By Barbara Young
Besides points for perfect attendance, what do you get for not missing a single day of work in two years?
If you work for Arizona-based Bar-S Foods, you get personal recognition plus a cash award. Recently, four employees at the company’s Lawton, OK, smoked sausage and franks production site shared $2,000 in equal amounts. Meanwhile, four others received $100 each for one year’s perfect attendance. Besides attendance recognition, the highlight of a recent morning’s meeting included a lottery valued at $7,000 in cash and nine extra vacation days. Moreover, each employee receives extra pay every year based on company annual profits.
Applauding employees with verbal recognition and cash bonuses is a foundation in the culture of this 24-year-old processed branded meats company specializing in smoked and specialty sausage products, franks, and sliced luncheon meat produced at three plants in Oklahoma at Lawton, Altus, and Clinton. Bar-S managers know that rewarding employees for their production prowess is a sound business practice, for the payback is not only loyalty and personal pride within the ranks but also a crew dedicated to production excellence.
“You must treat people like a resource by responding to their working conditions with special care,” stresses Thomas Weinman, vice president administration and security. “We use a management-by-walking-around approach. That means getting to know people by name, among other things, to develop trust and respect.” Replacing employees is costly, up to $4,000 for each one, reports Weinman, emphasizing that employee retention is especially critical for a small workforce competing in a labor-shortage arena. The combined Bar-S production team — numbering slightly more than 1,000 members — jointly produces more than 6-million pounds of product weekly at three plants with 350,000 square feet of space between them.
“We create an environment for people to motivate themselves so they can move ahead and get what they want,” says Martin Thompson, division vice president, human resources. “You can make people want to succeed.” For Bar-S, the proof is in the numbers. Three years ago the companywide turnover rate reached 88 percent, compared with the current rate of 40 percent. A single Bar-S plant operates at 20 percent and another at 50 percent.
Thompson attributes the improved statistics mainly to the company’s departure from a practice of hiring through temporary employment services. “There is no ownership in the candidates using that route,” Thompson says. “Direct hiring is the best method, which means the association with Bar-S begins day one. We also insist that supervisors get involved with the process. The biggest reason for people staying with the company, however, is the attention we pay to their work environment with policies and procedures designed for their comfort, coupled with bonuses and other special benefits. Hourly employees are measured based on productivity and safety, among other things.”
Moreover, Bar-S operates on a self-insured healthcare plan that provides flexibility concerning benefit packages. “The benefit is being able to custom design a plan,” Thompson says.
Recently, the Lawton, OK, team spent part of the morning in an annual plant-wide meeting — later replicated at other plants in Altus, Clinton, and Elk City — in which corporate executives detailed 2004 company production and marketing strides, profitability, and future plans for business growth.
“This year productivity was off the charts,” enthuses Robert “Bob” Uhl, president of the management-owned firm. “We are doing very well in the marketplace.”
Bar-S enjoyed an overall 11-percent sales increase in 2004, generated from 400 million pounds of products.
The product mix includes smoked sausages produced at an annual rate of 2.2-million pounds by the company’s Lawton plant, the site of the plant-wide meeting. The Altus franks and sliced bacon facility produces 3.6-million pounds a week. Meanwhile, weekly franks, sliced luncheon meat, and specialty sausage production in Clinton is at a rate of 2-million pounds.
Besides individual accolades and bonuses, the Lawton facility operates with a force that garnered 88 days without a lost time accident. On the food-safety front, the plant operated more than two years without testing positive for microbes in food-contact areas.
As Uhl reports, the company’s primary capital expenditures target food-safety technology designed to kill pathogens that threaten its facilities and products. Air, water, and brine are treated with ultraviolet (UV) light known to kill bacteria, for one thing. Plant equipment is steamed-cleaned weekly ensuring that hard-to-reach areas are not missed.
“UV lighting drastically reduces airborne pathogens,” reports Warren Panico, vice president, operations. “If a microbe wants to survive, it has a hard time doing so in our facilities.”
Following a 2001 recall ultimately involving the destruction of more than 3-million pounds of recovered product, Bar-S stepped up food-safety and product quality measures with a series of protocols,including special emphasis on sanitation procedures and equipment design and cleaning ease. The Lawton plant, for example, now features stainless steel drains and resurfaced floors designed to withstand the rigors of constant washing with abrasive materials without developing crevices that harbor bacteria. The brine chill system features a reconfigured design with a single wall to prevent moisture collection and eliminate the opportunity for metal to crack allowing for water seepage.
Other food-safety initiatives include an in-house laundry program that started after microbial testing uncovered plate counts on apparel washed by an outside firm. Franks and equipment are treated with ozone. More than 3,000 pathogen-detection tests are conducted in-house monthly, in addition to those performed by outside firms. Ready-to-eat personnel wear special attire and follow special clean-and-sanitation procedures before reporting to their stations — a process that takes up to eight minutes to complete. Bar-S intends to outfit its entire family of plants with every conceivable anti-microbial feature, Panico says, to ultimately operate with totally sealed surfaces.
“Our food safety is the greatest,” Uhl declares. “In my heart I know we have one of the cleanest group of facilities in the industry.”
Tooling up for Success
More than $50 million is allocated for 2005 capital projects in line with the company’s strategic initiatives, including facility realignment, expansion upgrades, and new equipment purchases. “This will increase our capacity to produce franks and sliced lunchmeat,” Uhl says. Meanwhile, the company also will produce its corn dogs in-house rather than through co-packing arrangements. Bar-S expects to produce up to 14-million pounds of corn dogs in 2005 and ultimately up to 25-million pounds. The current rate is 10-million pounds.
Overall, Bar-S plants operated at a record level of 96 percent of capacity in 2004 during a five-day, two-shift schedule, producing at a 102-percent rate during the last half of the year, Uhl reports. Several capital improvement projects triggered increased production including high-speed packaging machines and higher throughput from smoked sausage ovens at the Lawton facility; two new ovens and refrigeration improvements in Clinton; and less equipment downtime and expanded shifts during peak demand periods. “Low cost is a major theme of our company, Uhl says. “Another is being fit. Also we can only be successful if we wipe out waste and make the highest quality product.”
Projects in 2004 yielded more than $20 million in annual saving through the elimination of waste.
“We are building for the future,” Uhl concludes. NP