Maison Orphée: Setting the stage for the future

January 10, 2024

Like many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), Maison Orphée has long mastered the art of doing more with less. A few years ago, Élisabeth and Élaine Bélanger initiated a major technological shift that's affected all areas of their business. It's a major milestone in the company's 40-year history, and one, they hope, will take it to the next level. 

An SMB set on transformation

"People are often surprised by the level of automation and digital maturity for a company of our size," notes Élisabeth Bélanger. Since 2018, the Quebec City-based SMB has been investing heavily in modernizing its processes, systems and operations. For example, implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system was a significant investment, but for the oil and condiment manufacturer, it was worth every penny.

"By having access to real-time data across the entire organization, everyone is able to act more quickly and independently. Business intelligence gives us the right information at the right time, so we can make better decisions."

- Élisabeth Bélanger, co-owner and CEO, Maison Orphée

Canadian SMBs are investing heavily in digital technology. However, only 60% of SMBs have a website, and only 34% analyze client data.*

Now, Maison Orphée is completing another decisive step in its digital transformation: the automation of its processes and a number of tasks on its bottling line. This required some deliberation, as the company produces some 50 products in different formats, including some for private labels. The entire team contributed to find solutions. 

Preparing for a major change 

During a period of such major changes, the Bélangers are thankful that they can count on the cooperation of their employees, now numbering roughly 40. For Élisabeth Bélanger, the key to success has been involving all the teams from the start. "For example, factory operators had the opportunity to visit equipment providers and become familiar with robots," she explains.  

Maison Orphée's major transformation aims to make the company more productive, without eliminating jobs. "Lifting boxes and processing invoices are necessary tasks, but they aren't particularly useful ones," Bélanger says. Whether it's in a factory or in an office, automated tasks free up time so employees can add value to the workplace, especially in the current labour shortage. 

New horizons

With these investments, Maison Orphée is laying the groundwork for the next steps in its growth. The company has set a goal to double its sales within 5 years, but to do that, it needs to diversify its revenue streams. "We realize that our expertise in manufacturing of cold pressed oils and natural condiments—our specialty—is sought by brands and other processors," says Bélanger. If Maison Orphée hadn't focused on modernization over the last number of years, it wouldn't have the capacity it does now to further specialize in this niche. 

"This digital transformation is an opportunity to get out of the family model, support the business's growth and sustainability, and begin building the next generation."

- Élisabeth Bélanger, co-owner and CEO, Maison Orphée

Pop-up question

What would you say to a company that's starting to shift toward automation?

"You often choose a project because it's profitable from a financial point of view, and that's important. That said, you can't overlook the quality of life at work. Making things easier and more enjoyable is important in and of itself!"

Desjardins Advice

Is digital transformation accessible to Quebec SMBs?

When the pandemic hit, the companies that suffered most were the ones that weren't ready for the digital shift. For Éric Krause, Associate Vice President, Growth Capital at Desjardins Capital, the takeaway is clear: "You might not be ready to take on this transformation, but your competitor is."  

According to Krause, with the range of financing and grants available today, the biggest obstacle to technological innovation often isn't financial. "It's business leaders and employees who are resistant to change." We need only look at the explosive growth in artificial intelligence (AI). "Even though Canada has one of the largest AI hubs, according to a report by Scale AI, only 44% of Canadians trust AI, which puts it near the bottom globally."

Quebec businesses are interested in developing a culture that encourages innovation. AI and automation of processes and tasks: "This is how you do more with less, or even do better with less resources, and this is particularly important given the labour shortage," Krause adds. 

It's a marathon, not a sprint

Companies can take on smaller transformations, ones that have faster investment returns and that employees can get behind. These are concrete gains. "Instead of trying to tackle everything all at once, focus on simple solutions to the issues that matter. Today, there are all kinds of off-the-shelf solutions that can help you reduce costs." To get off on the right foot, businesses can take advantage of specialist and partner support at every stage of their digital transformation. 

For SMBs looking to innovate, there are all kinds of benefits: greater resilience to disruptions, gains in client service and trend adaptation, access to new markets and even better ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors in some cases. Companies that take longer to get up to speed, concludes Krause, amass a technological debt that can affect their value from the point of view of a buyer or investor. 

*Source : Seize the Technological Advantage, BDC, 2022