MEXICO CITY — A waste reduction program launched seven years ago as a cost-cutting initiative has evolved into a cornerstone of the sustainability aspirations of Grupo Bimbo SAB de CV, said Jorge Zarate, global senior vice president of operations and engineering at Grupo Bimbo SAB de CV.

Bimbo’s War on Waste was the subject of a recent interview with Milling & Baking News in Mexico City. Participating in the interview in addition to Mr. Zarate was Cuauhtemoc Cortes, director of global manufacturing at Bimbo.

“The original effort was called world class efficiency, primarily logistics, working on processes in the supply chain — including manufacturing and engineering,” Mr. Zarate said. “The objective was to make the supply chain more efficient, and of course, one of the topics to come up was waste.”

As the company explored waste, significant variances were identified between different Bimbo plants, prompting what Mr. Zarate called the ‘War on Waste.’”

“Some of those variances shouldn’t be there,” he said.

More recently, when Bimbo began looking into its sustainability platform/strategy, the company discovered waste was not limited to the supply chain but could be found up and down the value chain, he added.

From a sustainability perspective, the effort to reduce waste began in 2019 and has five pillars, said Cuauhtemoc Cortes, director of global manufacturing. Most of the pillars focus on basic training, execution and follow through at the plant level, the executives said.

First, an interdisciplinary waste committee was convened to gather information and develop actionable plans for associates at the company’s baking plants to implement.

A second pillar is focused on engaging those on the production floor who identify issues that may be precipitating waste. Feedback goes to the waste committee for analysis, but Mr. Cortes said the key is to empower production, maintenance and quality control associates to suggest remedies and implement recommended changes.

Dubbed “back to basics,” the third pillar is ensuring production staff are properly trained.

Reliability is the fourth pillar, focused on the maintenance on production equipment. This effort is aimed both at minimizing downtime (each startup of a production results in waste) and ensuring equipment is operating at targeted parameters, e.g. the correct temperature or humidity.

The final pillar is sales and operational planning. Mr. Cortes said gaining alignment between sales and operations is crucial if waste is to be minimized.

“If we have the proper sales orders on time, we are able to purchase the raw materials, prepare a production schedule very well and control our inventories in raw materials and in finished goods warehouses,” he said. “So this pillar is very important because it’s touching all the value chain. And the idea is to align all the activities of each one of the players are doing in this one note in the value chain.”

“These pillars are very basic,” Mr. Cortes said, adding that implementation is progressing differently in the different geographics where Bimbo operates around the globe.

Grupo Bimbo also has explored various new technologies that could help with waste reduction, but Mr. Zarate said none yet has generated an adequate return on investment. Mr. Cortes said implementation has been launched at 87% of the company’s facilities, adding that goals reset each year with the objective of progressing toward Bimbo’s longer-term goals. Progress, though, has not been steady. The company is seeking to reduce waste by 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

“I have to tell you last year was not a good year,” Mr. Zarate said. “We had a reduction of waste in 2020, but we didn’t have a reduction in 2021, and we won’t in 2022.”

The Bimbo executives cited numerous factors holding Bimbo back from reducing waste over the past two years.

“There were supply chain shortages, which meant changes in raw materials,” Mr. Zarate said. “We had to change flours. There was a shortage of gluten. We began DATEM replacement.”

Any time significant ingredient changes are adopted, baking plants experience a learning curve while trying to maximize efficiency/productivity once again, Mr. Zarate said.

Mr. Cortes said labor shortages were a major issue. Mr. Zarate agreed.

“Labor shortages have been a huge, huge issue, not just in the United States but in Canada, the United Kingdom and in the north of Mexico,” he said. “It’s mainly with the maintenance people and the production people — frontline workers. We’re struggling with that.”