JACKSON, MICH. — As Dawn Foods approaches its centennial anniversary, the Jackson, Mich.-based company has not only been reflecting on its roots but also looking toward the future — for itself and its customers.
“We needed to answer the question, ‘Where are we going?’” noted Serhat Unsal, Dawn Foods co-chief executive officer. “We are a 100-year-old company. We’re growing; we’re healthy; we’re doing well. We want to stay in business another 100 years, so what does that take?”
The answer lies in reinvention, collaboration and good old-fashioned family values. Dawn Foods began in 1920 as a family-owned donut bakery. Today, the company is still family-owned, and it still produces finished donuts and other sweet goods, but it also has spent generations reinventing itself as an ingredient and mix supplier as well as distributor for a variety of ingredients.
While the business provides finished goods to large retailers, it also supports small to mid-range bakers who produce donuts and other sweet goods for consumers and wholesale customers. Meeting specific needs of individual customers has been the key to the company’s longevity. In fact, Carrie Jones-Barber, co-c.e.o., identified the installation of the Dawn Distribution System as one of the best strategic moves in the company’s first century.
“One benefit to having our own distribution is that we can offer almost anything,” Ms. Jones-Barber said. “Today, we might be selling a donut mix. But we also might help a customer with our finished donut product that they might not be getting directly from us but through our distribution center. That breadth of capability helps us better serve our customers. We understand what they want to specialize in and then allow them to focus on that; we can free up their time and still provide the quality they’re looking for.”
After a century of evolving its customer service model, Dawn is ready to start refining once again.
“Our customer base is geared toward smaller chains, and the kind of support they require is different,” Mr. Unsal said. “For instance, we can help them figure out how to sell more product and grow their business. We’re doing fantastic things for our customers, specifically with the insights we’re bringing.”
Ms. Jones-Barber recognized that this is where Dawn’s marketing team has stood out in recent years, especially as small to mid-sized retail bakers face increasing competition.
“We can leverage our marketing department when a customer doesn’t have the capability to do so,” she said. “We think of our marketing team as sort of an arm for our customers. They get to leverage our capabilities and resources.”
So, how will these capabilities translate into success for the future of small to mid-sized bakeries? According to Dawn, it’s all about the digital.
“We realize the world is going digital,” Mr. Unsal said.
He noted that the company has many customers with multigenerational management. With that comes differing ideologies; older generations are focused on the technical side of production, while the younger ones hone in on marketing.
“The parents are focused more on the technicalities of the product, but the kids want to focus on digital platforms and digital purchasing,” Mr. Unsal observed. “These things can be expensive for small, individual retailer bakers. We see our role as providing them with the systems, tools and support they need to get them digital ready.”
Dawn is looking into this year and next for developing new initiatives that revolve around digital interactivity.
“Digital is not something that’s going to happen all at once,” said Mr. Unsal, who has degrees in artificial intelligence and robotics. “It’s going to happen over the next 10 to 20 years. This is where the industry is headed, and Dawn has to be at the forefront of driving this transformation.
“Technology is progressing rapidly … but the main philosophy hasn’t. It’s just that now there’s more technical capability from a processing perspective. And that translates into several exciting new applications.”
Dawn plans to announce all-new digitally based innovations in 2019.