Successes in Operations

Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation

Situation

Because success in the low-margin food industry demands a laser focus on efficiency, Gilster-Mary Lee wanted to embark on a proactive effort to evaluate processes, identify areas for improvement and train workers in the areas of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement. The company was particularly interested in improving productivity – without increasing costs or sacrificing quality – on production lines for one of its fastest-growing restaurant customers.

IMEC Solution

After providing both lean and continuous improvement training for employees, IMEC took a multi-functional team through a value stream mapping exercise, then divided them into groups to tackle a series of projects. From this work emerged recommendations for improvement, which the company put into place over the next few months. As a result, Gilster-Mary Lee increased production for its fast-growing restaurant customer from 680 to 900 cases a shift with the same workforce and little capital expenditure. Additional projects ranging from order processing efficiency to employee safety are now in the works – all designed to help the company on its ongoing growth transformation.

Results

  • Boosted productivity by more than 30% on key lines
  • Added capacity without significant capital expenditures or change in workforce
  • Positioned the company to better serve a key customer & seek new business opportunities
  • Improved employee engagement, particularly among production workers

Private – Label Food Manufacturer Fills Its Plate With Continuous Improvement Projects

With a total of six projects underway at four sites during 2011 and 2012, Chester-based Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation clearly has embraced the concept of continuous improvement-and with IMEC’s help, the 117-year-old private-label food manufacturer is transforming into a lean, efficient and growing operation.

Founded in 1895 as a flour milling company, Gilster-Mary Lee entered the private-label industry in the 1950s and has grown both organically and through acquisitions ever since. Today, the company-which employs 3,500 people in four states-produces more than 8,000 food items for more than 500 private-label brands, including virtually every major U.S. retail grocery chain and wholesaler. Gilster-Mary Lee also has a significant international business, exporting products to Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and New Zealand.

According to Vice President Tom Welge, succeeding in the low-margin food industry demands a laser focus on efficiency. That’s why the company recently asked IMEC to support its proactive efforts to evaluate processes, identify areas for improvement and train workers. The work got started with employee education on both lean manufacturing and continuous improvement, then progressed to focus on specific production lines for one of Gilster-Mary Lee’s fastest-growing restaurant customers. The company needed to ensure it could keep pace with that customer’s growth-boosting productivity without increasing costs or sacrificing quality.

First, Gilster-Mary Lee organized a multi-functional team of employees, representing management, quality, maintenance, sales, production and procurement. IMEC took them through a value stream mapping exercise, then divided them into smaller groups to tackle a series of projects. From this work emerged recommendations for improvement, which the company put into place over the next few months. The result? Gilster-Mary Lee increased production for its fast-growing restaurant customer from 680 cases to 900 cases a shift-more than a 30 percent improvement-with the same workforce and little capital expenditure.

“The irony was, we thought these were our most efficient lines,” Welge said. “Now, we’re able to serve a key customer better, and just as important, we’ve set ourselves up to seek new business opportunities.”

An added benefit was improved employee engagement. “IMEC’s technical staff related well to our employees. They’re not consultants from New York or California, but people who live in our region and speak our language,” Welge said. “The whole process got our workforce engaged. They appreciated the training and having their voices heard.”

For his part, Welge appreciated IMEC’s accessibility, responsiveness and the return on investment he received by working with a cost-effective consulting team.

“IMEC provides great value when you compare cost versus experience and resources,” he said. “You not only have access to local people, but also to the team across the state and the national network.”

That’s one big reason Gilster-Mary Lee has continued to work with IMEC since completing the initial lean manufacturing and continuous improvement project. A series of additional projects are currently in the works, ranging from order processing efficiency to employee safety-all designed to help the company on its ongoing growth transformation.

“We’re looking at this as a multi-year evolution of the company. Continuous improvement is continuous, after all-there’s no end point,” Welge said. “IMEC is helping us implement cost-effective solutions within our own four walls.”

Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation

Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation

3,500 employees at 14 facilities

Chester, Illinois

“We’re looking at this as a multi-year evolution of the company. Continuous improvement is continuous, after all-there’s no end point. IMEC is helping us implement cost-effective solutions within our own four walls.”

 

– Tom Welge, Vice President

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