Inspirational quotes about being proactive are a dime a dozen: “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.” “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” And so on.
On the other hand, fewer and further between are real-world examples of companies that found success after becoming re-energized. One company on the fast-track to becoming “Exhibit A” among companies to find success via revitalization is the Processed Foods Division of Day-Lee Foods, a Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based manufacturer of frozen protein products under the Day-Lee Pride and Crazy Cuizine brands.
A new Processed Foods Division management team, installed in 2013, has taken the bull by the horns, become more aggressive in establishing its approach and sparked increased enthusiasm. Led by general manager Mike Keeland, Day-Lee appears to be pointed in a proactive direction. The company has quickly maneuvered itself from being perceived as just another Asian-cuisine processor unable to support its overstretched distribution network, to envisioning expansion as a much more nimble, fully marketed, logistically strong manufacturer of a variety of ethnic products.
“One of the focus areas has been to really make sure we understand the marketplace and our customers as well as we can,” Keeland says. “Marketing and logistics have become increasingly more important, and we have taken steps to pay close attention to them.”
In fact, Day-Lee Foods created two new positions to address these opportunities: David Weinberg was installed as the new director of marketing, and Gus Lopez was brought on to be the director of logistics.
Weinberg and Lopez joined a team that has developed into what Keeland calls, “a very cohesive group that works very well together.”
“We have a very diverse staff with very different backgrounds, and we try to use that as an advantage, not a hindrance,” he adds.
Day-Lee Foods already has reaped the rewards of the team’s experience and cohesiveness. Weinberg explains that prior to his arrival the marketing focus was not on consumer activities. Now, he says, products are fully supported by marketing initiatives such as social media, an updated Web site and targeted, local marketing activities.
“We’re working hard now to teach consumers 10 different ways to use each product, to make it more appealing,” Weinberg says. “So when you talk about our Crazy Cuizine Sweet Chili Chicken, they’re not just eating it as a center-of-the-plate meal — we’re teaching people how to use it in wraps and other recipes.”
“We didn’t think we had a product that was broken at all,” he adds. “It just had zero awareness built around it, and not enough people knew about it in order to buy it — we had a great product that was a secret.”
Phase One of the revitalization — reinforcing the infrastructure of the company — is complete, and Phase Two is underway. Phase Two revolves around being more of a meal solutions provider.
“Right now, we’re looking at our protein and sauce products and our potstickers — we envision having several types of meals for consumers, family-style and single-serve, and we envision being able to grow the ethnic category in a number of ways, not just in Asian food,” Keeland says. “Furthermore, our potstickers demonstrate the potential to do more appetizers, snacks and handheld products.”
Weinberg sees potential in the Crazy Cuizine brand as well — from the “crazy” name to the “Crazy Quick, Crazy Good,” tagline on to the dragon logo. The brand name itself is an untapped strength Day-Lee Foods will leverage moving forward.
“Crazy Cuizine actually could expand into other types of ethnic cuisines, and we’re looking at a whole host of things that even go beyond frozen food,” Weinberg says. To support all this potential development, Day-Lee Foods has invested in R&D as well.
“We are making sure we always have a pipeline of new products, to be able to launch as the marketplace dictates,” he says. “We also have some openings in R&D and hope to bring in some highly qualified people to support that.”
Support through flexibility
On the production side, the focus at the plant has been clear: to enhance flexibility in production, guided by marketplace demands. Kotaro Fujita was brought in as director of operations to help drive several projects designed to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
According to Keeland, Fujita has done an outstanding job of identifying opportunities and creating multi-departmental teams to implement new ways of doing things at the facility.
One of the ways the company is succeeding is by measuring daily results. The management team looks at everything, from hourly production to downtime to employee engagement. The plant controller, Toshiyuki Ito, compiles charts and graphs to help the managers proactively manage production.
“We have found that the employees enjoy seeing how we are doing,” Keeland says. “It has become a motivating factor. We also make sure that each employee understands our priorities are (1) human safety, (2) product safety, and (3) productivity. Employees understand that it is not about how much is produced every day, but how much good quality product is produced.”
That customer-centric philosophy extends out to the goals of the facility to be nimble in its operational abilities.
“When a customer comes to us and asks, ‘Can you …?’, we always try to say, ‘Yes.’ So if we need to change the production schedule tomorrow, we do it,” Keeland says. “We know that our bigger competitors can’t turn on a dime like that, so we have to be able to do that.”
Flexibility in the product mix also is important, although some of that is ingrained in the plant culture based on the variety of ingredients the company processes and blends to fill its frozen potstickers. Nevertheless, Keeland reports that there are challenges to that flexibility that crop up from time to time.
“We recently launched our Mongolian Beef product, and our team had not previously been putting vegetables, onions into our Crazy Cuizine products, but we’re doing it now,” he explains. “We’re adapting depending on what the recipe calls for. If it’s multiple components beyond meat and a sauce, then we add it and give consumers what they need to create the complete meal.”
Eventually, the team believes its nimble nature will make Day-Lee Foods a pathway to expansion. Keeland says the overarching goal in Santa Fe Springs is to maximize value for the stakeholders.
Mergers and acquisitions that allow Day-Lee Foods to vertically integrate some of its processes and/or give it better distribution access eastward are not out of the realm of possibility, Keeland acknowledges. However, any eastward expansion will be measured and easily supportable by marketing. Previous attempts to expand nationally overextended the company’s abilities to support the product in marketing and through logistics, and Keeland says it won’t make that same mistake.
“We’ve pulled back our retail distribution to the west because we realized we’re going to have to be the category leader, and you’re not going to be that by just giving really deep discounts,” he explains. “You’ve got to tell the story of the brand and get the consumer to engage, so for us, it’s easier to be in a smaller area, tell that story to the consumer, show success and then use it as our platform for expansion.”
“In terms of the capital investment, we’ve put money into many areas to ensure we’re making good quality products,” Keeland says. The company enhanced its employee training and quality-assurance programs, and upgraded some product packaging to meet customer needs as well.
Further capital investment and equipment upgrades are in the works that will add to the flexibility of the facility.
Today, Day-Lee Foods appears to be moving forward at a comfortable pace, and the perception of the company in the marketplace appears to be positive, based on what customers tell Keeland and Weinberg.
Although the company’s growth remains a work-in-progress, there’s no denying that the management team is continually focused on building on the company’s past.