One of Jimmy! Functional Snacks’ biggest learning curves was manufacturing. While Jim Simon, founder and chief executive officer, and his sister and brother-in-law, Annette and Felipo Del Prete, had never run a bar company before, their sales and culinary experience, respectively, gave them confidence that they could develop tasty, healthy bars and sell them to the right customers. Manufacturing, however, was an unknown. At first, they did what so many snack company startups do: They partnered with co-manufacturers. But after using four of them in five years, Jimmy! Functional Snacks decided to take manufacturing in house. 

“We moved away from co-manufacturers because we didn’t want to depend on others and teach them how to make our bars,” explained Ms. Del Prete, who is president of the company’s manufacturing arm Nettie’s Kitchen. “We could never be where we are now if we were still working with a co-manufacturer because we had to work within their limits — ingredients, minimums and maximums and time frames — and we couldn’t scale that way. Nettie’s Kitchen has definitely provided Jimmy!Bar the opportunity to scale at the rate it needs to.”

Nettie’s Kitchen operates as its own company of which Mr. Del Prete is general manager. Brand, marketing and sales operate under Jimmy!Bar. Jimmy! Functional Snacks is the parent company of both entities. Nettie’s Kitchen opened in 2018, coinciding with the company’s pivot to Bars with Benefits. 

While Nettie’s Kitchen is a very manual process, production is quickly expanding and automating where it can to keep up with the sales Jimmy!Bar continuously brings. But incorporating automation and growing rapidly has resulted in a steep learning curve and growing pains. 

Today Nettie’s Kitchen has taken over three docks in the commercial building it leases for a total of 15,000 square feet of production. As the tenant next door looks to move, the Del Pretes are interested in expanding into that space as well. Nettie’s Kitchen also purchased an offsite warehouse with office space for inbound and outbound storage and works with a third-party warehouse. Before gaining those extra warehouse spaces and off-loading product to two major customers’ own distribution systems, Nettie’s Kitchen’s production space was constrained simply by storage of finished products, ingredients and packaging. 

“One of the biggest things in growing the business has been finding space for all the finished product and alleviating space in Nettie’s Kitchen to expand production,” said Kevin DeLozier, SQF practitioner and supply chain manager, Nettie’s Kitchen. 

Storing ingredients, packaging and finished product off site can be inefficient, but for now, it’s working for Nettie’s Kitchen. Orders come in from Jimmy!Bar, and Nettie’s Kitchen plans production on a monthly basis. The production team places an order to the warehouse for two weeks of ingredients and packaging based on that schedule, and it’s brought into the production space. 

Being culinary professionals, the Del Pretes certainly know how to make delicious food that is safe, but to keep up with the growth Jimmy!Bar was experiencing, they needed to tackle their biggest challenge yet: machinery. Everyone on the leadership team agrees that the equipment and automation have been their biggest learning curve. 

“We all came to it not knowing a thing about the machinery we had except the mixers and the flowwrapper from Felipo working with the co-manufacturers,” said Kyle Lasser, production manager, Nettie’s Kitchen, and Ms. Del Prete’s nephew. “Not knowing anything at the start, we’re proud of what we know. We know the ins and outs of the machines now, and we’ve tripled our capacity and limited our waste from 10% to 2% with the same machines.”

Many of those lessons came from working with consultants and mechanics that Nettie’s Kitchen would hire to install and repair the used equipment the team purchased. Scrappy from the start, Nettie’s Kitchen has been hesitant to take on large amounts of debt to make massive capital investments in new equipment and production lines, so much of the line has been pieced together. With every consultant and mechanic, Mr. Del Prete and Mr. Lasser have shadowed to better understand the machines and take ownership of them.

One of the biggest lessons they learned during those consultantions was how to engineer the equipment to work for their products, resulting in better efficiencies and less waste.

“We were just working around our equipment instead of bringing in an engineer to fix it,” she said. “We need to take the time to make the equipment work for our needs, really focus on each piece of it and correcting it. But that takes time, and we haven’t had the convenience of having the lines be down, which is a blessing and a curse.” 

Operations have also improved as the team has learned how to better set up production and incorporate more efficiencies. In ingredient weighing and scaling, operators used to batch sugar alcohols from totes using multiple buckets and cups. Today, the batching table sits directly under the sugar alcohol totes, which are lifted up and have spigots for easy dispensing.   

“We also switched over to heated totes for our coconut and palm oil,” Mr. DeLozier said. “Instead of having someone stab and slice a brick of palm oil, it’s all heated directly and on a spigot like our sugar alcohols. I was using a sticker gun to put the best by labels on product, and now we have a conveyor that sends packaged products through a caddy printer that inkjets the best by date and lot number on the product.” 

It’s these small changes that make a huge difference, Ms. Del Prete added. 

“They save so much time, multiple positions, and ultimately money because of the efficiencies,” she said.

Nettie’s Kitchen has big plans to fully automate two production lines to unlock their capacity to support the growing private label business as well as its ever-expanding presence in other major retailers. With the help of an independent mechanic, Nettie’s Kitchen will install conveyors and a cooling tunnel to automate transfers and the cooling process. 

“We want to be able to go from the mixer to the hopper, down the production line to decorating through a cooling tunnel and into the flowwrapper,” Ms. Del Prete explained. “But it’s been a slow process because automation is all about timing and engineering, so with the help of a professional mechanic, we’re hoping to home in on the process.” 

This article is an excerpt from the December 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Jimmy! Functional Snacks, click here.