As consumers scan the shelves at their local grocer, they rarely put much thought into the manufacturing processes that turned raw ingredients into the food and beverage products they enjoy. But behind the scenes, food and beverage manufacturers know that ensuring the consistent quality and safety consumers take for granted is far from easy. It’s a huge responsibility, and when food and beverage companies merge, that task becomes even more challenging.
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I’ve been there. Earlier in my career, I was a plant manager at a large global food company when the company’s fresh bakery division was acquired by a competitor. We worked hard to continue producing our customers’ favorite baked goods while navigating the complexities of merging our operations. Here are a few things I think can help plant managers make it through the difficult merger/acquisition transition without a hitch.
Metrics are Key
One of the first goals when merging operations must be to understand the data you receive from your plant equipment. In today’s connected food manufacturing facilities, equipment constantly churns out information. In some instances, it may be related to divider downtimes due to oven temperature, and in others, it may be metal detector readings. Making sense of all that information and seeing the “big picture” through the volume of machine driven data is the real challenge. During a merger, this can be compounded by the differences in how the formerly separate entities tracked data and measured results.
A smart plant manager will work to ensure that everything is standardized. If you’re not comparing “apples to apples,” then you are not gleaning smart, actionable insights from your plant floor. Standardizing metrics can be quite a daunting task, and the right approach will be different for each company and set of circumstances. One thing to keep in mind when sorting through standardization is it helps to work with technology that is adaptable and connected to whichever Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP, system you are running. Standardized metrics and connected machines can ensure you are getting the right information to make smart operational decisions.
Have a Plan for Your Standards
In a perfect world, mergers would be simpler because both organizations would be on the same food safety system. But that may not be the case, so you will need to figure out quickly which standards you plan to adhere to. Are the plans to follow a Global Food Safety Initiative scheme, like SQF or BRC? Are you running different schemes at different facilities? If so, from an administrative and management standpoint, you need to consider whether it makes sense for the facilities to consolidate under one common platform.
Standardized metrics and connected machines can ensure you are getting the right information to make smart operational decisions.
No matter where you are as a company, and in particular during a merger or acquisition process, every employee needs to know what to do when things do not go according to plan—no exceptions. Escalation protocols must be addressed as early as possible so there is no confusion over how to proceed in the case of a problem on the plant floor. When customer safety and costly recalls are at stake, it is important to escalate potential problems quickly so remedial action can be taken before it’s too late.
This is another area where technology can help. Providing employees on the plant floor with better information, quicker, can be extraordinarily helpful in avoiding or mitigating serious problems. For example, GE Intelligent Platforms’ Proficy software can help identify a slight anomaly in an oven before it becomes a bigger problem and you have product that was not baked appropriately. That is why it is so important to foster synergy between your people and your technology—together, they can ensure your consumers and your brand are well protected.
Keep Safety Top of Mind
There are many considerations that go into a merger, but the most important is to ensure continued food safety and quality. While mergers can be a challenging time, I speak from first-hand experience when I say a plant manager can get through it without incident and it can be a smooth process. You simply need to ensure you are listening to the machines and the people—getting the best possible information and gleaning actionable intelligence from that data. With a strong focus on safety and quality, and true line-of-sight into your processes, you will be ready to help guide the combined entity toward a successful future full of satisfied customers.