Head of Performance Improvement at The Weetabix Food Company, Alex Cosgrove, spoke at the European Manufacturing Strategies (EMS) Summit in Germany. In his presentation, he discussed the implementation of the TRACC Operations Best Practices across their manufacturing sites. Though Weetabix employees were open to improvement initiatives, their efforts prior to TRACC implementation had not been sustainable. Alex believes this is because improvement efforts were silo-based and not integrated.
Up until 2004, Weetabix was privately owned by the George family, passed down through generations after its conception in 1932. In 2004 Weetabix was sold to a private equity firm called Lion Capital. Overnight the business went from being family-owned to a venture capitalist, so it was a big change for the company, and in order to remain competitive against the big cereal brands, the company needed to embark on a journey to world class. Subsequently Bright Foods, one of China’s largest food groups, acquired 60% of the share capital of Weetabix.
Says Alex, “Though Weetabix was a profitable business back in 2004, there was lots of fat in the manufacturing process and across the business, and many restricted practices. For instance, there was a lot of grading in the operations, with very little cross-skilling across functions.” The first challenge, therefore, was to take away these restrictive practices and modernise processes.
Improvement activities prior to TRACC Implementation
Weetabix leaders believed that the best way forward was to engage with the shop floor representatives in order to remove these restrictive practices and modernise their work processes. It’s important that this level of transformation takes place at grass roots level, as opposed to being a top-down order.
Comments Alex, “Prior to implementing TRACC, we kicked off the improvement process by implementing 5S and it was a real disaster! We did a great job at sorting — many people had a good understanding of 5S, but we never sustained anything, we never set standards and we never went into the audit process. It was, however, an indication early on that the workforce wanted to engage and this was the key enabler for the company to go forward.” The company learnt from this early lesson, and commenced using a point solution, which they called a ‘Point Solution of Improvement’.
Overnight the business went from being family-owned to a venture capitalist, so it was a big change for the company, and in order to remain competitive against the big cereal brands, the company needed to embark on a journey to world class.
There were opportunities to improve on OEE and safety. Though Weetabix is the brand leader in the UK market, the leadership team still felt there was room to further improve quality, so this kicked off a focused improvement journey, which then led the company into TPM.
Weetabix enjoyed some significant gains around improving OEE outputs, but believed these were still far from being sustainable. Alex felt that though they’d achieved much in terms of physical improvements, these did not equate to gain to the bottom line because there was so much ‘noise in the system’ around engineering capability and reliability. Weetabix therefore embarked on another point solution exercise which sought to improve business capability from an engineering point of view.
However, they began to achieve silo-based improvements happening independently of one another, even though these were being overseen by a designated team. The next challenge was to knit these ‘pockets of excellence’ together. “it was clear that there were too many plates spinning,” said Alex.
Weetabix meets TRACC
It was at this point that Weetabix engaged with TRACC. Once Weetabix realised they needed to integrate their improvement projects and implement a system that would enable their people to create value through stage-based performance improvement, they started seeing some great progress. The implementation kicked off with the Leading and Managing Change TRACC, which focuses on organisational design, setting the vision for change, and writing the strategy for improvement. Thereafter, the company rolled out the remaining Foundation TRACCs, namely Environment, Health and Safety (EHS), Teamwork, 5S, Visual Management, and Focused Improvement.
According to Alex, in the past leaders would simply tell shop floor teams which actions to take in order to make improvements. But in that way, knowledge about improvements is not transferred to the shop floor as the wisdom remained in the heads of the leaders. However, by engaging the teams and coaching them to figure out improvements themselves, teams have now been empowered to continuously drive the process because they own the process themselves.
“We decided to go ‘big bang’ with TRACC,” said Alex, “because if you go pilot, it’s great, but I don’t think a pilot ever finishes.” Weetabix therefore jumped right in with a multi-site TRACC implementation.
Implementation and Results
After the initial TRACC assessment, an implementation plan was drawn up providing a road map to guide the implementation of the best practices. The implementation plan is a step-by-step tool of an integrated improvement journey. This integration was exactly what Weetabix needed to bring together their previous silo-based improvements.
Fuel for Growth is part of their implementation plan, where the Implementation Task Forces (ITF) conduct waste analyses of their unit and produce profit improvement plans. As of March 2012, each of the business units were up and running with their implementation plan, best practice plan and a Fuel for Growth plan. “We are at the stage now where we’ve got fantastically motivated ITF teams with a swell of enthusiasm,” Alex said.
I believe we took about £30 million out of the cost for the business through improving processes and some capital investment.
One of the key reasons Weetabix chose TRACC is because they didn’t want to just buy consultancy — they wanted to transfer the knowledge in order to develop internal capability. Since implementing TRACC across all its manufacturing sites, Alex says the language has changed. He believes this is key to multi-site improvement, since using different improvement language could lead to an uncoordinated and non-integrated approach to change, which is not sustainable.
“We’ve taken a lot of fat out of our manufacturing processes between 2004 until today. I believe we took about £30 million out of the cost for the business through improving processes and some capital investment. This is a massive step forward.”
|British cereal manufacturer, Weetabix has become somewhat of an institution in the UK, being the brand leader by volume and value. This is certainly no small feat for a small company, competing against giants like Kellogg’s and Nestle. The company came from modest beginnings in Northampton in 1932, and has grown from strength to strength. With an employee base of around 2 000 people, the group produces 36 types of breakfast cereals and bars now enjoyed in over 80 countries around the world. In 2004, Latimer Group Limited, a company incorporated by Lion Capital, acquired all of the issued share capital of Weetabix. Subsequently Bright Foods, one of China’s largest food groups, acquired 60% of the share capital of Weetabix. Weetabix’s Latimer site in the UK — the focus of this article — is 84 acres, with around 1 200 people and six business units.
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