Windsor Foods

When a company specializes in a variety of frozen foods, the ingredients for its products must originate in a wide number of locations, some of them international. Nevertheless, Windsor Foods is able to source most of its ingredients within the United States, although some specialty items are obtained from the countries where the dishes originate.

Windsor Foods produces Asian, Mexican and Italian frozen foods for retail, foodservice, institutional and industrial customers. The retail sales channel is the largest of the four categories, with those products sold at grocery, warehouse club and convenience stores. The foodservice and institutional category is the next largest, and industrial customers – to whom Windsor Foods may sell a component – is the smallest category. Additionally, Windsor Foods is in the appetizer business and has a chili and barbecue manufacturing unit.

Windsor Foods is a company built through acquisition, so standardizing the supply chain software and centralizing service locations for certain customers is an ongoing process. “The best way to describe Windsor is we’re a predominantly ethnic frozen food manufacturer with leadership positions in frozen Asian, Italian and Mexican product lines,” explains Steven Windh, vice-president of Windsor Foods’ supply chain.

In the Asian category, the Windsor product line consists of pot stickers, egg rolls, spring rolls, prepared Asian meals and a variety of Asian appetizers in specialty shapes, flavors and sizes. The Italian products focus around the traditional raviolis, tortellinis, lasagnas and stuffed shells. In the Mexican business, the company manufactures taquitos, tacos, burritos, chimichangas, empanadas, enchiladas and tamales.

“Additionally, we are the second largest appetizer company in the United States with two plants in Missouri,” Windh says. “One of our legacy companies invented the breaded cheese stick, so we make that to this day, as well as battered vegetables, snacks and appetizers.”

The supply chain organization that Windh leads consists of three areas: the demand planning and inventory control function, the purchasing function and the transportation function. The directors of these areas are invaluable in keeping the supply chain functioning at Windsor Foods.

Demand Planning

The demand planning and inventory control function is headed by 30-plus-year Windsor veteran Richard Alden, Windh explains.

“Rick has one of the most complex functions in the company,” Windh says. “Rick and his team work closely with the sales and marketing organization to prepare forecasts and then translate those forecasts into production plans for each of our facilities.”

With 33 production lines in 10 manufacturing plants located in seven states, a major challenge is keeping it all straight. “The challenges are minimized by Rick’s knowledge and the capabilities of his team,” Windh emphasizes. “The larger challenge is just coordinating all the activity that goes on, with multiple production facilities, and four to five different, really broad sales lines, all with somewhat unique requirements.”

Another complexity for Windsor Foods is operating under the requirements of two different government agencies, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “They have similar but different regulations, so we have to be sensitive to that,” Windh points out. “Anything with a meat protein in it will need to be under the jurisdiction of the USDA. But we also have plants that only process vegetables, so they are under FDA jurisdiction.” When the regulations of the two agencies overlap, Windsor adheres to whichever regulation is more stringent.

“We are by design a make-to-stock company, not necessarily made-to order, but for some of our customers, we de facto are a made-to-order company, especially where we are working with some major food manufacturers,” Windh continues. Components of foods that Windsor produces for other companies are made to order and not inventoried.

Windsor Foods has three primary distribution warehouses in the United States, its predominant market area. These third-party contract warehouses are located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Chicago area and in Southern California’s Inland Empire region. They are managed by Alden and his team and are responsible for a significant percentage of Windsor’s storage and distribution activity.

All of Windsor’s finished products are shipped frozen, whereas incoming ingredients may be dry, refrigerated or frozen.

Purchasing Function

The purchasing function at Windsor Foods is headed by Tim Arndt, another 30-plus-year veteran of Windsor. Arndt’s department is responsible for purchasing and shipping all the raw ingredients and packaging that go into the company’s frozen foods manufactured in the company’s production facilities.

“Tim is responsible for spending over $325 million,” Windh says. “His challenge is to make certain the spend is for the right products at the right locations for the right period of time – and at the right price. Tim is assisted in making this happen by his department and by materials management staff at each production facility who place orders and expedite many of the products.”

Additional challenges for Arndt and his team are “working with a broad base of vendors and being able to streamline those to be as direct as possible, so we understand exactly who the producer is and make sure they are in agreement with our specifications,” Windh says. “Also working with our internal R&D departments to make sure the specification is realistic to what the suppliers can supply. We have to be sensitive to the needs of our internal and external customers.”

Transportation at Windsor Foods is headed up by David Wills, the newest member of the supply chain management team. “David’s strong experience in the refrigerated transportation of food made him the ideal candidate to join our group earlier this year,” Windh says. He added that since less than half of Windsor Foods’ products are picked up by customers at the distribution center or plant where they are produced, the Windsor transportation function has responsibility for the rest of the deliveries.

The department has responsibility for two small fleets in Toluca. Ill., and Piedmont, Mo., and the contracting of all the freight from the production facility to the forward warehouse or customer. The group also works closely with purchasing in managing the cost effectiveness of inbound raw and packaging material and in helping manage the contracted third-party logistics companies that move Windsor’s products from the outside warehouses to the customers.

Integrating Operations

Windsor Foods is heavily involved in projects to improve supply chain and operational efficiency. A major initiative is to standardize all locations to a single enterprise resource planning system for manufacturing and supply chain modules. Currently, six locations are using the same system, and the rest of the company’s offices and production locations will be converting to it over the next several years, Windh predicts.

A transportation management system also is being fine-tuned to fit Windsor Foods’ requirements. “It has given us the ability to capture a lot of data on the transportation side, which was very difficult to obtain prior to having this system in place,” Windh explains.

For example, a large customer may have always had its stores in Arkansas or Nebraska serviced out of the company’s Dallas/Fort Worth warehouse, even though geographically it might make more sense to service them out of Chicago. “We saved money and reduced lead times by aligning the needs of our customers with our ability to service out of a more optimal distribution center,” Windh says. “It sounds pretty basic, but we hadn’t been doing that in the past as much as we should have been.”

Another efficiency is encouraging customers to request full pallet layers instead of fractions of layers. “Rick really pushed this,” Windh notes. “We’re now just going to an order-by-layer approach, so we take it to the nearest layer. You don’t have a couple of loose cases sitting on top of a pallet, which inevitably get damaged.”

An additional efficiency is found in rounding off orders for a certain weight of products, for example, from 4,850 pounds to 5,000 pounds. “Now our system basically flags the order and gives a suggestion to our customer service folks to ask the question if the customer wants to move up the order to the next layer, which would give them a more optimal freight charge,” Windh says.

Fire and Flood

Windh attributes the supply chain’s success to being a small department that accomplishes much through teamwork. “Working relations between each of our functional areas is critical,” he emphasizes. “On a weekly basis, we talk over logistics issues with all plant locations. We have a call every Thursday where we go over opportunities and discuss how we can do things better.”

The company has weathered fire and flood successfully within a single year of each other. “We had a pretty tough year,” Windh concedes. In 2011, one of the company’s two plants in Los Angeles that are located side-by-side caught fire and was a total loss. With the help of its suppliers and dedicated employees, the lost production was rapidly moved into either the remaining Los Angeles plant or to one of the other plants in the Windsor system. Supply disruptions were minimized by teamwork between departments. ­­­