Turkey Hill

While most companies that undertake a Lean Transformation do so in response to a slowdown in business or other challenges that impact profitability, the opposite was true for Turkey Hill. The company had enjoyed 30 years of double-digit growth, the workforce was happy and customer’s loved the company’s products. But, when Executive Vice President John Cox looked ahead and imagined the company 10 years down the road, he felt uneasy. “Competition was relentlessly increasing on our frozen food side. We had many great ideas and opportunities available to us. But, we weren’t able to take advantage of them. We were limited in what could be accomplished because our culture was one that looked to management to provide the leadership needed to pursue those opportunities – and management couldn’t do it all.”

Cox saw that Turkey Hill was about to enter a new life phase, and wanted a way to assure that the company could remain sharp, nimble, learning and growing. Cox believed that successfully navigating into the future would require moving away from the traditional management structure and towards a culture where employees are empowered to take initiative and lead the way in sustaining the company’s growth and profitability.

Lean was suggested by the Turkey Hill Quality Assurance Manager, and Cox spent a year with key members of his team visiting companies that were already implementing Lean methodologies, including DuPont and Toyota. A consultant was hired to help Turkey Hill implement Lean tactics and the management team became convinced that Lean was the right approach. People were trained as project teams were formed, with several projects a year being implemented.

After a couple of years, they felt that they needed a consulting organization with deeper expertise to help Turkey Hill take the training across the organization as thoroughly and rapidly as possible. “We wanted to really commit to it,” Cox says, “We were ready to move out of the learning and experimentation phase and give our Lean effort some traction.” Turkey Hill contracted with DVIRC to lead the effort.

In implementing Lean, Cox wanted to focus primarily on the human element. “At Turkey Hill, we truly believe in the value of our employees. So, in our Lean efforts, focusing on continuous improvement through teamwork and employee engagement was the most important thing.”

Lean Strategy

A Lean Steering Committee was formed consisting of operations and financial managers. The committee has developed a strategy for using Lean to develop an organizational knowledge of Lean concepts through training, regular communications from leadership and experience with projects. Turkey Hill envisioned a Lean culture where:

All company leaders support Lean and are skilled in implementing it. Continuous improvement is accomplished by employees at all levels. A common Lean language is understood and spoken fluently throughout the company. The number of certified lean practitioners, champions and experts is continually expanded.

Lean Training

Large groups of plant employees were exposed to Lean theory and thinking through Lean 101 – an introductory overview – a process that is ongoing. To date, about one half of plant operations have undergone some Lean training. Groups of management and professional employees were divided into teams and sent through a six-week Lean Certification program. To date, nearly the entire management team has completed the certification program, which included a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on projects at the Turkey Hill facility, focusing on the development of Value Stream Maps and the implementation of 5S organizing activities. Most teams were formed with a combination of senior level people and manufacturing associates.

Lean Production Methods

As employee understanding of Lean principles has increased, Lean production methods have become more standard throughout Turkey Hill production areas. Today, Visual Controls, 5S events and workplace organization tools are increasingly used to help prevent and eliminate wasted time and materials. Value Stream Mapping helps assure efficient processes, and a stop-and-fix approach is encouraged for all daily activities. Standard operating procedures have been established for all teams across all shifts. “We are working hard at maintaining discipline in standard operating procedures,” notes Cox. “We want to retain gains made in the past to assure that we focus on continual improvement – not remedial improvement.”

Lean Management

To support the Lean Transformation, Turkey Hill is in the process of establishing a structure for standardized Lean management. The company will be formally integrating Hoshin planning principals, a method of assuring all employees are working toward the same goals, into its strategic planning this coming year,. Human Resource activities increasingly support the recruitment, retention and motivation of associates who can succeed in a Lean environment. Outcomes are evaluated from the perspective of both internal and external customers.

Standardized management practices have been developed for measuring, recording, auditing and celebrating success, and for charters, recordkeeping and post-event audits. Gemba walks – the practice of walking the plant, asking questions and listening to workers – are conducted on a regular basis in some areas and being spread to others.

Turkey Hill’s Lean efforts have enabled the company to become excited about and begin to achieve what Cox envisioned five years ago: A decentralized competency for problem solving that does not rely on management for answers. Employees are enthusiastic about implementing their roles and feel empowered to identify problems and develop solutions. Cox relates the story of a plant visitor who asked a Turkey Hill employee why Lean mattered. The employee replied, “because four years ago, I knew how to run this line and fix it, but no one ever asked me to do it. Now, it’s my responsibility to keep it running.”

Capital investments have been reduced by 40% or more. Instead of spending capital to fix things, the company uses Lean to drive out waste. Capital projects are implemented sooner, and results are achieved faster and with more regularity.

Equipment reliability has been improved and Turkey Hill is gaining more from its assets as deviation has been driven out.

Operating efficiency has increased significantly. Over the past two years, excellent growth has been achieved without the need to add production lines. Expansion of two production lines will be delayed by at least two years as Lean increases capacity to meet the 30% growth expected

Office supply expenses have been reduced $20,000 annually through a Lean initiative related to purchasing, receiving and storing supplies.

Significant dollars have been saved by driving out waste across Turkey Hill operations. Savings from Lean projects and continuous improvement efforts exceed $1 million annually, and the company now sees that much more is possible.

It was a single man’s determination to make it through the Great Depression that formed the beginnings of Turkey Hill. Armor Frey, the company’s founder, was a Lancaster County dairy farmer who added to his income during those hard times by selling his extra milk to neighbors from the back of his truck. Frey’s route grew, until one day his “extra milk” business became a significant business standing on its own. Today, Turkey Hill employs a workforce of 700, and the company’s milk, beverage and ice cream products are manufactured in a plant that runs 24/7.

Lessons Learned

Turkey Hill will continue to follow its strategic plan for growth, enhanced profitability and competitive strength through Lean methodologies.

At the same time, the company will continue to develop Lean Champions, as it works to accelerate the organization’s ability to sustain their Lean initiatives on their own.

Thoughts from John Cox the Turkey Hill Lean Transformation initiative

“In the Turkey Hill culture, we have always believed our people make the difference. But, our old management structure didn’t allow our workers to be fully engaged. When we originally started with Lean, we were focusing more on tactics. It was when we turned our focus to the human element that we made real progress.”

DVIRC Advantage

"DVIRC was very attentive to our strategic interests, and adapted their Lean efforts to who we are and what we wanted to accomplish."

"I wanted Turkey Hill to become self sustaining as quickly as possible. DVIRC has been wonderful at helping us develop our own programs."
John Cox Executive Vice President Turkey Hill
"Our DVIRC consultants and trainers have made the learning experience great. They get us, and understand what it's like to do what we do. Our employees connect with them." John Cox Executive Vice President Turkey Hill