Northeast Indiana says it is friendly to Dairy Processing

May 13th, 2013

News Coverage:

Northeast Indiana says it is friendly to Dairy Processing

A regional development agency seeks food processors. Edy’s ice cream thrives because of a large supply of cream, the transportation infrastructure, low energy rates and a strong labor force.

By Sarah M. Kennedy

May 13, 2013

The Edy’s ice cream plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., produces tens of millions of gallons annually, including 48-ounce tubs of Edy’s ice cream, Lil’ Drums flat-top cones and Skinny Cow cones.

With sales from dairy operations more than doubling over the past 10 years, Indiana has become one of the fastest-growing dairy states, according to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With more than 800 milk and dairy operations in Northeast Indiana, the region has seen 80% job growth in the last 10 years.

Much of the growth is fueled by ample milk supply and limited competition, said Dale Buuck, vice president business development for Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. He said that since so much milk is being processed into nonfat and low-fat milk products, there is excess cream. States like Wisconsin or California would use the cream for cheese or butter, but in Indiana "we’re using a lot of that cream for ice cream production," Buuck said.

The region’s proximity to major markets like Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis combined with a network of rail and highways makes Northeast Indiana a pretty good area for ice cream production. Combine those factors with reasonable electric and natural gas rates, and "It has made it very economical to produce ice cream in Northern Indiana," Buuck said.

One ice cream processor in the region is Edy’s with a plant in Ft. Wayne. The division of Nestlé’s is focusing on the principles of continuous improvement and in turn it is making a name for itself among other Nestlé plants.

Dairy Foods visited Edy’s in March as part of a tour of food processing and manufacturing plants organized by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership in collaboration with Indiana Michigan Power. The trip was intended to highlight Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s economic development program and to raise awareness on what’s happening with manufacturing in the region.

In two days Dairy Foods visited six other factories, including Ellison’s Bakery (a producer of ice cream inclusions and bakery items) and Kraft Foods (marshmallow products). Plant managers talked about best practices in food safety and plant safety. (See the related article on page 14.)

The Edy’s ice cream plant has been operating since December 1985. Constant growth has increased staffing to more than 500 workers. The plant produces tens of millions of gallons annually and operates on a 24/7 schedule. It produces 48-ounce tubs of Edy’s ice cream (Grand, Slow Churned); Drumstick round-top ice cream cones; and flat-top cones, like Lil’ Drums and the Skinny Cow ice cream cones.

The plant is recognized as a leading practitioner of continuous improvement, said Plant Manager Sheila Brojek. Nestlé Continuous Excellence, or NCE, is a standardized method of managing improvement across all business functions, including manufacturing. The process begins with foundations of compliance, leadership development and goal alignment. According to Brojek, "These foundational areas support the core missions of NCE, which is to delight the consumer, deliver competitive advantage and excel in compliance."

For example, goal alignment is a set of methodologies that create aligned objectives from the highest corporate level down through the production operations, Brojek said.

"These methodologies ensure consistent application of several continuous improvement tools and processes followed across any Nestlé factory in the world, and are therefore able to be fully supported from the top down. The process allows everyone in the factory to understand where we are, where we need to go, what the gap is and how to reduce or eliminate it. This engages everyone in the elimination of waste," she said.

Its success following these principles has put Edy’s Ft. Wayne plant as one of U.S. Nestlé’s highest performing plants, Brojek said. Because they are meeting and beating their goals, this plant is the go-to for pilot programs and sharing of best practices.

"Many of the processes, tools and systems designed here by our people have been determined to be best practices that have been shared and implemented at other sites to support improved inventory control," said Brojek.

Best practices in food safety

Todd Wallin, president of Ellison’s Bakery in Ft. Wayne, Ind., said the company employs the continuous improvement method in its operations.

"One of the areas we changed in our plant based on our learnings from [continuous improvement] was adding magnets on our crunch line. We have had metal detection for many years and this was an additional step to further protect our product and our customers and consumers," he said.

Other best practices deal with product testing and employee safety. "With regards to food safety we are doing far more testing, both internal testing and testing we send to outside laboratories. We are testing more of our raw materials and nearly all of our finished goods for pathogens. In the baking industry this was not the norm just a few short years ago," Wallin said.

The company also looked for ways to engage the employees in safety. "We launched a computer-based training program internally specifically for employee safety training, and also an employee lead safety committee. Just this year we launched a new safety rewards program with a prize lottery-type system," said Wallin.

At the Kraft Foods’ plant in Kendallville, Ind., Dave Herrington, associate director, Kraft Safety & Environmental, said the focus was on employee and food safety. "When it comes to employee and plant safety, we have three broad focus areas:

  • Leadership. "Safety success starts with leadership. We have clearly defined safety leadership expectations that we hold our leaders accountable for in our performance management system," he said.
  • Compliance. There are thorough systems to help ensure compliance, including model compliance programs, safety training, and a robust internal and external auditing process for all Kraft facilities.
  • Employee involvement. "We strive to ensure that our safety process gives all of our employees a voice in the management of safety," Herrington said. All employees have a voice in the process, and the opportunity to get involved, participate, and "own" the safety process. "Employee ownership and involvement is critical to our success," he said. "Integrated Lean Six Sigma has been a great enabler for us on employee involvement for safety."

Plant Manager Mike Hughes said the plant has implemented a Six Sigma process to train hourly and salaried employees to be Green and Black Belts using the DMAIC (design, measure, analyze, improve, control) process.

The plant is also following several lean processes such as 5S, visual management and center lining, Hughes said.

"A best practice has been the investment in our hourly technicians to use the DMAIC process. They have really shined and several have moved to other Kraft plants to share best practices. Another best practice has been the integration of the Continuous Improvement team into our marketing and business teams — looking at opportunities across the whole supply chain from end to end."

— Sarah Kennedy