Rich Berger, Clif Bar
Rich Berger, vice-president of engineering, food supply for Clif Bar, outlines baker and supplier responsibilities for ensuring a smooth start-up.

LAGUNA NIGUEL, CALIF. — When a bakery reaches out to an equipment supplier for a new purchase or starting up a new line, the baker has certain expectations … and vice-versa. However, both sides don’t always understand what their roles actually are.

While presenting a case study at the BEMA Annual Convention on the start-up of Clif Bar Baking Company of Twin Falls, located in Twin Falls, Idaho, Rich Berger, vice-president of engineering, food supply for the Emeryville, Calif.-based company, outlined baker and supplier responsibilities for ensuring a smooth start-up.

“Any project — no matter how small or how epic — is a team effort,” Mr. Berger said, adding that the baker or food manufacturer has a large responsibility to participate in that effort. He indicated that the customer should be the go-to for innovation.

“As you come up with innovation, we want to be the first to know,” he said.

Customer responsibilities

“Before I talk about what the customer is looking for, I want to talk about what the customer’s obligations are,” Mr. Berger told convention attendees, which included various equipment and ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers. He emphasized that having frank conversations with customers up front will help avoid risks when entering into a project.

And before a project even gets off the ground, the customer should first communicate clear goals and objectives.

“If you’re not getting those from your customer, ask for them. That includes scope, schedule, even a broader purpose for the overall project,” he advised, noting that bakers should be leaning on their suppliers for help in filling in some of the blanks if the objectives aren’t clear.

Additionally, Mr. Berger said, bakers should not be afraid to invite suppliers into their facilities and help them understand more about the company, such as its culture and specific business objectives, to create a stronger connection.

Mr. Berger emphasized that bakers must commit to solid resources such as reliable ERP and MES systems or other execution systems to put real-time manufacturing information into the hands that need it. Oftentimes, bakers —  even those with decades of experience — can fail to fully understand the current conditions on the plant floor.

“We need to come to you with hard data rather than a gut feeling to identify a problem, and we can’t do that without these systems on the plant floor to track and document that data,” he said.

Early hiring for a smooth start-up

For the Twin Falls facility, Clif Bar & Company invested millions in variable and fixed or salaried labor over the course of about a year prior to the 2016 start-up.

Early hiring is an unorthodox strategy, but Mr. Berger insisted it’s one that leads to a smoother start-up.

“It’s an investment to bring people in early, but with a shortened start-up curve, it’s a business decision that will pay back,” he said.

Additionally, the company invested substantially in training for the new facility, almost half of which was supported by the state through development programs.

Installation, supervision integration

Mr. Berger emphasized the importance of having good installation services.

“It’s not the job of supervisors to install the equipment; they oversee the installation,” he said.

To accomplish this, having a strong integrator is key.

“A good integrator will take all the pieces and allow them to talk to each other as a single system,” Mr. Berger said. “For example, when we press an e-stop on one piece of equipment, but someone is caught in a conveyor downstream, that conveyor may not stop.”

He noted that integrators’ broad view allows them to recommend things like interlocking those safety features.

This is a part of project management that the baker must own, Mr. Berger said.

Supplier responsibility

From a customer perspective, Mr. Berger advised suppliers in attendance on the importance of bringing a value proposition, including solutions, innovation, knowledge and partnership.

But above all, he said, bakers expect suppliers to reduce the risk profile.

“That doesn’t mean we want to take all of our risk and move it over to you,” he said. “We want to know how we can reduce risk together.”

He indicated that testing — then retesting and testing again— is an important way to accomplish that.

Modeling and running various scenarios on different stock-keeping units (s.k.u.s) were some of his suggestions. In fact, one supplier even installed a camera inside a mixer to troubleshoot mixing times for optimal incorporation of inclusions.

Clif Bar subscribes to the “pit stop” mentality, and the company seeks solutions from its suppliers that will keep the lines moving.

“Changeovers and cleanups must be effective, but they also have to be productive,” Mr. Berger said, noting that every minute a line is down costs the company hundreds of dollars, including labor and lost revenue. He also asked suppliers to “map the process” to identify the best locations for equipment, overhead doors and even drains.

“This is extremely useful in helping the customer be more productive on the floor,” he said.

Mr. Berger also suggested suppliers should understand that a customer’s selection criteria isn’t always price.

“Take time to understand exactly what the requirements are,” he said. “Challenge the status quo and be open-minded.”

When he asked his landscaping vendor for 100% organic landscape, the vendor said it was impossible in the high desert.

“But we figured out a way to do a burn-germinate-burn-germinate cycle on the weeds, and it’s worked really well,” he said.

Most importantly, Mr. Berger asked suppliers to connect with their customers in uncommon ways and to be authentic. Participate with customers outside the walls of the bakery, and be honest when a project does not appear to be the right fit.

 “You’d be amazed at the relationship that develops over the course of time,” he said. “We don’t get stressed about the bad news. We get stressed about bad news that comes in too late for us to fix.”