The week after Food Engineering’s Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference and Expo, Kraft announced the iconic bright orange color of its Macaroni & Cheese sauce will be discontinued. While this might cause a sentimental pang in those who have fond childhood memories of the dish, the message was clear—food and beverage companies are in the throes of changing consumer tastes, habits and health concerns, as well as having to face a complex global economy. This theme was a thread woven into the sessions at FA&M, which took place at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, FL, April 12-15.

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At the beginning of the conference, Food Engineering Editor-in-Chief Joyce Fassl presented findings from Food Engineering’s 2014 State of Food Manufacturing Survey and the top 10 trends in food manufacturing according to the survey respondents. Topping the list, manufacturers say they are responding to shifting consumer demands, followed by automating operations and concentrating on implementing lean manufacturing processes.

Defining operational excellence globally

Kicking off a trio of morning talks, Bob Reed, vice president of global engineering for Kellogg, delivered the Engineering Keynote Address, “The Quest for Manufacturing Innovation.” His session highlighted the ways Kellogg, after acquiring many companies throughout the world, is learning how to construct projects in a very dynamic global marketplace within challenging environments. “You have to do business differently around the world,” said Reed.

For instance, the company now defines operational excellence according to where a facility is located. He explained a highly efficient cracker line with a high degree of automation in the US might not work as well, if it were taken to a virgin market.

“We must think differently,” he said. “We need to be able to operate from that developing market all the way to down the emerging market and have a process that allows us to do it efficiently and effectively to deliver for the business.”

He detailed Kellogg’s integrated project delivery (IPD) methodology, which allows the company to deliver projects continuously, improve the way the company works and ensures Kellogg engages its cross-functional partners to deliver end-to-end supply chain solutions to meet its business goals. The methodology is divided into four areas: alignment, technology, process and planning.

According to Reed, with this methodology, Kellogg now defines project success as understanding the business, how it translates into operational excellence, how it is translated into the projects the company designs, how the projects are run and how they deliver to the business.

Flexibility and continuous improvement

Following this session, David Watson, vice president of engineering international, baking technology, filling and packaging for Campbell Soup Company, delivered the Keynote Address. His talk, “Creating Consistent Standards of Excellence,” focused on how Campbell is increasing its sustainability efforts, strengthening its supply chain fundamentals and working to lower costs.

Watson talked about Campbell’s ongoing projects to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, while increasing renewable energy in its plants, including solar and fuel cell projects. Additionally, the company’s focus on quality has reduced the number of complaints by 25 percent in the last five years, and its safety programs have resulted in 80 percent fewer accidents than the food industry average.

However, many of the company’s facilities are in the midst of changing from a previous paradigm that focused on acquiring ingredients, processing them and shipping product out to a “demand-driven supply chain network.” According to Watson, Campbell is now concentrating on building relationships with suppliers and incorporating consumer input. The company also is shifting its model to produce products today for shipment tomorrow.

“The days of filling up warehouses and, at the end of a quarter, realizing you’re not going to be able to move the amount of product you produced are over,” he said. “Doing business that way erodes the bottom line.”

Instead, the production scheduling is driven by customers’ orders and uses flexible lines capable of three or four changeovers per shift. Watson said the company is not walking away from the enormity of its plants, but changing the lines to be more flexible to produce a wider variety of products.

Following Watson’s address, the expert panel discussion on “Continuous Improvement Tools and Methods” featured a number of different perspectives on this topic. Denise Holloman, vice president of global continuous improvement and PMO for General Mills, discussed the importance of having an overall framework and set of expectations for implementing a continuous improvement culture. Peter Hock, senior director of continuous improvement for ConAgra, offered his methodology to make improvements happen, while Russ Uhl, the director of engineering and maintenance for Beam Suntory, explained how the effectiveness of a data system depends on the design, the collection strategies and how the system is used.

Addressing food safety issues

Craig Wilson, vice president/GMM of Costco, was as entertaining as he was informative with his talk, “FSMA and Your Retail Customers.” He described the food safety requirements and quality standards Costco has developed and continues to improve upon to go “above and beyond” the FSMA guidelines.

Next, Wilson broached a subject many food companies would rather not discuss publicly—a product contamination incident. Wilson recounted a 2013 hepatitis A outbreak, beginning with a call from a CDC contact informing him the agency was seeing a connection between infected individuals and a frozen berry mix sold by Costco. Wilson immediately ordered all Costco stores to pull the product. Additionally, because the company keeps track of all customer purchases, all customers who bought the product were contacted and told to throw it out immediately. All notified customers were also offered a full refund and a free hepatitis A test.

A session attendee asked about what happened to the producer that had supplied the pomegranate seeds, which were the source of contamination. Wilson read FDA’s report on the plant, which was surprisingly one-page long and suggested the supplier look at its air handling units. Wilson said Costco worked with the company and brought it back after the problem was rectified.

“This isn’t the kind of thing where you punish a supplier. We’re against that,” he said. “The things that happen don’t measure us; it’s how we address them.”

In the afternoon, the expo show floor was opened up for attendees to peruse the variety of products and services available to food and beverage processors. A total of 50 vendors were there, with products from dry processing equipment to manufacturing software solutions.

Monday evening was a favorite of the conference attendees as picture-perfect coastal weather provided the backdrop for a beach dinner. Taking place on the sand and featuring food grilled right next to the big-top white tent, the festive dinner was a good way to end a strong first full day, according to many attendees.

Principles of hygienic design

Tuesday morning began with the session, “Sanitary Equipment Design and Sanitation of Equipment,” conducted by Hendrik Eyselee, director of engineering, cheese and dairy, Kraft Foods Group. His presentation covered hygienic design principles. The first requirement is to ensure the physical separation of raw and pasteurized ingredients as well as non-allergen and allergen foods. This reduces the risk of cross-contamination, which can possibly lead to recalls.

