Wayne Farms truly puts customers’ needs front and center, and some of the best evidence can be found in a somewhat unexpected place: the Research & Development (R&D) department. While many R&D teams operate in a vacuum, the Wayne Farms R&D team collaborates with customers on nearly every project, creating an environment that turns customers into partners.
Building a customer partnership
Our customer partners often have problems that we can help them solve, and our R&D team plays a key role in that process. Our customers let us know details such as their overall goals, cook times and facility kitchen limitations — any information that’s relevant to helping us create the best product for their needs. We felt the best way to foster these conversations was to provide a collaboration space, and that’s how the Customer Innovation Center came to be.
Customer Innovation Center
Our new Customer Innovation Center (CIC) opened March 2018 and has already made a huge impact on our customer partners. We could have built the CIC anywhere, but we specifically chose to build it in Decatur, Alabama, next to our prepared foods facility. This unique space allows us to go from discussing ideas in the conference room right into the test kitchen to try out those ideas. The relaxed atmosphere, glass walls and white boards make the CIC the perfect area for creativity and conversations to flow freely.
The test kitchen in the Innovation Center is built to “plug-and-play,” meaning all our equipment is on wheels so we can imitate a variety of kitchen and prep areas. This kitchen simulation allows us to fully test products in a real environment and address any pain points that may come from unique configurations or equipment limitations.
Chef Frank Jock, corporate executive chef at Wayne Farms, was instrumental in helping design the facility. During his research, he reached out to colleagues in the industry, asking what they would do — or not do — if they were in his shoes. As a direct result of his forward-thinking mindset, the CIC was built on a footprint that allows for expansion.
An important component of the CIC is our pilot plant, allowing us to test production on the products we create in the Innovation Center. With the pilot plant, we can do test runs on new products immediately, and, because it is USDA approved, we can ship and sell our samples as products. The pilot plant helps ensure the manufacturing process is correct before it happens on a large scale, reducing the time it takes to send a product to market. The pilot plant is also the perfect way to test new plant equipment in our efforts to stay economical and environmentally friendly.
Creating new concepts from scratch
The R&D department is also involved in the company-wide “Scratch Lab” initiative to stay ahead of the curve by creating new, innovative products based on food and market trends. The Scratch Lab provides an avenue for internal collaboration with a forward-thinking mindset. Our sales team, for example, can vet R&D’s ideas and determine which customers may benefit from new concepts, while manufacturing experts ensure new products can be produced in our plant environments. By bringing together departments with different experiences and expertise, Scratch Lab allows Wayne Farms to make today’s ideas work for tomorrow.
Making improvements with R&D
In addition to working with other departments when vetting new ideas, the R&D department also works closely with the Quality Assurance (QA) team. Utilizing the CIC and the pilot plant allows QA and R&D to look at the beginning, middle and end of a process and collaborate on ways to improve.
This improvement mindset extends to customer partners as well. When customers come in to oversee their product that’s running in the plant, they frequently visit the CIC for input on how to improve their products or ideas for new products.
Chef Frank says the best part of having customers come in is the elimination of culinary ping-pong. “I might make a sample and send it to a customer. They come back with the tweaks they want, then I make the product and send them a sample. After that they might come back with more tweaks. Having everyone in the same room takes a process like that from two weeks down to two hours.”