An Anchor to the Past
By Tom Wray, Associate Editor
Oscar Mayer’s Madison, Wis., plant has grown since purchased in 1919, and today, the facility works to stay on the cutting edge while producing old favorites.
Oscar Mayer’s business history goes back to 1883, but its history in Madison, Wis., doesn’t go quite as far. Still, it has had, by any measure, a long and satisfying stay.
The company, originally founded in Chicago, has produced products in Madison since 1919 and moved its headquarters to the Wisconsin state capital in 1957. Oscar Mayer’s Madison plant has grown since the company purchased the small farmers co-op meatpacking plant in 1919. Today’s multi-story plant, within sight of the city’s low-slung skyline, produces 200 million pounds of products each year under the Oscar Mayer flag, which Kraft Foods acquired in 1989 when it was combined with General Foods, including Oscar Mayer brand Beef Franks and Wieners, Hot Dogs, Bologna, Hard Salami, Chopped Ham and Ham & Cheese Loaf.
“We have many unique and patented processes in our facility, [and] we’re extremely proud of our state-of-the-art cold-cut processing and hot-dog manufacturing systems,” says Kevin Bacon, the Madison plant manager.
In addition to producing cold cuts and hot dogs, the plant also acts as one of four Kraft corporate headquarters, along with transportation and facilities for finance, technology and service divisions. It serves as the main office for Oscar Mayer as well as for other Kraft corporate departments such as transportation.
Approximately 2,200 employees work at the Madison plant, one of seven in the Oscar Mayer network. Other plants are in Fullerton, Calif.; Davenport, Iowa; Columbia and Kirksville, Mo.; Coshocton, Ohio; and Newberry, S.C.
With such a network of facilities, the Madison plant has to stay competitive not only with other companies, but also other plants in the Oscar Mayer and Kraft corporate network.
“Processed-meat manufacturing is very dynamic as we balance the needs of both internal and external customers,” says Bacon. “Safety of our food and people, as well as [the production of] top-quality Oscar Mayer products is paramount to our success.”
The Madison plant accomplishes that by focusing on its core hot-dog and cold-cut processes to provide the best possible products for its consumers. Bacon says that, as an organization, the company needs to continue to heighten the business knowledge of each employee, including the union leadership, so that all employees at the plant understand what is required to be competitive.
“I personally provide an orientation for every new employee,” Bacon says. “They receive an overview of Kraft Foods, the Oscar Mayer history, an understanding of our strategic role, and information on our facility goals. After their initial orientation, they work closely with assigned trainers and supervisors as part of a job-training proficiency process.”
Bacon’s job is to help achieve the plant’s goals. Those goals include achieving a “Safety Perfect” culture for the products, employees and community; making a consistently high-quality product for consumers to ensure brand integrity; deliver the products with great customer service and find opportunities to grow business; drive down costs to give consumers high quality at a low price; advance the personnel development for each team member; and create a caring organization both internally and externally.
Among all these goals, Bacon says the company has not lost sight of keeping a plant as old as the Madison flagship up-to-date and properly equipped to meet the needs of the company — which, for Oscar Mayer, means meeting the needs of the consumers in the marketplace.
Bacon adds that the company has invested millions of dollars over the past decade to use the best technology available for the hot-dog and cold-cut processes.
Furthermore, Oscar Mayer has kept itself well-positioned to follow up the hometown pride that the brand brings to Madison with good feelings about Oscar Mayer acting as a responsible neighbor over the years. The plant has taken steps to minimize its “carbon footprint” and be as environmentally aware as possible in order to keep clean the city it calls home.
“We’ve reduced water usage by 70 percent since 2002, and our plan by 2009 is to reduce water usage by another 25 percent,” Bacon says. Such dedication to the environment has earned the company recognition at the state level for its work, he adds.
“We were awarded the Wisconsin Business Friend of the Environment in 2005 — a distinction we are very pound to [receive],” Bacon explains.
Yet, amid all the environmental and employee education initiatives, Bacon says, it always comes back to the core strategy upon which Oscar Mayer thrives year-in and year-out, regardless of old or new strategies.
“We have hundreds of dedicated and talented individuals that strive to produce a high-quality, Oscar Mayer food product each and every day for our consumers,” Bacon concludes. That dedication to what the consumer wants is helping Oscar Mayer innovate with the right mix of convenience, great taste and high quality, and find success in today’s marketplace.