Secondly, Eyselee stressed the importance of cleanable equipment, such as avoiding dead-ends in pipe connections and making sure surfaces are smooth. Once the proper equipment is secured, accessibility to it is a best practice for installation, including not having piping on the floor and avoiding niches and crevices that can harbor microbes.

Additionally, the sanitary design construction must be compatible with the specifications of the project. To be hygienic, the concept must include bacteria growth prevention, with an emphasis on the importance of self-draining floors and having proper ventilation in the plant.

Cyber exposure and innovation

Mike Muscatell, information security manager for Snyder’s-Lance, Inc., gave his presentation on cybersecurity and exposure. He explained the risks of having unsecure company data and how to tighten IT operations through a series of policies, such as consolidating vendor remote access, enforcing multi-factor authentication, limiting employee access to systems and keeping track of who is connected to the network and when.

Susan Hickey, director of strategic sourcing for Sabra Dipping Co., detailed how Sabra, which started as a small food company producing Kosher goods, used innovation to transform its product and create new fresh dips and spreads. Hickey said the company did this through redesigning packaging, creating colorful products, refocusing its positioning, improving taste and texture, and using its parent company PepisCo’s familiar Frito-Lay brand to drive awareness.

Sabra conducted consumer research and found three major trends: consumers’ focus on healthy products using fewer ingredients, a focus on taste and the “snackification” of consumers’ eating habits. The company’s changes resulted in Sabra becoming the market leader—and growing the fresh dips and spreads category from $200 million in 2005 to $700 million in 2012.

After a brief break during which attendees were treated to an array of Sabra’s products, the highly anticipated Plant of the Year Award was presented to Mars Chocolate North America. The winner is determined by a number of factors including automation level, innovative design and sustainability. This year, Mars took home the honor for the first North American site the company has built in over 35 years.

Bret Spangler, the site director for Mars, said the company was looking to build a new facility in the US because all nine of its plants were at capacity. Mars developed criteria for the plant before construction: It had to be a 50-year site that would also lead innovation for 50 years, it had to be in a central US location, and it had to be built in a community that had a culture compatible with that of Mars.

Topeka, KS was chosen for its transportation access, strong manufacturing base and cultural compatibility, as well as a skilled workforce. The project broke ground in 2012, with the 500,000-sq.-ft. facility opening in 2014. Currently, two product lines are running, but the infrastructure has room for five lines. To read more about the Mars site’s design elements, see the April 2015 issue of Food Engineering.

Focusing on sustainability and automation

The 2014 AIOE Sustainability Excellence in Manufacturing Awards were presented on Wednesday morning. The event was moderated by Bill Gill, assistant vice president of environmental affairs for Smithfield Foods, who provided some background on the awards and the Alliance for Innovation and Operational Excellence (AIOE).

In the Program Category, Chayan Kaushal, manager of projects for Agro Tech Foods Ltd, aff. ConAgra Foods, took first place for company’s  work on designing a sustainable HVAC system. Joe Sgroi, environmental engineer for Snyder’s-Lance, received the second-place award, which recognized for his work in making the company’s Charlotte, NC plant landfill free.

In the Project Category, Ed Delate, vice president of global engineering, corporate social responsibility and safety, accepted the third-place award for Keystone Foods, which won for implementing a dust collection system that not only reduces waste going into landfills at its Camilla, GA facility, but also improves employee safety.

Dennis Leikam, environmental manager for Musco Family Olive Company, accepted the second-place award on behalf of his company, which turned its  waste stream into a profit stream in an effort to become a zero-waste facility.

Accepting the first-place award in the Project Category was Amber Brovak, HSE and sustainability manager for Sunny Delight Beverages. The company improved the electrical energy quality coming into its South Brunswick, NJ plant, which led to more efficient and, ultimately, less energy use.

Continuing on the theme of sustainability and automation, Mike Roland, vice president of engineering, process technology and Lean Six Sigma for E&J Gallo Winery, gave his presentation on “Sustainable Winemaking: Challenges and Opportunities.” In the midst of California’s four-year draught, E&J Gallo is concerned about its water usage, as well as its energy efficiency.

The company determined that if water is viewed as being “free,” it will be wasted. So, E&J Gallo began to internally “charge” its water usage at 3.5 cents per gallon. This resulted in a 20 percent reduction from 2012 to 2015.

Additionally, the company is finding ways to reuse its wastewater; up to six gallons are used per gallon of wine bottled. Roland said there is an opportunity to use anaerobic digestion to convert pomace, the solid remains after pressing the grapes, into biogas. However, he warned that without governmental incentive programs, the ability to do this is not viable. 

To conclude the conference, Crista Lowery Francis, former food safety and quality manager for Florida Caribbean Distillers, gave a presentation on implementing an automated food safety quality assurance (FSQA) program. She went over the benefits of having a central repository of FSQA data for continuous improvement efforts, audit preparation and the traceability it provides to minimize food safety risk. She said an FSQA program contributed to Florida Caribbean Distillers’ achieving its goals of producing safe products and maintaining operational efficiency. 

In this time of tremendous change in the food and beverage industry, every one of FA&M’s general session topics addressed a major trend that almost all processors are facing today. The challenges of responding to rapidly shifting consumer demand and working in a global marketplace, while continuously having to cut costs, do not seem to be going away anytime soon. Thus, manufacturers must stay creative. But doing it alone is an unnecessary uphill battle when so much information can be gleaned at events like the FA&M Conference.

To view the select videotaped sessions from the FA&M Conference, please go to: