Innovation gives Hostess Brands its best chance at gaining a competitive edge

by Laurie Gorton
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It takes broad practical experience and a mind open to new — sometimes radically new — ideas to harness the power of innovation and make it work in the highly practical environment of commercial wholesale baking. Hostess Brands put just such an individual at the helm of its innovation efforts: James (Jim) W. Dibble, senior vice-president, innovation, product development and laboratory services.

In the course of a 40-plus-year career in baking, Mr. Dibble has worn many hats in operations, manufacturing, management, supply chain and R&D. He took his American Institute of Baking schooling first to Interstate Bakeries, serving as a journeyman union baker, superintendent and plant manager at various facilities, then became plant manager at two different Kroger bakeries, and later operations manager and director of manufacturing for four Lender’s facilities.

His next position was director of manufacturing for Bestfoods Baking Group and then at Sara Lee’s primary frozen bakery, followed by vice-president of manufacturing services and operations for Nutrition Technologies, a product development and food ingredient commercialization company. He also holds seven patents. In 2009, Mr. Dibble rejoined his first bakery employer, the former Interstate Bakeries now renamed Hostess Brands. Based at Dallas, TX, the formerly publicly traded company is now privately owned.
At Hostess Brands, which operates 38 bakeries coast to coast, Mr. Dibble led efforts to introduce the new Nature’s Pride line, New Wonder Classic White, Wonder Smartwhite and a variety of bun and sweet goods products, as well as spearheaded low-sodium product development.

BAKING & SNACK
Where does “innovation” fit in the business of a baking company? In the business of Hostess Brands?

JIM DIBBLE
Innovation is the primary driver of any baking company and especially at Hostess Brands. New product innovation, combined with line extensions and other product improvements, provides the fuel to keep the “engine running.”

BAKING & SNACK
Growth through innovation is critical for Hostess Brands’ sustained success, and this has been evident through our recent launches. For example, last year, we introduced Nature’s Pride bread — it tastes great, and it’s the first and only all-natural brand of bread to be available across the country. Is there a difference in the philosophy of innovation in a privately held company such as Hostess Brands than at a publicly held company like Sara Lee or Kraft? Why?

JIM DIBBLE
Innovation is important to all companies — whether privately held or public. All companies have stakeholders to answer to, which requires fast growth and a desire to outperform the industry. Much of this growth is realized through the introduction of innovative new products.

BAKING & SNACK
How is this different from (or similar to) the pursuit of innovation by food processors outside the baking industry? Are some food processing industries more in need of innovation than others?

JIM DIBBLE
While innovation is key to any food processing company, the drivers of innovation vary. Today’s consumers have a huge number of choices when it comes to bread and snack foods, making it incumbent on us to continuously introduce products that reflect evolving consumer demands and bring something new and exciting to the marketplace.

BAKING & SNACK
How do you divide your time between the innovation, product development and laboratory services parts of your role as a senior executive at Hostess Brands?

JIM DIBBLE
I don’t think about dividing my time. Instead I try to think about having an organization in place that is capable of working on all disciplines, both collectively and individually. Then it comes down to prioritization and communication. Ideally, when developing a new product, we want the innovation, product development and lab teams working in concert, which I believe delivers the best overall product at the end of the process.

From my experience, I believe a new product that has novel ingredient technology and new processing techniques, among other innovations, will have the best chance of giving us a competitive edge in the industry.

BAKING & SNACK
How does the experience you gained by managing a diverse range of manufacturing operations guide your responsibilities today?

JIM DIBBLE
The extent of my manufacturing experience has given me an intimate understanding of what’s possible — to go beyond the ordinary to introduce ideas and processes that are truly innovative and category changing. Throughout my career, I have worked for companies with different priorities and manufacturing philosophies. Some companies held innovation and new products above all else, others valued efficiency as a top priority, and some believed that consistent product quality was paramount. Through it all, I learned that to be successful you must have a combination of these priorities. A company cannot control its cost until you have controlled your quality, and innovative new products must respect both the ability to deliver consistent quality and control cost.

BAKING & SNACK
What was the single most important lesson you learned while in manufacturing about the baking industry, its customers and its consumers?

JIM DIBBLE
As a baking company, we are so close to the market and traditionally sell most products fresh with little or no inventory. Given this path to market, it’s imperative to have a compressed decision-making process in place where important decisions from large-scale production to everyday ingredient issues can be made swiftly and effectively. The decision-making process needs to be driven as deep into the organization as possible. This type of open communication creates an environment where all employees are informed, understand the mission and are encouraged to make decisions resulting in a very agile, productive and effi cient organization.

BAKING & SNACK
What most needs to change in the baking industry regarding how it goes about developing new products?

JIM DIBBLE
Baking is as much about the art of baking as it is about the science behind baking. However, relying solely on the “artistic” approach can sometimes lead to lapses that result in inaccuracies in quality and nutritional objectives. As the market moves toward more nutritionally complete products, there needs to be a balance that utilizes science to deliver the nutritional accuracy and product quality that the industry demands and our customers demand.

BAKING & SNACK
What changes must made in the baking industry’s approach to food safety?

JIM DIBBLE
Food safety must be embraced companywide and not just as a departmental function. Major retailers are now expecting manufacturers to adhere to the Global Food Safety Initiative certification process, and manufactures must allocate the appropriate resources to address and to comply with this initiative. It still remains to be seen how this initiative will affect manufacturers and especially small and midsize bakers in the long term.

BAKING & SNACK
Is your group working with traceability that goes beyond the current “one level back, one level forward” approach? Why?

JIM DIBBLE
One level back and one level forward is the foundation of any good food safety traceability program, and we are working with our suppliers to go even further to ensure the safety of our raw materials. This is above and beyond the collection of the normal data that is required in third-party audits.

BAKING & SNACK
Setting aside the matter of cost and prices, what aspect of wheat and/or flour quality most needs improvement?

JIM DIBBLE
Flour quality is at the core of our business with our products relying heavily on high-quality protein with a good mixing tolerance. Because of this, I would like to see the continued development of new and innovative ways of measuring, evaluating and predicting protein quality and performance.

END

 

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