How Ken's Foods Innovates



Show Summary

In this episode, we talk about the innovation process on the R&D team Al Slingluff leads at Ken's Foods, the inflection point at which Ken’s Foods made the switch into PLM technology, and Al shares how a company with such a rich history continues to innovate while maintaining loyalty to the brand and quality in the products they produce. Al’s experience and insight in the Research and Development space offer a unique glimpse at the innovation process of a large CPG company.

 

You can learn more about Ken’s Foods at: https://www.kensfoods.com

About the guest speaker

Al Slingluff is the VP of R&D at Ken's Foods. Al has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Penn State in Food Science, and has managed Food Research and Development teams for over 20 years, spending the last seven at Ken’s Foods.

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Transcript

Suzana Tripologos:

In today's conversation. I speak with Al Slingluff. Al has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Penn State in food science and has managed food research and development teams for over 20 years spending the last seven at Ken's Foods where he serves as the Vice President of Research and Development. In today's conversation. We talk about the innovation process on the R&D team Al leads, the inflection point at which Ken's Foods made the switch into PLM Technology and Al shares how a company with such a rich history continues to innovate while maintaining loyalty to the brand and quality in the products they produce Al's experience and insight in the research and development space offer a unique glimpse at the innovation process of a large CPG company. He has a lot to share with us today, so let's get started. Hi, Al. Thank you for joining us today. It's really great to have you.

Al Slingluff:

My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Suzana Tripologos:

Let's get started and learn a little bit more about you and your company with Ken's and you've been there for quite some time. I'd like to know what your current role is now and how large is your R&D group?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah. So, my current job title is I'm the VP of Research and Development. So, we're responsible for our product development. I also have packaging government regulations. I'm also have a process engineer, and then I also have a label graphics coordinator as part of part of my team, and then have eight product developers and then total the team is over 20 people.

Suzana Tripologos:

Wow. Very good. And I'm curious to understand how does the Ken's team come up with new product ideas?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah. So, with Ken's, we supply both the food service in retail channels. So, a lot of our good retail ideas are actually things that have been successful in the food service side. So, we use our food service businesses kind of our funnel for retail innovation.

Suzana Tripologos:

No, that's a unique position you have where you're operating in both the retail and food service space. So, you're able to gather a lot of data from different sources, I can imagine to help guide you through the innovation process. Can you share more about that?

Al Slingluff:

Well, data is a lot of what we need today because obviously the world's getting more particular. You think about some of the food service customers with their list of known ingredients, if you will. Countries of origin and those kinds of things. So, they're asking a lot more questions about the products they're getting from us. So, obviously you need the data to back up those answers. And then our retail partners, some of those are asking a lot of the same questions as well. So, they're asking and demanding a lot more facts from us. So, obviously you need the technology to organize and maintain all that.

Suzana Tripologos:

Do you have a recent product where technology has played an important role in the new product development, something that recently you've been working on?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah. We'd launched about a year ago, a new line of a barbecue sauces under our Sweet Baby Ray's sub-brand. So, a race, there are a lot of no sugar added sauces. So, same kind of dynamic making sure all of our ingredients met that standard of no sugar added, you'd be surprised how many things have a little bit of sugar in them. And then the other part of the technology is working with our external partners on developing the right product, and then obviously doing a lot of consumer validation with that. So, those were kind of the three main areas where we use technology to help us with that.

Suzana Tripologos:

That sounds like it was very tedious and time consuming, especially at the scale of which you operate. Can you talk about a challenge you faced during that process?

Al Slingluff:

So, technology is for us in the PLM space, we're still implementing Devex that we're not the whole way through that. So, our challenge is we still don't have Devex fully implemented. So, the use of technology for us is highly segregated in spaces, and we want to use Devex kind of drive it all together. We don't have it there yet, so that we're going to be very happy when we finally get there with Devex.

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Suzana Tripologos:

Yeah. Certainly PLM can help expedite those internal processes. And it's good to hear that you've added technology to your business. But at what point did you feel that it was necessary? So, versus how you were working before and now implementing new technology, was there a specific moment in time or a decision factor that made you enter that path? Was you just, your company was growing at an exponential rates or the product demand was getting high, is there something specific you could share with us as to made that moment clear that you were ready to go down that path?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah. It's a good question. For us, the inflection point was we build a fourth manufacturing facility, it's in Lebanon, Indiana. And then all of a sudden the amount of information we need to coordinate adding that [inaudible 00:05:14] facility, adding all this manufacturing information, approving all those vendors for that new facility, that just added a lot more information in everybody's plate. And what we've noticed is the way we're managing information, which is essentially same we worked for the last 30 years, really wouldn't work for the size of company and the complexity accompany we have become. And that Indiana plant was kind of the breaking point for us and for us to really look at external technology to help us maintain our business and grow it.

Suzana Tripologos:

Yeah. I could see where a PLM would come in very handy in that situation. And especially since Ken's was founded, what, 80 years ago and you've been bottling and selling dressings over the last 50 years, and you want stay loyal to your brand and to your consumers and adding technology to help expedite that process. I could see where that would be very beneficial. Can you share with us, what was it like before you started to move into the PLM space? Was it difficult to manage the innovation team since you have a fairly good sized team it was difficult to manage it without technology. Are you starting to see the difference internally as you move across the space?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah. So, what we're seeing is without tech, pre-technology, the innovation was okay, but what the execution, the upfront idea generation and managing that front ideas was fine, but then the execution on the plant floor. So, taking that idea, scaling it up, scaling across our plants, that was the piece that was the challenge. So, it was more on the execution side than the innovation side if you will.

