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Frito-Lay: Great Stories Behind an Iconic Brand

  • December 10, 2013

Frito-Lay is the leading manufacturer of snack-food, with seven of the ten most popular micro-snacks in the U.S. Consumers enjoy their products in 79 countries, and their billion-dollar brands include Fritos, Doritos, Cheetos, Ruffles, Lays and Tostitos. Other popular brands include Rold Golds, Sun Chips, and Cracker Jack. Yet there is much more to Frito-Lay’s manufacturing story than what meets the taste buds.

The first thing that impresses people about Frito-Lay is often the scope and the efficiency of the business. The potatoes used in North America are harvested from 80 farms in 27 states. The time elapsed from potato farm to bagged snack food is often just 24 or 48 hours. The largest Frito-Lay facility is in Perry, Georgia, at nearly one million square feet. That plant alone operates 12 production lines and ships 64 million cases of chips each year to 18 states.

Based in Plano, Texas, Frito-Lay employs 48,000 people. Globally, the company operates an estimated 55 plants and 1,830 distribution centers. Frito-Lay has been part of the PepsiCo since 1965. Frito-Lay itself was the result of a 1961 merger of the Frito Company (founded in Texas in 1932) and the H.W. Lay Company (established the same year in Tennessee).  

Healthier Snacking. Consumers have become increasingly health conscious in recent years, and that is another part of the Frito-Lay story. The company now offers snacks in three categories: Healthy, Healthier, and Fun. It discontinued the use of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils in 2003. Its chips contain zero grams of trans fat per serving. In many global markets, they are using heart-healthier oils such as sunflower, corn, and soybean oil. Sunflower oil is used in the U.S., reducing the saturated fat content in chips by more than half. The company says that a serving of most of its snack chips includes no more sodium than a slice of white bread.

As an international company, Frito-Lay caters to different tastes from country to country. Accordingly, it offers alternative flavors and different snack products in Mexico, Brazil, Europe, Australia, and Asia. PepsiCo recently built R&D centers in China and Germany to explore, test, and develop new food products and variations that meet the expectations of these international customers.

Sustainability. Sustainability and environmental stewardship constitute another important part of the Frito-Lay story. Food-products manufacturing relies heavily on water and electricity. The company’s vision was to transform an existing plant as far off the electricity grid as possible, while producing no landfill waste. In 2011, Frito-Lay announced that its Casa Grande, Arizona plant had achieved near-net-zero status, as follows: The plant generates two-thirds of its electricity from renewable sources. A biomass boiler uses wood and agricultural waste as its source for combustion energy to produce steam, which reduces natural gas use by 80 percent. New technologies have reduced water usage by more than one-half. Less than 1 percent of waste goes to landfill, thanks to recycling and other measures.  The facility was the first to achieve the Green Building Council LEED Existing Building Gold Certification.

Drawing on what it learned in Casa Grande, Frito-Lay is working to reduce the environmental footprint of all of its plants, and to reduce fuel use in its fleet of trucks, as well. The Casa Grande plant won the 2012 U.S. Water Prize from the Clean Water Alliance, and the Beloit, Wisconsin site was honored in 2013 with a Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Green Master award. Along with numerous other distinctions, the company also has 17 Green Building Council LEED sites in the U.S.

All of which affirms that you don’t need to choose between great tasting snacks and Great Manufacturing Stories.

Lodge: America’s Original Cookware

  • October 27, 2013

Each day, 10,000 cast-iron products are produced at the Lodge Mfg. Company foundry in Tennessee. The company’s iron skillets, pots, pans, griddles, and Dutch ovens remain popular with many chefs because they distribute heat evenly, and are versatile enough to be used on the stovetop, in the oven, or over a fire.

A century ago, there were a number of cast-iron skillet manufacturers in the U.S., based mostly in Ohio. Gradually, through the Great Depression, competition, and then consumers’ gravitation to aluminum pans, all of them stopped making cast-iron kitchen products except for Lodge, which is family-owned. 

Joseph Lodge first opened his foundry in 1896. When it burned down in 1910, he built a new one.

