Slideshow: Clif Bar & Company aspires to new heights
August 22, 2016
by Joanie Spencer and Dan Malovany
For Clif Bar & Company Founder Gary Erickson, it was never really about the money. That became glaringly obvious when he stood to make $60 million from the sale of his company back in April 2000 … and instead walked away from the deal, only to spend $65 million, putting himself and his business into serious debt for the sake of retaining 100% ownership.
No, it wasn’t about the money. It was about why he developed the CLIF BAR in the first place and establishing a new way of looking at business, food production and the bottom line.
As a competitive cyclist, Mr. Erickson understood the strategy of the “breakaway” in a race. Sixteen years later, Clif Bar is breaking away from the old-school way of food production and bakery design to bring people, planet and product together in the design of its $90 million bakery in Twin Falls, ID. It’s an operation that’s not only an extension of Clif Bar’s corporate values but also a continuing pursuit of excellence that is the business of Mr. Erickson’s and his wife, Kit Crawford’s, dreams.
A different kind of company
Clif Bar considers itself a “five bottom line” company, meaning that it gauges performance not by profitability alone. Instead, it measures success based on sustaining the business, brands, people, community and planet. These are Clif Bar’s five “aspirations,” and they permeate every facet of the organization.
“All of the aspirations are weighted equally,” said Jen Freitas, director, people, learning and engagement. “We set goals and strategies across our aspirations, so when we look at our quarterly or annual results, we’re always looking at our performance across all five of them.” Every decision — from top-line to the production floor — is considered by looking through the lens of the five.
At first glance, one might balk at a business model that puts planet and profit on equal footing. But in the Clif Bar culture, that’s the standard and, in many ways, what has led to the success it enjoys today. In 2003, the company made a decision to go organic, a big risk at the time, considering the debt the company faced after the near-sale. But it was the right thing to do for people and the planet.
Ironically, Clif Bar couldn’t have predicted just how big the organic movement was going to be. “While organic was just starting to catch on, the decision to transition to organic ingredients wasn’t strategic — we did it because it was the right thing to do and it was the single biggest action we could take to reduce our impact on the planet,” said Kate Torgersen, senior communications manager. “It’s almost a happy coincidence that 13 years later there’s a new generation of people who care so deeply about this commitment.”
Call it a case study in how internal values can become externally successful. Call it the new corporate paradigm. Clif Bar calls it taking the “White Road,” where the journey has as much — if not more — value as the destination.
Jeb Sloan, senior project engineer, played an integral role in the installation of the bakery’s two lines.
Aspirations in action
The five aspirations are what drive the company’s day-to-day culture, and they set Clif Bar apart as an employer. At the Emeryville, CA, headquarters, people enjoy benefits such as free use of a full gym, fitness classes and trainers, as well as massage, chiropractic, acupuncture and even salon services, all on premise, in an effort to help staff maintain work-life balance and have a place where they feel happy about coming to work. White Road Academy and White Road Expedition take training and career development to new levels.
A three-dimensional mural in the corporate office space, the Clif Corps Wall, visibly demonstrates a commitment to community by mapping out the company’s overall community service hours, with its goal of 11,440 hours annually. People are encouraged to donate at least 20 hours of service per year, which can be done during work hours. “Imagine not having to give up your Saturday just to give back to the community,” Ms. Freitas said.
The Emeryville headquarters, a brownfield building, embodies Clif Bar’s “planet aspirations” and sustainability efforts. It took over the location in 2010 and made improvements such as solar panels and open work space, as well as the use of Forest Stewardship Council-certified and reclaimed wood for fixtures. It features a drop ceiling of acoustic panels that are made from recycled blue jeans. All these elements and more make it the kind of “green” building that suits the Clif Bar & Company brand.
With a thriving and sustainable corporate culture and a brand that resonates with consumers and communities across the country, the company’s aspirations are in action beyond Emeryville; Clif Bar is once again breaking away and changing the race. And as the company approaches its 25th anniversary in 2017, it took the same approach when it built its first bakery, known as Clif Bar Baking Company of Twin Falls, where it will produce CLIF BARs, CLIF Kid Zbars, CLIF minis and the new CLIF BAR Nut Butter Filled bars.
“The Clif Bar values have come to life in the first bakery we’ve built from the ground up,” said Rich Berger, vice-president of engineering. “Clif Bar began crafting the vision for this beautiful bakery and its unique design long before breaking ground. We also carefully planned the timing of this capacity to meet our growing demand for our products,” he noted.
Art in the Twin Falls, ID, facility was hand-painted on reclaimed wood.
Welcome to Twin Falls
Set on a sprawling, organically landscaped 90 acres and home to two production lines, Clif Bar Baking Company of Twin Falls establishes itself immediately as a different kind of bakery. When scouting sites for the new facility, Clif Bar wanted a location where the company could erect a building that connected its people, business and brands to the community, while doing its part to sustain the planet.
Once it chose Twin Falls, Clif Bar worked with Idaho-based companies Babcock Design Group and DC Engineering for architectural and engineering services and Stock CMS for general contracting.
Twin Falls, with its natural beauty and agricultural community, set the perfect stage to construct a plant worthy of the five aspirations. This 300,000 sq-ft facility acts as a vessel to bring the majesty of Twin Falls right into the building. The bakery relied on biophilic design — the innovative strategy of literally and conceptually bringing nature inside — to connect Clif’s people to the area’s beauty through the building itself. “Biophilia helps point the way toward creating healthy and productive habitats for our people by reconnecting the natural environment with the workplace,” Mr. Berger said.
Atypical of most food production plants, windows played a significant role in the building design, including floor-to-ceiling glass in the facility’s break area. “We carefully oriented the building so that the break room and health and wellness center would have the best views of the mountains,” Mr. Berger said, describing these spaces as places of sanctuary where employees can eat, rest and connect to nature and one another.
“If I’m not working, I want to be outdoors, so the next best thing is working here and still having that connection outside,” said Dale Ducommun, general manager.
Natural light is a common theme throughout the facility, and in some areas, vaulted skylights bring sunshine down on stone walls to give it a canyon-like feel. “This architectural feature was an exciting way to connect with the region’s most significant natural landmark, the Snake River Canyon,” Mr. Berger explained.
Sanctuary is a common thread throughout many areas of the building. Rather than seeing it as simply a food production plant, Clif Bar Baking Company sees this as a place to call home. Many aspects of the building mimic those of the Emeryville headquarters but with a Twin Falls twist. For instance, the bakery includes its own health and wellness facility designed to meet the needs specific to Twin Falls employees. “We asked our people what they want to see in the health and wellness space — that was really our focus. They tell us what they’re going to use, and we’ll put it in there,” Mr. Ducommun said.
As at the Emeryville headquarters’ auditorium, where weekly all-company meetings and events like parties and fundraisers are held, the Twin Falls bakery will also have a designated meeting space for such activities. But in celebration of Idaho’s natural resources, construction is underway for an outside event space; when not in use, it will have patio furniture where employees can enjoy lunch or breaks outdoors. Keeping with the biophilic design, large sliding glass doors open the indoor “team room” out to the event space for indoor/outdoor events.
Of course, cycling — that sport so dear to Mr. Erickson — found its way into the bakery not only as a way to connect to the outside but also as an internal means of transportation. “Fat tire” bikes are available for employees to cruise around the property at break time, and tricycles are located inside the 0.33-mile-long production area. Employees are encouraged to ride their own bikes to work, where bike racks are equipped with tire pumps and lifts for quick repair.
Organic syrups — an ingredient in CLIF BARs — are delivered in bulk and stored in tanks with space to add capacity as the third production line goes live.
Second to none
At the Twin Falls bakery, which commenced commercial production in May, a third line is being installed and is expected to be up and running by spring 2017. In all, about 200 people work on three shifts, five days a week. That number will increase to 240 as the third line ramps up.
Overall, the building provides 150,000 sq ft for processing, 40,000 sq ft for packaging and 75,000 sq ft for raw materials’ and finished goods’ warehouse space. It also includes 35,000 sq ft in front-office open workstations and varied types of comfortable conference rooms that foster open communication and idea generation.
Inside the bakery, Clif Bar took a holistic approach and incorporated its five aspirations whenever possible throughout the operation. During Baking & Snack’s tour in July, Mr. Berger and Jeb Sloan, senior project engineer, pointed out how the company also branded the inside of the bakery using Clif Bar’s signature red on walls, doors and even on various pieces of equipment.
A recycling room, where waste material is pre-sorted as part of a zero-waste initiative, represents Clif Bar’s commitment to the planet. Mr. Berger pointed out again how windows let in natural sunlight and provide an inside-out perspective for those people working in the maintenance area and attending team training in classrooms and in other support services located throughout the perimeter of the operation.
