Improvements prompted by adoption of Lean Manufacturing practices at the Dolly Madison Bakery, Emporia, KS, result in better customer relationships, fewer returns and better business opportunities, according to Amy Clark, marketing manager, Hostess Brands, Irving, TX. In an exclusive interview, she offered Formulations Update readers some insights.

Baking & Snack: Since this program to improve manufacturing activities went into effect in 2007, how have the changes affected Hostess Brands’ customer relationships?

Amy Clark: Lean manufacturing processes and 5S methods have resulted in higher quality, consistent products and a more efficient distribution system. Both of these outcomes have translated into better customer relationships, in that we offer better service out of Emporia, leading to fewer returns and fewer complaints. As a result of better customer relationships, we’ve been given more business opportunities including single-serve check lane displays at Wal-Mart driving increased sales.

Can you document these effects? For example, how did the number of consumer complaints changed for products from Emporia? What other metrics do you use? How have these changed?

Across all of our bakeries, total consumer complaints have dropped by over 20% since 2007. At Emporia specifically, complaints have dropped 28% over the past two years. In addition to total complaints, we also measure complaints per million units produced which has also dropped precipitously since implementing leaner manufacturing practices.

Have you been able to capitalize on these changes in your marketing efforts?

Because of better relationships with customers, they are more willing to support our marketing efforts in-store. We run four to six on-pack promotions and limited-time-offer products each year, and many customers want to get behind them in a big way. Knowing now that we’re better able to keep displays filled with fresh, high-quality products, we’ve seen an increase in the number and size of incremental displays dedicated to these promotions.

What is the single most important thing the Hostess Brands cake bakeries can do to improve company results? Why?

With the success we’ve seen to date with these operational/logistical improvements, our biggest opportunity is to continue to focus on consistently making the highest-quality product possible and getting it to market in the fewest number of days.

How does this effort help differentiate Hostess Brands from its competitors?

Because of the geographic spread of our bakeries around the country and our extensive national distribution network, Hostess can operate on the local level — fulfilling customer and consumer needs for a local product from a local provider with a national brand like Hostess. The more we can do to deliver a consistent, high-quality product delivered as freshly baked as possible we differentiate ourselves from regional bakeries as well as other national sweet snack brands who are often delivered through warehouses. As organizationally we focus on meeting customer/consumer needs through improvements like Lean Manufacturing and 5S methods, this customer service mindset spreads throughout the organization out ultimately to our route service reps, who are the face of Hostess to our customers on a day-to-day basis.