The idea of an unused company suggestion box for improvements has become something of a corporate cliché derided in recent times. At Douglas Machine Inc., the company ditched the suggestion box of old in favor of a more dynamic employee-driven improvement program.

With its Douglas Improvement Projects (DIPS) program, worker ideas to improve products and processes are actually implemented. By 2012, more than 1,000 DIPS were completed.

“It could be anything from something very small that meets a need and saves a little money to a significant design improvement or modification of an employees work cell,” explains Chris Haugen, VP of Supply Chain.

The DIPS participation rate is greater than 85 percent of the workforce and includes improvements in the areas of safety, quality, productivity and cost reduction. “It is something that has really taken off,” Haugen says. “To qualify, employees have to have an improvement implemented,” he says. As employee owners, employees see the value in turning their ideas into improvements rather than mere ‘suggestions.’  

It’s rare for a business to leave customers in awe, but Deya’s Gluten-Free LLC does it on a regular basis, owner Deya Warren says. Based in New York, the company manufactures a gluten-free flour blend that can be used for multiple types of baked goods.

Warren’s company has roots in her personal life. Once a lawyer by trade, Warren learned she had a gluten intolerance in 2008 when she and her husband were trying to start a family. 

During a visit to a fertility doctor, Warren learned of a possible connection between her infertility and gluten consumption. After going on a gluten-free diet, “I quickly got pregnant,” she recalls.

Warren, who also has a passion for baking, began investigating the various gluten-free flours then available. Ultimately, “I was unsatisfied with all of them,” she recalls. “[They] just really tasted terrible.”

About 10 years ago, Larry Large got the idea to introduce his own brand of tequila to the restaurants and bar he owned in Mexico. The specialty brand, called Hermanos Large, was never intended to be sold anywhere but Large’s own restaurants, but the experience inspired him to do more than dip a toe into the tequila market. 

Today, as managing partner of Del Bravo Tequila, Large is dedicated to producing a high-end tequila that can stand up against any of the big names on the market. The secret, he says, is the superior quality of the agave and the company’s unique distilling technique that produces a smooth, flavorful tequila suitable for sipping or mixing. 

Del Bravo Tequila produces several lines of tequila, each with distinct qualities that set them apart from many of the tequila in the marketplace today, ranging from the citrus-infused Diva Tequila to Route 66, which is inspired by the world of motorcycle enthusiasts. The company got started in earnest when Large met Chuck Mosher, who helped introduce him and his partners to the Home of the Brave Brewing Company in Honolulu. Home of the Brave specializes in providing beverages to the United States Armed Forces, and at first Large wanted to develop a tequila to be sold under that brand. 

Create-A-Pack began in a 1,500-square-foot facility making icing pouches, and since has expanded into four individual buildings totaling 190,000 square feet to accommodate its diverse and growing processing and packaging services. 

Founder and president Glenn Cochrane, an entrepreneur and food scientist, worked for some of the biggest names in the food industry. Identifying a need for a competitive, Midwest-based co-packer, Cochrane started out on his own. Beginning with only icing pouches, Create-A-Pack quickly grew and began specializing in all liquid food products, Director of Sales Todd Loepfe says. Expanding with their customers has initiated growth into dry food packaging and confections, as well as packing for athletic performance products and the supplements industry. “We are a customer-driven company,” Loepfe says. “What that means is we don’t compete with our customers for sales on the shelf or production time in the facility.”

Create-A-Pack credits its success to its ability to support its customers by quickly managing a project’s speed to the market along with customizing its processing and packaging flexibility. The company is a one-stop shop for all its customers’ needs. Customers range from small-scale food manufacturers to Fortune 500 major consumer brands. “I believe we have a niche in which we partner with Fortune 500 companies, as well as work with mid-sized companies,” Loepfe says. 

Organic, gluten-free, whole grain, kosher-certified, non-GMO – when it comes to health trends and dietary needs, tortilla chip-manufacturer CoPak Solutions tries to cover them all. “We get nearly every certification we can in order to give the consumer what they are looking for,” Founder and CEO Larry Deal says.

It is costly to ensure a company’s food and facilities meet the criteria of many food certifications and have them audit the operation annually. It’s also tough to find suppliers who are likewise certified. 

“It takes a lot of time to find suppliers, and when we find them, we know they’re not going to be the lowest-cost supplier, but we usually stick with them for a long time,” he says. 

The North Carolina-based company – which makes private-label products, co-packs for other brands and has its own brand, Mother’s Farms – tries to use as many local suppliers as possible. 

All the cost and effort is worth it when it keeps you in line with the rest of the snack food industry. When, five years ago, CoPak sought out certification from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), it was not yet common in the United States. “We saw the importance of global food safety and knew it was worth the challenge and investment, and it’s huge now,” Deal says.

Cookshack President Stuart Powell says the company believes in doing more than just manufacturing and selling barbecue-cooking equipment. “Our goal is to teach people how to be expert barbecue chefs,” he says. “The education of our customers is very important to us.”

For the Ponca City, Okla.-based company, this includes hosting cooking classes and making a series of instructional videos focusing on how its customers can use its products to get the very best taste with its equipment. Company representatives are also easily accessible by phone to advise customers or troubleshoot products.

“In the commercial smoker world, all of our competitors make a quality product, and we believe ours is better than everyone else,” Powell says. “But where I think we really stand out is customer service. Everyone on our customer service team owns one of our smokers and cooks on them, and our sales team is all people who cook and love barbecue. We offer a lot of resources for restaurants to use to find out how they can take their food and business to the next level.”

Cookshack’s commercial customers range from independent restaurant operators to national restaurants and retailers such as Famous Dave’s, United Supermarkets, Lone Star Steakhouse and Petro/Iron Skillet.

Eating a healthy diet is a goal many consumers aspire to, and they’d achieve it more often – if only they had the time. The same goes for foodservice providers who face mealtime rushes and the ensuing time-crunches that make it a challenge to serve up fresh and freshly prepared treasures from the good Earth’s bounty.

Enter the convenience of fresh-cut produce, pre-packaged and delivered to the retailer, ready for supermarket produce displays, restaurant kitchens and foodservice packs. The growing popularity of pre-washed, pre-stemmed and pre-cut fruits and vegetables is a testament to the fact that saving time equals the possibility of a better diet for the health-conscious grocery shopper and restaurant patron.

To further expand its growing business, Class Produce Group of Jessup, Md., a Mid-Atlantic wholesaler, opened a new facility last November dedicated to processing fresh-cut fruit and vegetable products. The eco-friendly 60,000-square-foot facility, located next door to the Class Produce Group warehouse, has the capacity to process more than a million pounds of fresh-cut produce each week. The new product line is known as TGD Cuts.

Captain Ken Freiberg was always one to help. As a career firefighter in St. Paul, Minn., saving lives was part of his life, and so was keeping his fellow firefighters well fed. His firehouse specialty – oven-baked beans with bacon – was a favorite at Firehouse Station No. 14 located in the heart of St. Paul, Minn. The recipe soon became a favorite in the surrounding neighborhood. 

In 1964, Freiberg sold his signature baked beans from a food stand at the Minnesota State Fair. A few years later in 1967, after 25 years of service at the St. Paul Fire Department, Freiberg took early retirement to start a new career in food manufacturing. In 1999, brothers John Traxler, CEO and president, and Mike Traxler, chairman, who grew up in St. Paul not far from Firehouse No. 14, bought the business. 

“John and I knew of Captain Ken’s Foods and its famous oven-baked beans, and John had previously worked on a project at the company, getting a chance to work with and get to know Ken Freiberg,” Mike Traxler says.  


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