At the same time, the plant also reflects a commitment to food safety by placing electrical service underground and standing-off anything mounted on a wall to facilitate more efficient, effective cleaning. Rounded edges on the curbs and even stainless sanitary sleeves where piping penetrates the walls demonstrate an intricate attention to sanitary design.
Clif Bar planted the seeds for this world-class operation as far back as five years ago and slowly — the company would probably prefer the term “organically” — nurtured them into fruition.
The engineering team began attending trade shows to narrow down the request for proposal process. “We wanted to work with the best vendors and equipment in the world,” Mr. Sloan said. “We were looking not only for best-in-class suppliers but also best-in-class people.”
The overall decision-making process also extensively relied on what Mr. Sloan describes as charrettes — a French concept where multiple, diverse groups from the bakery collaborate to generate an integrated solution. That often resulted in custom-designing equipment around the unique product qualities of a CLIF BAR. “We brought in our food safety team, R&D team and supply chain team, and we showed our suppliers not only what we are using a piece of equipment for but also how it fit in the overall system,” he explained.
When it came to factory acceptance tests (FAT), the company took no chances. Typically, the FAT process started four months before the equipment was delivered. In some cases, Clif Bar spent hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars shipping actual ingredients or packaging materials to vendors throughout the US and Europe. It relied on a stage-gate process, where the equipment had to pass a validation test (the gate) before proceeding to the next stage. There were also hundreds of check lists to validate details, even those as fine as the location of a photo sensor.
“FAT tests are substantial investments for both Clif Bar and our partners. To gain the greatest value from that investment, the team validates more than functionality before these systems ship,” Mr. Berger pointed out. “We verify total performance of safety systems, sanitation, controls integrations, network compatibility, energy efficiency and more.”
About 18 weeks before making saleable goods, Clif Bar began a sequential startup with the ingredient handling system. The initial stages included installation and operation qualification (IOQ) and process qualification (PQ) that took about three weeks to complete. Only after validating ingredient handling, for example, did the bakery install and conduct IOQ and PQ on mixing. Once all individual unit operations in process and packaging passed PQ testing, the entire system was then tested to prove it is capable of consistently delivering quality product through the process validation (PV).
In addition to making sure all of the equipment worked together from beginning to end, the sequential startup provided two primary benefits: strict front-end controls to the production process and packaging combined with extensive training. Mixer operators, for instance, received up to two months of experience from developing the first 20 batches during the mixers’ initial validation process all the way to creating doughs for the packaging installation and final ramp-up. By then, those operators had made hundreds of batches and understood why “respect the dough” has become the foundation of Clif Bar’s manufacturing philosophy, according to Mr. Ducommun.
That respect, however, took time to learn, especially when it came to producing a high-quality product consistently. “A sequential qualification gives our people more training time up front,” Mr. Berger recalled. “By the time test product was needed to commission packaging systems, the front of the operation was mastered.”
Going live on production
For two weeks prior to making saleable products, Clif Bar focused on GMPs and conducted final validation runs on both lines. Production for the bars flows straight from west to east with four receiving docks taking in ingredients, most of which come on pallets or in totes, and scanning them to initiate the company’s closed-loop, lot-tracking process. Information systems record every raw ingredient and packaging material, everything is tracked from the time it is received off the truck to the time the finished goods leave the facility.
Around the perimeter of the temperature- and moisture-controlled bakery, the plant has separate warehouses for dry and refrigerated liquid ingredients and packaging materials — with ample space to hold seven days of inventory for three production lines operating at peak overall equipment effectiveness.
Likewise, organic syrups — an ingredient in CLIF BARs — are delivered in bulk and stored in Shick Solutions tanks with room to add more as the third production line goes live. The CIP-capable tanks sit on load cells that constantly monitor syrup delivery and usage through the plant’s Manufacturing Execution Software (MES) and ERP systems.
Shick’s batch management and lot tracking systems provide ±0.1% metering accuracy, according to Mr. Sloan. A mezzanine outside of the room allows bakery employees to safely inspect and test the syrups prior to accepting delivery into the tank farm. “Clif Bar required a hygienic, dairy-grade storage and automated batching system for liquids, and Shick Solutions delivered,” Mr. Berger noted.
Flavorings are stored in a separate room for safety reasons, and Clif Bar makes all of its chocolate using a Sollich system in another enclosed room just aside production and bar forming.
