• OSI Sustainability

OSI to Feed Americans in Need Through Farmers to Families Food Box Program

06.04.2020

OSI is distributing millions of servings of cooked meat to food banks across the Midwest, after securing a U.S. government contract aimed at helping American farmers, food producers and families through these challenging times.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently launched the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to connect producers with unused food to the millions of people across the country suddenly turning to food banks and other non-profit organizations to feed their families.

The urgency of the initiative propelled leadership and staff across OSI to develop an innovative plan, in a matter of days, to meet the program’s unique requirements. Food processing plants interested in participating, for example, had to find ways to pack a variety of products into small, family-sized boxes as opposed to the larger boxes or pallets typically used for commercial customers. The specifications called for speedy adaptations across OSI, from the finance department, which had to develop new invoicing systems, to the research and development team, which came up with new formulas for the program.

“I continue to be impressed and appreciative of the speed with which the entire organization moved on this,” said Peter Rose, the assistant vice president of business development and strategy, who played a key role in securing the contract. “This really demonstrated our innovation and ability to be quick to market.”

Just days after the government’s call to action, OSI submitted a plan to rearrange factory lines at two of its Midwest plants in order to pack and ship boxes of bacon, sausage, hot dogs and meatballs to non-profit food bank organizations that can store and distribute the items to families in need. “We knew to be successful we had to pack a multitude of products from different lines in the same box,” Rose said. “We had to put our heads together in literally a matter of hours to brainstorm a process to accomplish that.”

Rick Cotner, OSI’s director of process improvement, refers to the brainstorming and planning as a “true cross functional effort.” For his part, Cotner worked with team members — some on site at Midwest plants, others working remotely — to identify production line capacity, raw material availability and other products needed for the program. “I believe that we were all motivated and even excited to support a commercialization project that could help to bring our team members back to work and to feed so many in need,” he said.

Robin Dunleavy, director of research and development, meanwhile, worked on formulations for each product the company aimed to distribute, taking into account everything from the cuts of meat available to seasonings. “Back at the OSI R&D center, the team was quickly testing the manufacturing facility-approved formulations for flavor, process guidance and nutritional information, along with generating specifications and labels,” Dunleavy explained. “Honestly, I love these pressure situations. We stressed from the start that we all had to double-check each other. Every opinion counts and every question needs quick discussion. Our teams across all areas are solid which makes the decision-making process quick.”

OSI’s strong supply chain presence in North America also helped the company secure all the materials it needed for the program. “A determined effort on sourcing and securing the required raw materials for the USDA Farmers to Families program became a singular focus of the Supply Chain team that resulted in a very successful outcome,” said Louis Rose, assistant vice president, North America supply chain.

Days after OSI submitted its program plan, the company was awarded a contract to distribute about 12 million meals to those in need.

TAPPING INNOVATION AND FOOD BANK RELATIONSHIPS

OSI benefited from its agility and ability to innovate, but also from its longstanding relationships with charitable organizations. In an effort to get food as quickly as possible to struggling Americans, the Department of Agriculture left it largely to companies themselves to find food banks and other charitable groups to supply. For years OSI has fostered relationships with non-profits and community organizations around the world, including Feeding America, a network of more than 200 food banks across the U.S. The organization was one of the first OSI reached out to when devising its Farmers to Families plan. “We had a lot of conversations with Feeding America to understand the marketplace they were seeking to serve and we built their feedback into our proposals,” Peter Rose said. It is one of several organizations partnering with OSI to get the company’s food boxes into the hands of those in need.

Peter Rose describes the Farmers to Families program as a “win-win” for everyone. “This enabled us to turn lines back on, get people more work or bring people back to work, and that was clearly a win for our employees and our organization overall,” he said. “It was also a win because it is helping us to drive a deeper partnership with some of our food bank partners and get millions of servings to those in need.”

The benefits extend back to OSI suppliers too. The program requires participants to source food exclusively from U.S. farms, which now have new outlets for their products.

OSI began distributing food boxes from its Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin and Oakland, Iowa plants the week of May 31 and may have the opportunity to expand its participation to other plants in the future.


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