Haskell’s team suggested that Summer Garden shift its throughput focus to its retort, such as the one shown, and away from its filler to optimize production.

January 17, 2024

Empathetic Analysis is Key to Successful Food Processing Solution

Discover how Haskell's Systems Analytics team used a blend of empathy and expertise to understand and solve a client's food processing challenge.


Success can come with its own pitfalls. For food processors adapting to meet increasing demand, optimizing existing equipment, and possibly adding new pieces can create unique challenges. In such cases, performance management often requires a similarly unique approach.

Facing the need to increase throughput on its lines producing various pasta and barbecue sauces, Summer Garden Food Manufacturing contacted Haskell’s Systems Analytics team for an assessment of how to improve the efficiency of current operations and the optimal strategy for adding new equipment.

Haskell’s team of Technical Lead Shannon Browning and Design Analyst Tommy Smith performed a system audit. They first worked with the client’s plant engineer to gather production information, cycle times, SKU lists and other preliminary data. They then visited the production facility for two days, observing operations, gathering more data, interviewing key stakeholders and workshopping throughput scenarios.

Food Industry Expertise
Haskell has been ranked in the Top 5 of Engineering News-Record’s Food & Beverage Manufacturing Contractors for the past 12 years, including seven consecutive years in the Top 2. Our expertise spans the grocery aisles, from emerging sustainable proteins and pre-packaged food service items to confectionery sweets and baked snacks.

Returning to their Atlanta, Georgia, office, they assimilated the information, analyzed data and created a wide-ranging report.

Pasteurizing Plus

The client’s highest priority issue was its need for greater efficiency and production capacity from its manufacturing line. Based on their homework before the site visit, Browning and Smith went in expecting to find bottlenecks at the line’s retort system, which is the step in the process that kills any microbes in the product.

“There are other processes that do this,” Browning said. “If it is simple heating for killing microbes, such as with tomato sauce, we can use a pasteurizer. But this was Alfredo sauce, and the retort also served as the final cook. In Alfredo sauce, there’s a cornstarch that’s activated in the final cook process.

Technical Lead Shannon Browning is pictured in front of a filler on a recent project site.

“Our packaging engineering team has a lot of recent experience with retort systems. It’s a challenge for traditional packaging engineers because we have to interrupt the continuous flow, collect a batch of product, process that batch, then release it back to continuous flow. All the while, if there’s downtime, it risks discarding a whole batch because of temperature control.”

Browning said Summer Garden had reasonably adjusted its processes to prevent product loss because, in this case, lost product was more costly than lost time. On a packaging line, the filler typically is the design bottleneck – that is, the point in the process designed to run as consistently as possible, thus determining production speed. But on this line, the retort was the bottleneck, and the company was throttling the filler to avoid scrap.

“We reviewed their past year of data and found that the risk of losing a batch was much lower than their perception of it but that they lost a lot of productive time on the retorts by holding back the filler,” Browning said. “We provided a tool and worked through the scenarios for their current and future systems. We suggested some subtle ways to shift focus to retort throughput and away from the filler.”

Analyzing With Empathy

She stressed that a significant component of the audit was talking one on one with stakeholders and operators to understand why they were operating as they were.

“Data are useless if people don’t believe or trust it,” she said. “As analytics professionals, we are only effective if we can present with empathy and understand the hopes and desires of the people we are trying to influence with data. It’s not that we don’t do a rigorous analysis or present findings that the data don’t support; it’s that we approach things with an open heart and an open mind.”

A significant part of the solution came in the form of a simple, yet elegant tool built in Excel that created a Gantt chart of all production steps given a set of parameters. The tool allows Summer Garden’s team to visualize how different conditions affect production and dial in operating procedures accordingly.

“We were able to give them a tool to show exactly what that constraint is,” Browning said. “As a contract manufacturer, they can potentially change that recipe to alter conditions. For example, the particular product that they're doing right now has a fairly long cook time. They could bring in another retort product that has a shorter cook time to alter the output, shifting the bottleneck back to the filler.”

The audit and analysis process was completed in a relatively brief time, but it produced outsized results. Beyond the retort solution, Haskell delivered to Summer Garden a matrix of 28 recommendations ranked by priority from 5 (highest) to 1 (lowest) and qualified by impact and expense. Each of the 10 top-priority action items was deemed high impact and low to medium cost. The solutions addressed issues in eight categories:

  • Information technology (IT)
  • Safety
  • Operations
  • Maintenance
  • Warehouse
  • Quality assurance (QA)
  • Utilities
  • Facility

“We gave them some really valuable deliverables,” said Stephen Daffron, System Analytics Manager. “Even though this was a quick project, our focus was on making sure we gave them some real usable results at the end.”

Contact Haskell’s System Analytics team for the deep, nuanced analysis it takes to leverage data to draw informed conclusions and support real-world decisions across a wide variety of industries.

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

Related News & Insights

Privacy Policy

Our website uses technology to offer you a personalized experience. We need your consent use cookies in accordance with our privacy policy. By clicking “Accept,” you agree to our use of cookies.