Record Number Attend SFA Management Workshop in Cleveland

The Snack Food Association (SFA) returned to the city where it was founded for the 2004 Management Workshop, where a record number of snack food manufacturers and suppliers attended. More than 125 people went to Cleveland, Ohio, October 24-26, to improve their management skills, network and learn about the latest snacking trends.
Low-Carb Sales Softening
The low-carb category is now a $1 billion market, but its growth rate is slowing, pointed out Kim Feil, CEO, Mosaic InfoForce and IRI Snack and Beverage Practice Leader. Low-carb brand sales increased a whopping 283% during the 12 weeks ending March 14, 2004. For the 12 weeks ending Sept. 5, 2004, the increase was 148% — still a huge increase. However, Feil predicted that many low-carb products would fail by the end of 2004.
There is a graveyard of low-carb products, yet they are still getting the best display locations in supermarkets, said Feil. As these products fail, she suggested to Management Workshop attendees that this is “your chance to get shelf space.” Salty snacks lost 0.02% of display space in supermarkets for the year ending in July 2004. Despite this loss, Feil cautioned that the overall number of displays is increasing and it’s confusing to consumers.
Healthy eating is beginning to mean more than just low carbs, Feil said. She suggested that companies offer convenient, healthy alternatives, such are baked, low fat, natural and organic products. The light, low calories category grew 4% for the year ending Sept. 5, 2004. She pointed out that cookies and crackers are not taking advantage of the healthy trend.
Dr. Guy Johnson of Johnson Nutrition Solutions, LLC and Dr. John Stanton of St. Joseph’s University also discussed the low-carb trend, focusing on the diets associated with it. Johnson separated myth from reality as far as the science of low-carb diets go. With 10 million people practicing the diet in 2004, Johnson said that low-carb obviously is something that has hit hard, but that doesn’t mean it won’t fade.
He qualified his analysis by noting that the snack food industry was not out of hot water yet, especially as more big companies, such as Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola, roll out low-carb products.
However, Johnson said the science behind the low-carb diet predicts that low-carb, much like the low-fat trend, will level off, and people will be more aware of carbs, but probably won’t be anti-carbohydrate.
Stanton discussed low-carb trends, suggesting that it is too early to tell if low-carb has legs, and how strong those legs are. Part of the problem, he explained, was that although diets like Atkins have been around for decades, only recently have they become so popular that long-term studies are being conducted. In the short-term, studies indicate that the diet seems to work well, but not so much in the long-term.
Attendees Tour Shearer’s Foods
A highlight of Management Workshop was a tour of Shearer’s Foods, Inc., in Brewster, Ohio. A focal point of the tour was several kettle cookers that the company had just installed the previous week. The cookers were added to meet the increasing demand for Shearer’s kettle-style potato chips. Tour participants also visited the new outlet store that had been built during the previous year due to interest from local consumers.
Following the Shearer’s Foods plant tour, the group returned to the Renaissance, the headquarter hotel, for a lunch session with Shearer’s Foods president and incoming SFA chairman Bob Shearer. In his talk, Shearer explained how the culture at his company really hasn’t changed much from the basic beliefs that were held 30 years ago.
At Shearer’s Foods, associates are taught that quality is the key, that they must respect everyone — regardless of status — and that they must be able to accept rejection.
Shearer also pointed out that his company has tried to foster a family atmosphere over the years, from management on down to the line workers. Opening the lines of communication between all levels and taking a real personal interest in associates on all levels also was stressed, to make for the most comfortable atmosphere possible at the company.
Shearer promotes this atmosphere as a very simple way to improve the culture of any workplace.
Positive Attitude in Leadership
Jeffrey Magee, of Jeff Magee International, provided insights on leadership, which he likened to piloting an airplane. He suggested that most managers can’t figure out how to take their company or department from 10,000 feet to the coveted 30,000 feet.
At 10,000 feet, Magee said, tactical skills are the most important. But too many businesses spend too much time at 10,000 feet, worrying about minutiae, he explained. He then offered his map to achieving success beyond 10,000 feet and maintaining that success at 30,000 feet. At 30,000 feet, strategy becomes most important.
The key to success in leadership, he said, was changing the attitude of yourself and your peers and then maintaining that positive attitude. “Change your attitude, change your destination,” was the catch phrase of the session.
Ty Bello, Team@Work LLC, also discussed leadership strategies. Effective leaders are able to influence others to work towards achieving goals, but the way they choose to do so varies from leader to leader, he said. Whereas one leader may rally the team around a goal, another might encourage his/her team’s self-confidence in an effort to achieve a goal.