Suzana Tripologos:

And if you had to pick a specific piece of the technology of the PLM that you admire the most or that you're most excited about, is it just having the one source of truth? So, you have one centralized location where everybody can factor in and see what's going on, how the process is moving across the organization, or is there something specific that you would like to mention?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah, it's two things. One, sources of truth. I think my team's tired of me saying it because I think I quote it multiple times a week, so that's definitely one. And then the other thing for us is we take the same piece of information in entry into multiple different systems. So, it is that double and tripling handling of the same formula, if you will. So, that integration of the regulatory function with the manufacturing formula master formula, that's going to be a huge win for us. Every time you touch a piece of information to recreate, you're creating a potential for error. So, we're very excited about that regulatory aspect as well.

Suzana Tripologos:

Yeah. The regulatory piece is certainly a big one. And as you think about compliance and as you move into other markets perhaps, or you have more, you could stand in your product line, it gets a little bit more complex. So, that's really a good point that you mentioned. And I know you spoke about how others desire data about the products you produce. What data do you use and how do you use it to develop your own products?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah. I think from a data side, it is more of the, what kind of claims we can make. So, our customer is asking for more free from claims, beginning with no sugar added claims. So, I think the data is helping us a lot on that. What are the claims that our marketing team wants to make? Can we quickly look at the information we have and making the assessment, whether our products that we in the pipeline can meet those requirements? That's been the key piece on the data side for us. I think more and more consumers want a modified diet. So, vegan, Atkins a lot of different kinds of things. So, being able to quickly assess us has been very helpful for us.

Suzana Tripologos:

And we see a lot of consumers, I guess, the consumer trends and their needs does drive innovation and different products across the category. And I think you're right, consumers want to see specific types of products. They want to know more information about the products and we're seeing a large trend in that. And so, when you mentioned about labeling you're right, and making those claims on product and unpack, they want to know what it means and how it will benefit them and where it's sourced from. So, just researching the history of Ken's, I saw or I found that Ken's has been, it was founded over 80 years ago and that you've been bottling and selling dressings for over 50 years. And I'm curious to understand how has technology allowed you to innovate while still maintaining loyalty to the brand?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah. The key thing for innovation with us with a brand like Ken's and some of the other brands we hold it is you have that very loyal user and you need to make sure anything to do you create for that consumer is still at the same quality level. So, for us, quality is key. And then obviously technology allows us to understand what some of the new trends are and then making sure we're applying the right ingredients to take advantage of the claims our marketing group wants to make. But the key thing for us is you have to still, regardless of the new product you've gone and created has then hit that same quality level that the brand is known for.

Suzana Tripologos:

Yeah. I think that that speaks volumes because I know when I go to the grocery store, I know the quality of your product. And so, I go, I know exactly where it's placed on that shelf and I get it. And every time I use it, I know what to expect. And so, that speaks volumes because you're really holding true to the quality of your product and I think that's obvious to consumers, for sure.

Al Slingluff:

I'm glad to hear it. Thank you.

Suzana Tripologos:

So, as you look into the future, how will you use technology to get there? Do you see that this is going to open up new doors for you as you move into the PLM space, or just in general, where do you see Ken's going in the future?

Al Slingluff:

Yeah. I think the big thing that the technology is going to help us with is Ken's Foods really and Sweet Baby Ray's really only sell it in the United States. So, we think there's some global aspects to what we are doing today. And obviously with Devex there's a lot of ability to scale it in the source ingredients for different parts of the world, and obviously create labels from different parts of the world. So, we think that's going to be a big part of helping us grow the brand and the business. And then obviously the core functionality, keeping all information in one spot as we get bigger and more complex, it's going to be another huge benefit for us.

Suzana Tripologos:

No, that's absolutely true. And if you move into new markets or as you move into new markets, this will help expedite that process. So, absolutely. I agree to all those points and I'm very curious to see how six months from now, how it's changed the way that you work internally and how your processes have changed. I'm sure that it's already getting the minds going and people working better together inside the organization, as you have maybe those side conversations at the coffee station and just driving that conversation internally and as you have that one centralized place to store all your information, I think over a long time, that will definitely help you in your processes. Anything else that you want to share with us about Ken's in the future or what other directions you see that you may, any other product lines that you see down the path?

Al Slingluff:

They're always thinking about new things that we could work on. We do a lot of different things in the food service space. So, we do a lot of wing sauces. So, that's a big area for us to think about for the future. I'm sure ownership will think of something I haven't even thought of yet. So, we won't be bored. I know that for sure and we're definitely going to use Devex to keeps things going for us.

Suzana Tripologos:

No, that's great. And I'm glad you're open to new ideas and I know I'm a personal fan of all your dressings and sauces. So, keep up the good work there.

Al Slingluff:

Thank you.

Suzana Tripologos:

Yeah. Well, thanks so much for joining us today. I think we have a better understanding of what Ken's is about and how you're using technology for your organization. We appreciate your time.

Al Slingluff:

Well, thanks for having me and good to catch up with you.

Suzana Tripologos:

Thank you. You've been listening to the CPG Innovation Podcast. You'll find complete bios for today's guests, as well as links to their work and our website. While you're there, check out past episodes and additional content on fast-moving consumer goods. Make sure to subscribe to our channel wherever you listen so you don't miss an episode. The CPG Innovation Podcast is presented by Selerant. I'm your host Suzana Tripologos. Thanks so much for joining us. See you next time.