"Frito-Lay's "Zero Landfill" plan helped it earn "most innovative company" accolades fromFast Companymagazine. Editor Bob Garrison profiles six more intriguing and innovative operations inRefrigerated & Frozen Foods’10th annual “Food Plants of the Year” feature.

The most “innovative” food and beverage processor? Is it a company with a jaw-dropping new approach to marketing? Or perhaps someone with a revolutionary new product?

Not so fast. Actually,Fast Companymagazine just listed the “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” and when it came to the top 10 food companies, Frito-Lay North America Inc. took top honors. Why? The answer involves Frito-Lay’s approach to operations.

“The snack giant moved one-third of its 32 plants to ‘zero landfill’ last year – the rest will achieve that goal by the end of 2011,” wrote the editors. “Who knew snack chips could be so earth-friendly?”

Of course, Frito-Lay isn’t the only one making news for sustainability. Likewise,Fast Companyisn’t the only one recognizing the importance of operations. This isRefrigerated & Frozen Foods’10th annual “Food Plants of the Year” feature and it’s been particularly fulfilling this year to profile our honorees. There are four compelling story lines.

Environmental achievements:
Although sustainability has been a discussion topic for years, we can now point to tangible actions and achievements. We’re honored to share some award-winning stories from Keystone Foods and Gill’s Onions. Gill’s, in fact, is drawing worldwide interest for an entirely new technology.

Details that deliver:
ConAgra Foods’ Council Bluffs, Iowa, plant is driving true growth from within by fine-tuning its processing for optimal efficiency. ConAgra and Wells’ Dairy (as well as Kahiki Foods, featured last year), are taking continuous improvement to a new level. The ultimate goal: run so efficiently that employees spend more time improving operations and less time dealing with problems.

Next generation:
It’s not often that corporate engineers get the opportunity to create the ultimate food plant – where they can design in features that accent environmental improvements plus productivity and versatility. There’s a new generation of facilities coming on line (Heinz will soon be next) and McCain Foods Canada gives us a glimpse inside its new Florenceville, N.B., site.

New faces:
Several foreign companies are quietly opening new U.S. plants that are quite unique in their approach to products and processing. Here’s a case where I don’t want to name names – because I want to be the first to bring you these stories! That said, we’re pleased to honor Lantmännen Unibake USA, whose Swedish parent has applied its European knowledge and technologies to a St. Petersburg, Fla., bakery – acquired in 2008.