Is one style of leadership better than another? Not necessarily, said Bello. He explained that the most successful leaders are those who are able to adapt their style to the demands of the situation. He suggested that leaders, “lead for synergy.” This involves, first, knowing one’s preferred leadership style, then understanding the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and finally learning how to adjust the team’s style in different situations in achieving that goal. Elaborating, Bello, explained that there are four different leadership styles: direct, spirited, considerate and systematic.
A direct leadership style is one where the leader takes charge. A spirited leader inspires, while a considerate style involves using team harmony and cohesiveness. Finally, the systematic style leads through careful planning. These styles need to be adjusted based on a team’s competency, focus and confidence in achieving a goal, suggested Bello.
A method used by a number of companies over a wide range of industries is Six Sigma. This is not a secret society or a slogan or cliché, but a highly disciplined process that helps us focus on developing and delivering near perfect products and services, explained Scott Lasater, GE Industrial Systems. The central idea behind Six Sigma is to measure how many defects are in a process, and then systematically figure out how to eliminate them, Lasater said. At its core, Six Sigma revolves around five key concepts: define, measure, analyze, improve and control.
With globalization and instant access to information, products and services have changed the way customers conduct business. The old business models no longer work and today’s competitive environment leaves no room for error, Lasater said.
“We must please our customers and persistently look for new ways to exceed in their expectations. That’s why Six Sigma has become a part of our culture,” Lasater stressed.
Low-Budget Brand Building
John Kahl, CEO of Henkel Consumer Adhesives (HCA), whose company makes such products as Duck brand duct tape and other adhesives, told Workshop attendees how to build a brand with no budget by relating the story of HCA’s rise to success and its continued battle against the “Goliath” of the industry, 3M Corporation.
Kahl said the fabric of his company, and what the company believes it can use to win the fight, is the culture. When HCA hires someone, the person’s fit to the company’s culture and core values are most important, since technical skills can be taught.
Much like Shearer’s Foods, HCA believes in its workers on a personal level — people make the difference — stresses communication and strives for excellence throughout.
Kahl displayed some of the ingenious ways in which HCA has gone about building awareness of its products, particularly Duck brand duct tape. Through whatever media means possible, HCA got the word out, and promoted the use of its products in many different programs, including its annual “Stuck On Prom” contest, in which one lucky couple of prom-goers wins a college scholarship for the best prom outfits made entirely of duct tape. Media outlets across the country have picked up the story of contestants, and Kahl said that this has been a gold rush of promotional power that has helped HCA succeed at a speedy rate.
Improve Communication
Attendees at the Sales and Marketing track of the Workshop learned how to demystify packaging graphics from a panel of experts. Jason Barrier, Printpack Inc., stressed the need to improve communications between all parties. Suggestions he gave to achieve improved communications were:
• Begin with the end in mind
• Identify key roles and responsibilities
• Establish packaging workflow
• Identify potential fit with your business and applicable technologies
• Develop atmosphere of communication toward specifications and standards.
Other members of the panel were: Ted Namur, Artwork systems; Tony Sebben, Plastic Packaging Technologies, LLC; and Tiffani Smith, Utz Quality Foods, Inc. When asked about choosing the best colors for a package, Namur suggested considering what colors look best on the shelf together. Stebben recommended using standard colors where possible since the use of nonstandard colors can double the cost. The panel also discussed advances such as electronic tracking of PDFs, remote proofing, and the increased prevalence of digital printing.
Containing Injury Costs
Chad Towner, vice president of compliance and rehabilitation for RediMed, a provider of occupational health, wellness and prevention programs, offered a number of examples of best and worst practices for injury cost containment. Towner first explained why businesses have an obvious financial interest in preventing injuries.
“The average direct cost of lost time for a lower back injury is $11,000,” he said. Other financial consequences of an injury claim include productivity and property losses, quality deficiencies, lawsuits, and increased worker compensation premiums. Then there’s the whole issue of fraudulent claims, Towner warned.
“The most prevalent situation regarding fraudulent injury claims is financial hardship,” said Towner. “There are whole families who know how to work the system.”
The best remedy for soaring injury costs is to recognize risk before an injury occurs. For example, Towner advised, note slip hazards on tile floors, use short-handled spatula type tools, identify awkward or unsafe ingredient lifting and carrying practices and monitor the use of handcarts.
“Also practice good case management and install prevention strategies to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Towner said. “Always keep a keen eye on anything that could possibly go wrong.”