Nestle USA: Manufacturing That Sustains

For 2009 Food Processing processor of the year, Nestle USA, it's all about creating long-term value for the bigger picture and serving customer and consumer needs.

By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor

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Managing the thousands of moving parts that comprise Nestle USA manufacturing operations is "a bit like [maintaining] a Boeing 747," Allan McIntosh says. He notes the aircraft's half-century of service despite being designed to last 20 years. "While all of the components may have been modified on today's 747, it's still fundamentally the same aircraft," he says.

There's something to be said for the analogy in light of the decades of upgrades that keep old plants running like new. But there's more to it than knowing when to add a new combination-weighing carousel to a 30-year-old Lean Cuisine tray-packing line at Nestle Prepared Foods' Solon, Ohio, plant; it's about priorities at the plant, division and corporate levels.

McIntosh, senior vice president of technical and manufacturing for Nestle USA and other North American operations, must manage every plant using the same set of priorities and management directives as his counterparts across the global Nestle SA organization. This means that Nestle USA, our 2009 Processor of the Year, must operate under the corporate mandate to support "nutrition, health and wellness." And it must do so in a "shared values" approach that encompasses the "convergence of competitiveness and sustainability," as Jose Lopez, executive vice president for operations and global business excellence, puts it.

While living up to those long-term values isn't rocket science, it can be as daunting and critical to the public good as any challenge Boeing faces.

No matter what vision the company holds dear, Nestle USA is still subject to the forces of the larger business environment. At present, the industry is just getting over years of consolidation that left fewer but larger plants. McIntosh thinks this era of restructuring has run its course and is giving way to a "really exciting" period that will let Nestle refocus on "growth and investment and on the development of appropriate technologies."

This leaves him optimistic to capitalize on "even more potential now to develop our manufacturing operations and deliver improvements in performance than we've delivered over the last 10 or 15 years," he says. "There much more potential to do so in a way that supports Nestle's retrenched focus on lean and effective manufacturing operations."

Broad view of sustainability

Nestle's view of sustainability can be illustrated by a pyramid with the corporate vision up top and environmental and workplace issues just below it, which in turn rest upon a foundation of compliance to standards and practices, whether quality, regulatory or other.

The most commonly understood definition of sustainability deals with the environmental issues in the operational middle. On that front, Nestle's focus includes various internal improvements as befit a global organization, such as reducing energy and water consumption while increasing overall efficiency and savings.

"Basically, we've halved our greenhouse gases per ton in the last decade, and we've made similar reductions in water consumption per ton, and enormous reductions in packaging overall as a company," McIntosh says.

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