About 80% of the primary dry ingredients, such as organic oats, are dispensed from a Shick bulk handling system with ±0.1% accuracy. The other 20% of minor ingredients, such as chocolate chips and other inclusions that allow the plant to make different product varieties, are scaled using a semi-automated system in another separate room. Overall, just under 77% of Clif Bar & Company’s ingredients are certified organic or sustainable. Mr. Berger added that The Henry Group and Quality Electric provided exceptional installation services, platforms and mezzanines.
Both identical production lines, which are enclosed for allergen control and food safety, come with multiple heavy-duty horizontal mixers allowing constant flow of viscous doughs to the proprietary bar forming lines.
Because most CLIF BAR formulations contain various allergens, the bakery must do a deep cleaning of the lines between different product runs. To expedite changeovers, the company invested in duplicate bar-forming equipment for each line. While producing one variety, the removable core components are taken to an enclosed washing and drying room for offline deep cleaning.
Mr. Sloan said the bakery takes a NASCAR-style “pit stop” approach when it comes to changeovers. “We can’t get hamstrung or bottlenecked by cleaning,” he observed. “At the same time, we won’t compromise effectiveness for the sake of efficiency when it comes to properly cleaning between changeovers.”
Because of the configuration of the packaging department, Mr. Sloan noted the layout of the processing lines is staggered — production on Line No. 2 starts about 30 ft downstream from the mixing and makeup on Line No. 1. “We did that to maximize the effective use of space between the production and packaging departments,” he said.
Robotic carton loaders pick and place the colorful packaged bars into a variety of carton formats.
Fast, flexible packaging
As the bars enter the packaging room, they pass through Fortress Technology metal detection. The packaging lines are identical, with the bars for Line No. 1 wrapped and cartoned toward the front, while Line No. 2 systems are staggered toward the back of the department that’s nearest to warehousing and distribution.
Each line has a bank of Bosch flowwrappers. A feeding system continuously supplies bars to each wrapper. The bars then travel along a raised conveyor — which permits foot traffic underneath — to the cartoning and casepacking operations. After carton forming, the lines rely on BluePrint Automation (BPA) robotic carton loaders, which can pick and place bars into a variety of carton formats. Changeovers can be made via touch screens.
At full operation, the automated robotic cartoning system has the flexibility to load multiple caddy configurations simultaneously, delivering ultimate packaging flexibility on the production line without the need for stoppages associated with carton or case changeovers. Cartons with different counts can easily be packed on the same production run without an interruption in production. Each line has redundant robots so if one or two lines needs a new suction cup, for instance, the operation keeps running smoothly.
The cartons next head to a series of BPA robotic casepackers. The sealed cases travel up vertical spiral conveyors, painted Clif Bar red, then along an elevated conveyor to the warehouse, then down more conveyors to a Kaufman robotic palletizing system and shrink wrapper — one for each production line. Each pallet carries a coded label to provide the end of the closed-loop lot-tracking process.
The cases are then stored in the warehouse and held until third-party microbial testing is completed.
Aspiring to new heights
Just a few months after first shipping saleable products, the Twin Falls facility is still in its ramp-up stage — steadily adding new bar varieties to what will eventually involve dozens of SKUs. The plant’s continuous improvement group works side-by-side on the floor along with all supervisors and managers, including Mr. Ducommun. The group focuses on lean manufacturing practices and Clif Bar’s version of Six Sigma with five Black and Green Belts certified to keep the bakery operating at a high level.
“Senior leadership felt that it was important to have that group available right from the start, and it was really helpful for us,” Mr. Ducommun observed. “Everyone gets overwhelmed with the number of opportunities for improvement with a new facility. You have to prioritize and pick them off one by one to keep your focus going.”
In addition to making sure new hires have the right “ingredients” — behaviors that fuel Clif Bar’s unique culture — all new employees are cross-trained on multiple pieces of equipment and various parts of the process. That provides not only flexibility to the operation but also skills for advancement, especially when the plant begins production on the third line early next year. “We have a full bakery team now,” Mr. Sloan said.
Overall, the plant was built with expansion in mind and could one day reach 550,000 or even 600,000 sq ft in size, according to Mr. Berger.
It’s often said that every new bakery starts with a blank piece of paper. Creating a masterpiece goes beyond drawing and planning. In many ways, Mr. Sloan observed, the investment in people and process never ends. “We’re setting this up for long-term success,” he explained. “We are building a bakery and a team.”
That’s how it’s done. Bar none.