Lodge Mfg. Company has continued to improve their processes and products through the years. One big step came in 1992, when the company replaced its coal-fired cupola furnaces with an induction melting system. That reduced emissions substantially. In 2012, Lodge earned Energy Star Partner status from the EPA, achieving its five-year goal of another 10 percent improvement in energy efficiency in a single year.

Another innovation was their invention of foundry-seasoned cast iron cookware. Lodge sprays vegetable oil onto the cookware and bakes it in at high temperatures. The result is an easy-release cooking surface. The process won the Good Housekeeping “Good Buy Award” in 2003 and has won Lodge a new generation of fans. With chefs having rediscovered the benefits of cast-iron cooking, it’s a good bet that Lodge will be producing products in the Volunteer State for decades to come.

Merle Norman Cosmetics: Committed to Manufacturing in America

  • October 26, 2013

Merle Norman products have been produced in the U.S. since Merle Norman started making cosmetics in her kitchen in Santa Monica, California in 1931.

Eight decades later, the company that bears her name employs nearly 500 people to research, manufacture and package products at their Los Angeles headquarters. In fact, if you have ever rented a car from Enterprise at LAX Airport, then you have driven right past their building on Bellanca Avenue.

Given the company’s close proximity to Hollywood, their products have been used in many a movie studio. The retail-bound cosmetics are shipped to 1,500 Merle Norman franchised retail “studios” across the U.S. and Canada, where they are sold directly to consumers. Stores have recently have expanded to the Middle East, as well.

Merle was a contemporary of Helen Rubenstein and Max Factor. It was Merle herself who popularized the “try before you buy” makeovers philosophy, which is still practiced at the Merle Norman studios today. She grew the business in conjunction with her nephew, J.B. Nethercutt. Merle passed away in 1972. Nethercutt passed away in 2004, but his classic auto and antique furniture collection can be seen in the Nethercutt Collection museum in Sylmar, California.

Still a family-owned company, Merle Norman continues to innovate, introduce new products, and bring on new franchisees. For the popularity of its cosmetics and its commitment to manufacturing in the U.S., Merle Norman is a Great Manufacturing Story.  

To read other Great Manufacturing Stories, click here.


Wilson: Manufacturing Footballs for the NFL

  • October 14, 2013

Every autumn, millions of Americans look forward to watching NFL football on the weekends. The games are played in sold-out stadiums, watched on televisions in homes and sports bars coast to coast, and discussed on web sites, in newspapers, and in schools and workplaces everywhere. Amid football’s popularity, surprisingly little attention is paid to where the footballs actually come from, and therein lies a Great Manufacturing Story.

The footballs used in the NFL are manufactured by Wilson Sporting Goods in Ada, Ohio, a small college town that is home to Ohio Northern University. The factory, which produces 3,000 to 4,000 footballs per day, is the only leather-football factory in the U.S. and the only plant in the country dedicated exclusively to making footballs. It employs about 120 people.

The leather for the balls comes from cows that are raised in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Most of the work done in Ada – cutting cowhide into panels, sewing them inside out, steaming them, and lacing them – is done by hand. Wilson has been making footballs in Ada since 1955, and the employees have, on average, more than 20 years of service time at the plant. Their commitment to quality and consistency is the first step in the great NFL games that are played every autumn Sunday.


Lean Operations at Legendary Harley-Davidson Plants

  • September 24, 2012

Harley-Davidson has been synonymous with the American road for decades. The company has survived vicious economic cycles, intense foreign competition and ownership changes for more than 100 years. Harley has legions of fans who will ride no other bike, and still offers tours at four U.S. plants – two in Wisconsin, one in Kansas City, and a fourth in York, Pennsylvania. 

H-D is also making its production operations leaner, to allow it to be profitable in good times and bad. The Wall Street Journal chronicled the changes in its Sept. 22, 2012 edition. In York, production operations that had been spread over 41 buildings are now performed in a single, modern factory, which relies to a greater degree on automation. The plant still relies on about 1,000 hourly employees to perform the functions best done by humans.

Similar changes are being implemented at the company’s other factories. According to the Journal article and company estimates, these changes will reduce H-D’s cost of doing business by $275 million this year. Lean manufacturing means that this Great Manufacturing Story has many happy more chapters to come.