Hamming It Up
June 8, 2009
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor
A ham-and-eggs breakfast is merely a day’s work for a chicken compared to a lifetime commitment for the pig, according to a witty old proverb, and there is certainly no shortage of commitment to the cause among the loyal and dedicated staff at the Springer’s Meats Inc. plant in Hamilton, Ont.—home to a thriving, 50-year-old meat processing business built on time-honored craftsmanship and customer service excellence.
Specializing primarily in the production of smoked and processed ham-style products from Canadian-raised pork—along with a growing range of complementary processed beef, veal and poultry offerings—the family-owned suppliers of pizza toppings, smoked bone-in and picnic shoulder hams, mild and hot pepperoni sticks, fully-cooked smoked bacon, roast and corned beef slices, wieners, kielbasa coils and hams, and other meaty treats appears to have nailed the art of managing measured and patient organic growth in the marketplace down to a science over the years.
Operated by the Mueller family since its 1986 acquisition from the founding Springer clan, the company has transformed itself beyond recognition from a one-time 10-employee outfit making pizza toppings and a few deli products at a tiny 6,000-square-foot shop.
Thanks to a series of well-timed purchases of nearby buildings, Springer’s was able to evolve into a solid midsized, well-diversified prepared meats manufacturer employing 65 people at a modern, well-equipped 55,000-square-foot factory that has displayed a remarkable knack for carving itself a constantly-growing slice of the market pie through thoughtful product innovation and superior packaging know-how, according to company director Walter Mueller Jr.
“When it comes to our recipes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says Mueller, listing off a series of recent industry awards and recognition that includes picking up the Grand Champion awards of the Ontario Independent Meat Packers and Processors Association four years in a row—honoring the company’s Black Forest-style ham, Summer Sausage and Kielbasa brands—as well as a top three finish for its smoked, pre-cooked bacon.
“Because the majority of our pork comes from Ontario and Manitoba, and because we guarantee our beef to be 100-percent Canadian, we may not be the least expensive meats processor around,” Mueller acknowledges, “but its good to know that we manufacture an excellent line of products.”
With a steadily growing product portfolio now comprising more that 150 different branded product offerings retailed at major supermarkets and independent grocers—as well as bulk shipments to a long list of restaurants, delis, pizzerias, street-vendor carts and submarine shops—Mueller is also setting the company’s sights on growing the co-packing side of the business, which currently accounts for about 30 per cent of its output.
“I can definitely see us increasing our production in this market segment,” Mueller told Canadian Packaging during a visit to the lively Springer’s production plant, currently processing an average of 30,000 pounds of meat daily.
“In fact, it seems like every month our output numbers and those of our clients seem to be going up and up.”
Mueller attributes some of that growth to having become a federally-inspected meat processing facility last year—now boasting all the proper (CFIA) Canadian Food Inspection Agency certifications and approvals to enable it to ship its products right across Canada.
Naturally, taking that leap necessitated further expansion of the company’s manufacturing capacity and capabilities, he adds, requiring some fairly substantial capital investment in new production and packaging machinery.
“For us to go federal,” Mueller explains, “along with upgrading to their (CFIA) specifications, we also had to improve our production flow, which meant we had to physically move departments to different areas of our plant.
“It was well worth it because it was something that has helped make us a more efficient meats processor,” says Mueller, stressing the need for the plant to be a true “lean manufacturing” operation in order to compete in the hotly contested marketplace, as well as getting a foothold in the selected U.S. markets later this summer.
Based on some of the more recent new machinery installations at the Hamilton plant—most notably the Repak RE 20 horizontal form/fill/seal (F/F/S) rollstock thermoforming machine from the Burlington, On.-based Reiser Canada—those plans are unfolding just as they were intended.
According to plant manager Cory Clark, the new RE 20 thermoformer provided a perfect complement to the plant’s existing model RS420 rollstock F/F/S machine—manufactured by the Swiss-based VC999 Packaging Systems AG in terms of meeting additional capacity requirements.
“Although we already had a great rollstock machine from VC999 that is still running very well,” Clark explains, “a single machine simply could not keep up with our rising demand.
“So we suddenly needed to start looking for a new machine that we could use not only for the packaging of ready-to-eat meats,” he recalls, “but one that could also offering us a more cost-efficient style of printing and packaging.”
Anxious to try something new in respect to packaging the extent that we can do it for them.”
Boasting extensive expertise in the development of production flow management software, as well as integrated data acquisition and production management systems such as the popular EIT (Efficiency Improvement Tool) manufacturing enterprise system—today installed on nearly 400 packaging lines in more than 20 countries—Sidel offers “more than 20 years of TCO (total-cost-of-ownership) optimization systems experience,” Aury contends, “but our expertise extends far beyond just improving line productivity.
“We take a more holistic approach to project management,” he expands, “to enable clients to run their entire business more efficiently.
“In the beverage industry,” he elaborates, “packaging components such as bottles, caps, labels, film etc., account for 70 to 80 per cent of the total costs of production, so we’re keen on assessing and testing all these package variables in terms of total system optimization.
“If, for example, we could reduce the weight of each plastic bottle on the filling line by two or three grams, that could amount to millions of dollars in combined savings at the end of the year.
“Our custom-made software can perform 3D (three-dimensional) simulations of the client’s manufacturing flow with all the different set parameters to determine their equipment’s operational efficiencies; how they affect equipment depreciation; how it fits into their current production plans; how it will help them reach their targets three from now, five years from now …”
Aury says he has high hopes for the company’s recently-developed complementary Eco-EIT software suite, which is designed specifically to track and monitor the beverage lines’ energy needs and consumption—including electricity, steam, etc.—which it plans t
o launch officially at the drinktec 2009 international beverage industry exhibition this September in Munich, Germany.
Most importantly, Aury relates, Sidel’s TCO services are not limited in their application strictly to Sidel equipment, nor is Sidel hung up on the size or market clout of its potential clients.
“While we have some fairly big greenfield projects on the go, even in this economy, we are also working with young startups to help them break into the market,” Aury points out. “Sidel is very proud to be an equipment supplier to companies like Molson, Miller, PepsiCo and other industry leaders, but we want to extend our engineering expertise to all the beverage producers out there to help them compete and grow.
“And as a global company, we need to be able to address all of our client’s equipment needs, including in applications where no Sidel equipment is used,” he says.
“I just think that in general, the time for stand-alone engineering consultants and one-off project managers has passed,” Aury reasons. “What the market wants now, and I’ve been hearing it from our clients for the last three to four years, is stable access to world-class engineering support services that are both flexible and fully dedicated to the market they operate in.
“These clients look for business partnerships that are measured in years, rather than months,” he states, “and that mindset fits in perfectly with our philosophy at Sidel Engineering & Conveying.”