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Pinnacle Foods: The human element in supply chain quality assurance

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Karen Klansek

This post is sponsored by TraceGains.

Karen Klansek has an expression she likes to use when it comes to manpower versus automation in her role as manager of supply chain quality assurance at Pinnacle Foods: “For so long as we require humans to do the work, we will manage humanity.”

Despite the efficiencies that automation and technology bring, Klansek says she never loses sight of the fact that human nature plays an important role in her behind-the-scenes world. Strong relationships with others, both inside and outside the company, create constructive business solutions, she says.

Klansek works in the dynamic, multifaceted world of food safety and quality assurance, where brand reputations, corporate success — and sometimes human health — hang in the balance. Specifically, she focuses on the food safety and quality of the ingredients Pinnacle sources from its suppliers.

Parsippany, N.J.-based Pinnacle Foods is the manufacturer of a growing array of brands, including Duncan Hines, Aunt Jemima and Birds Eye. It is in the process of ramping up the functionality of the TraceGains automated record-tracking system within its QA program, and Klansek is at the helm of that effort.

With 32 years of experience in the industry working for a variety of food and beverage manufacturers — including global giants like Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo — Klansek is one of an elite group of experts in QA and food safety.

SmartBrief spoke with Klansek about the industry and the critical role she plays in it.

How have supply chains changed in the last decade, and how has that changed your job?

When I first started, I could drive to all of the suppliers. You sourced locally and you trucked locally, with the exception of large ingredients that came by rail.

Now it is not only across the entire continent, but it is international. It has changed from a system where everyone knew everyone, to a system that is fairly anonymous, with brokers, traders and importers managing the business of individual manufacturers.

Another difference today is the ever-changing landscape of regulations. It was a long time coming. It used to be, “Hey, that’s not my problem. That’s the way the material came in to us.” Now it’s not only about the suppliers — their quality, and their food-safety effectiveness — but I also have to vet my suppliers’ suppliers’ programs, to ensure that two steps back the right things are being done.

Do personal relationships still matter, or is everything automated now?

We are pushing for more automation, but with the exceptions that come up and the urgent issues that arise, it remains in many instances the relationships that allow us to move quickly in exceptional circumstances.

Do you have any risk management principles of your own that are not commonly taught?

If your gut tells you something — know that you had better be able to back it up with facts — but don’t ignore your gut. If your heart is telling you that something not right is going on, get the facts to support or deny it.

How do you foster inter-departmental cooperation?

You have to know when you talk to somebody about something that they are, after all, human. If you want something, you’ve got to be able to offer somebody something. If I need to engage someone across disciplines, there had better be a benefit, either for all of us as company members or for them as an individual or a team to get their interest.

How do you garner and retain executive-level support?

Dollars and cents. There’s no room for intangibles. You are either demonstrating how you can save money, make money or promote the company reputation.

If all is going well in supplier quality, we are completely invisible. We don’t hold up any processes, and no plant is negatively impacted productivity-wise.


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