Sara Lee, Traverse City, Mich.

Randy Tucker, general manager of Sara Lee Food and Beverage, Traverse City, Mich., discusses the pie plant’s remarkable safety achievements and the dedicated employees behind them.

What plant achievements during the past year are you most proud of and why?
Randy Tucker: One of best achievements for the Traverse City plant this year was the same achievement we have celebrated in each of the prior eight years: employee safety.  We are in our ninth year of operating without a lost-time accident — that’s more than 9 million hours. This year, we received the Platinum Award presented by Michigan OSHA (MIOSHA), and that has been one of the greatest accomplishments for the plant. The Platinum Award is the highest award given by MIOSHA.
What were your greatest challenges during this same time period, and how did you address these challenges?
Tucker: Safety is a high priority for the plant, and while we have had great success, our greatest challenge continues to be the elimination of all accidents at the plant, no matter the severity. We have continued to focus on behavior-based safety training, including auditing and Lean 5S principles, to help improve safety awareness and focus.
What are your operation’s strengths in relation to the “Plant of the Year” selection criteria?
Tucker: Simply said, our employees are our greatest strength. Safety statistics measure all employee behaviors, and as a result, it is a measure that provides great information about the skills and competences of an organization.
The average age of our workforce is 50 years, and our employees have an average of 20 years of service. Our workforce brings great experience to the processes of making pies.
We continuously strive to improve our employees’ skill base by focusing on areas that we feel are important to continue our success. Over the past nine years, we have developed and provided training programs through two local colleges providing leadership training within our organization. ... This year, the focus is on the rollout of lean manufacturing skills.
What industry issues trouble you the most in terms of plant operations, and what steps are you taking to address these concerns?
Tucker: The largest challenge that our plant faces now is no different than the challenges we have faced over the past 43 years. And that’s how do we continue to provide innovative and relevant products to our consumers and remain competitive within our industry?
That’s why investment in our employees and the quality of our workforce is so important.
What are some of your key operational and other goals as you move forward through 2006?
Tucker: Operationally, our goals continue to be the same every year with an expectation of continuous improvement. We have always had well-defined metrics in regard to human and food safety, customer satisfaction, productivity, quality improvements, employee relations and community service.
Editor’s Note: This article first ran in the April 2006 issue of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods.