Chain of Thought

Like Greek Yogurt? Thank Material Handling.

I'm not an expert on yogurt. The subtleties among the various brands are all Greek to me. But here I am in Park City, Utah, not only talking about yogurt with my dinner companions, but talking about Greek yogurt. Our dinner is being hosted by Dematic, on the opening night of its annual logistics conference (its first time hosting since acquiring HK Systems last year).

Now, I'm not sure, but I'll bet our hosts don't know much about Greek yogurt either. As far as I could tell, it was nowhere on the dessert table. However, my fellow dinner companions are experts, not only about the developing markets for Greek yogurt in the U.S., but about the material handling challenges of making and moving the stuff for these markets.

These gentlemen are from Schreiber Foods, a $4+ billion global enterprise and the world's largest customer-brand dairy company. They are big enough to care about continuous improvement, hence their presence at this conference. They have their sights set on getting fresh ideas from this event and applying them in their operations.

What impressed me about these guys was they not only knew about Greek yogurt, but they understood the connection between really good Greek yogurt and really good material handling. The quality of this particular product is tied not only to quality ingredients, but to quality material handling techniques. The ingredients of Greek yogurt require a compressed production timeframe—meaning higher-speed material handling and timely transportation.

The fact they consider material handling and logistics a competitive advantage not only for quality service but quality product is as fresh to my ears as my introduction to Greek yogurt. In fact when I got back to my room I did a little Internet search and found out a little more about the company.

It has a large dairy plant in Shippensburg, Pa., that specializes in cream cheese and yogurt production. The facility is an integral part of the Schreiber Foods system, which, according to the report I found, is the largest supplier of private-label cream cheese. Apparently Schreiber is pursuing a significant investment in this plant, possibly enabling it to produce 180-200 million lbs. of yogurt, mostly Greek.

Schreiber made other news this year with its acquisition of Dean Foods, Dallas-based producers and wholesalers of dairy products. So it's obvious why Schreiber has Greek yogurt and U.S. material handling on its mind. They want to be the best in both.

I ended this evening with new knowledge of a food that's foreign to me, but with a renewed appreciation for the strategic importance of my old friends, material handling and logistics. I'm looking forward to hearing more fresh perspectives at this conference in the next couple days. I'm optimistic. The sessions haven't even started yet and I've already posted a blog. Wonder what's for dinner tomorrow.

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