Frozen Foods Processor of the Year: Bakery Foods Honoree: Triple the safety
“Hearty and Healthy” is the tagline for Wenner Bread Products’ new whole grain breads, but this description also could apply to the company’s three Long Island, N.Y., processing facilities.
Wenner can process up to 200 million pounds of frozen, par-baked and fully-baked breads and rolls annually for foodservice, retail and private label at its two plants located in Bayport and a third in Bohemia. While this accounts for the “hearty” part of the equation, the “healthy” part takes a little more explanation.
First of all, the company was named America’s Safest Bakery by the U.S. Department of Health’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - a nod to the fact that Wenner was the first bakery in the U.S. to receive OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star recognition. Since then, Wenner has continued to make both worker and food safety priorities in each of its plants.
“We have been a [VPP] Star site for 10 years,” says Larry Wenner, senior vice president and general manager of operations. “This is the highest professional achievement. The health and safety of our employees are the most critical concerns to any employer and this award represents the willingness of management, employees and the U.S. government - OSHA - to work as partners for the benefit of all.”
He continues, “The safety culture we have developed allows all Wenner employees to work with the full understanding of hazards related to the job, with training and education to reduce the risks they are exposed to.”
Wenner’s safety culture has several facets. More than 32 worker safety programs are in place, according to Environmental, Safety & Health Manager Jeffrey Maier. These programs include everything from electrical safety guidelines to recognition and reward systems to OSHA log keeping.
“Each written program defines the relevant responsibilities of employees and management,” Maier says. These programs are available in both digital and hard copies to everyone within the company.
In addition, responsibilities are discussed and defined during employee orientation and training, during weekly “Safety Talks” and at daily departmental safety meetings called “Safety Briefings.” Since 70 percent of Wenner’s staff speaks English as a second language, training is conducted in both English and Spanish, adds Wenner.
Several food safety programs also are in place, evidenced by the company’s high ratings on third-party audit tests, says David Drake, director of operations. In addition to OSHA’s VPP Star rating, each of Wenner’s plants has earned a “Superior” food safety rating by the American Institute of Baking (AIB). It is likely Wenner owes these third-party recognitions to its own habitual internal checks.
“Our thorough quality assurance program requires a check at every major processing point and a documentation of these findings,” Drake says. “We believe that it is important - not only to the integrity of the manufacturing process - but to our overall service to our customers as well, to implement a means of control on our process before the industry or governmental regulators require it.”
The food and worker safety programs have paid off. In 2007, Wenner says it achieved a recordable injury rate 45 percent below the industry standard - 4.1 compared to the industry’s 7.4.
Looking forward, Wenner executives plan to keep the production bar set high and have outlined specific goals for streamlining processing [see Executive Insights sidebar].
“Our primary goal is simple: We must always have goals to achieve!” Drake says. “The core management philosophy at Wenner revolves around the fact that the organization must always have goals to achieve.”
One of these goals involves making Wenner even heartier - officials say yet another plant is planned to meet increasing customer demand.
Just the factsCompany: Wenner Bread Products
Food plant(s) honored: Bayport, N.Y. (two plants) and Bohemia, N.Y.
Selection criteria: Worker safety, food safety
Employees: 500+ (all three plants combined)
Facility size: 250,000 square feet
Products: Frozen dough, par baked breads and rolls and fully-baked breads and rolls
Executive InsightsRefrigerated & Frozen Foods talks with Senior Vice President and General Manager of Operations Larry Wenner and Director of Operations David Drake, about Wenner's Bayport, N.Y. facilities.
Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: Looking back on 2007, what are you most proud of?
Larry Wenner: Looking back on 2007, I am most proud that an independent marketing research group found that Wenner Bread Products was "gold standard" for frozen dough suppliers to in-store bakeries. This means that we had outstanding on-time and filled delivery rates, quick adaptability to new trade classes and a strong customer-oriented field sales group.
R&FF: What were the greatest challenges of the last year?
Wenner: The greatest challenge of the past year has been adapting to the historic cost increases of wheat. The more than doubling of flour prices has been very challenging on the process of manufacturing high-quality breads and rolls - while also maintaining all of the systems required, and ensuring the standards we set for ourselves.
R&FF: Talk about a few of your operations' strengths in relation to the "Food Plant of the Year" criteria. How did you develop these strengths?
David Drake: We have a dynamic and comprehensive food safety and quality system. We are inspected yearly by various customers and third-party food safety auditing firms such as the American Institute of Baking (AIB), Cook and Thurber and Silliker Labs. These third-party and customer audits aid in identifying opportunities within the operation where our food safety and quality systems can be enhanced to meet the ever expanding needs and requirements of our customers as well as federal and state regulatory agencies.
Each member of the Wenner family is committed to providing safe and wholesome bread products to their customers while maintaining a safe work environment. All staff members perform in accordance with and understand the quality system.
R&FF: What industry issues most trouble you in plant operations? What steps are you taking to address these concerns?
Drake: In today's economy the bakery industry is challenged more than ever before with record high costs of energy and raw materials. One of the ways in which we are addressing these issues has been focusing on evolving our lean approach to manufacturing and enhancing its continuous improvement and maintenance programs.
We now reward and recognize any staff member for simply sharing their ideas - regardless of feasibility. We have adopted the premise that 'the only bad idea is the undisclosed idea!' This has improved our ability to effectively plan production.
R&FF: What are some of your key operational and other goals as you move forward through 2008?
Drake: Before the end of each calendar year, we review our organizational goals and assess the progress and status of these goals. Goals for this year include: improving and innovating production planning, reducing waste, improving the effectiveness of preventive maintenance to increase uptime and improving production visibility through real-time automated monitoring.