2011 Processor of the Year H.J. Heinz Co.: 118 years of Modern Technology at Muscatine

Companies that are built to last have a knack for changing with the times while keeping what works. Heinz grew up with the Industrial Age and continues to change with the times.

By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor

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Heinz's Muscatine, Iowa, plant is Heinz's oldest, built in 1893. But today, it's also one of the company's most modern, having undergone a major upgrade in 2010 with the installation of an automated retort system.

"We may think conference calls and WebEx are pretty cool, but in 1924, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Heinz, the company installed special radio equipment at sites near its facilities and held what may be the first company-wide meeting of its kind," says Tom Green, senior factory manager of Heinz's processing plant in Muscatine. "It was the first time the head of an international organization talked to all of his employees at one time," he adds.

At Muscatine, 320 salaried and full-time employees -- many of them decades-long veterans of the plant -- along with part-timers produce about 20 million cases of tabletop and bulk foodservice products annually -- roughly 48 recipes and 120 SKUs. The plant produces 14-oz. ketchup and 13-oz. mustard, 20-oz. ketchup and 4 billion of the company's 11 billion single-serve ketchup packets a year.

Other production is dedicated to making all of Heinz's gravy, Heinz steak sauces and Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce. Additionally, in 2012, the plant will pick up a portion of ketchup production, following this December's plant closure in Stockton, Calif.

The Muscatine plant began operating in a smallish structure built in 1893, and includes an out-building dating from the late 1890s that still stands, not just as a symbol of the past but as a storage facility. It's been joined by newer buildings that today total 830,000 sq. ft. and house some of the corporation's most advanced technology.

For example, the plant recently changed over its bank of 1960s-vintage gravy retorts. This entailed replacing static immersion retorts, in which containers "swim" in water, with a bank of six static spray retorts, which use more efficient water-spray heat. That results in an annual 20 percent reduction in water and natural gas consumption.

Recirculating retort cooling water contributed not only to reduced water use during initial cooling, it helped reduce steam use and shortened come-up and cooling times, as well. The project, including retorts, automated controls, utilities and material handling systems, was Heinz North America's largest capital expenditure in 2010, costing roughly $15 million. It's also highly automated, cutting six employees to one per shift in just one part of the 24-hour, five-day-a-week operation.

Because such projects so closely link environmental gains to cost savings, it's difficult to uncouple the "green" of profitability from that of sustainability. The two are intertwined in the Muscatine Performance System.

The retorts were only a start. For 2011, Muscatine won Heinz's 2011 Plant Sustainability Award for results that surpassed all other facilities. Projects included a facility-wide heat recovery system that reduced natural gas use by 20 percent, or 42,000 million BTUs a year, and reduced water consumption by 30 percent, or an annual 150 million gallons.

Other moves in Muscatine include elimination of corrugate waste, saving $700,000 annually by eliminating corrugate dividers; and processes and automation to shut off lights, electrical equipment and water. These gains continue Muscatine's tradition of corporate sustainability that in 2005, the first year of the current program, won the plant the highest rating from McDonald's Corp. for social accountability systems in workplace health and emergency planning.

Looking forward, Muscatine's goals for fiscal 2012 include 4 percent reductions in solid waste, water use, greenhouse gases and energy (electricity).Turning to other areas, Muscatine is working to meet corporate productivity, growth, and commodity cost control initiatives. It doesn't matter, for instance, that purchasing is handled from headquarters. "Our part in controlling commodity costs is in reducing waste and improving our yields," says Green. "We try to get the very best use we can out of every pound of tomato paste and every pound of molasses, with as little waste as possible. And HGPS helps us to do that.

"And while we can show you our state-of-the-art gravy retorts or our controls, the story of this plant isn't about new equipment. I think what makes us modern is modern thinking.

"We've been around for almost 120 years. You would expect us to have a culture that's reluctant to change, but we've learned that the old autocratic methods are not sustainable. HGPS is helping us do this, helping management and employees work shoulder to shoulder so we all share the same sense of ownership and buy-in. When we in management work with employees to remove obstacles, we all win and the factory wins."

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