NIST MEP staff work hard every day to support U.S. manufacturing through its network of 51 MEP Centers across the U.S. and in Puerto Rico. Though much of the direct interaction with small and medium-sized manufacturers happens at the Center level, NIST MEP staff jump at the opportunity to visit a manufacturing facility in person. This interaction provides incredible learning opportunities as our staff gets to experience firsthand what a typical day is like for manufacturers and for their employees.
So, our recent tour of Tulkoff Food Products, Inc., in Baltimore, Maryland, was quite a treat! Twenty-one NIST MEP staffers took the field trip an hour northeast of our headquarters in Gaithersburg to visit Tulkoff, a family-owned business best known for horseradish-based condiments sold to food service, industrial and retail customers nationwide. A number of NIST MEP groups and divisions participated in the tour including Extension Services, Network Learning and Strategic Competitions, Program Evaluation and Economic Research, Regional and State Partnerships, and Marketing and Communications (including me!).
Tulkoff, a client of Maryland MEP, has participated in a lot of MEP-sponsored training over the years, including numerous lean trainings, leadership, business growth, sustainability and even received assistance developing an apprenticeship program. The company is certainly doing something right, as it has tripled in size since third-generation owner Phil Tulkoff became president 15 years ago!
NIST MEP staff learned so much on the tour. We noted evidence of lean practices in place such as 5S, including use of color coding and visual signs. The Tulkoff plant is very clean and well laid out and operational safety seems to be given high importance. The company is clearly sensitive to the wellbeing of its 150+ workforce and provides an above-average benefits package.
Many of us were fascinated by the complexities of inventory and the supply chain – who knew that China corners the market on worldwide garlic production and that most horseradish comes from a handful of farms near Collinsville, Illinois? And there’s a worldwide horseradish shortage right now! While this may not be on everyone’s radar, it certainly has been a huge concern for Tulkoff. Rather than risk running completely out of horseradish and turning customers away with nothing, Tulkoff decided to reduce distribution to 50% of usual orders, and so far, has maintained its inventory and customers.
The company’s supply chain visibility is excellent. For example, its staff can identify to a specific farm, or even field, where each batch of horseradish comes from. Implementing requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is a priority for Tulkoff, as it is for all food manufacturers. As a result of FSMA, seven of its people are trained as Preventive Control Quality Individuals in the plant and they have a detailed food safety plan. Although previously very mindful of food safety, FSMA has made the company even more sensitive to this area and it has a well-defined recall plan should the need arise.
Another interesting aspect of the Tulkoff business that we learned about is that in addition to making and packaging their own products, the company has expanded into co-packing other name brands. This requires a great deal of flexibility on the factory floor, and equipment that can handle various types of containers and labeling. This flexibility is enabling them to grow their business and they are expanding outside of Maryland with facilities in California and Ohio.
Many thanks to Mike Kelleher, director of Maryland MEP, for providing Tulkoff with outstanding service and scheduling this tour. And of course, our sincere thanks to Phil Tulkoff and the staff of Tulkoff Food Products for taking time out of their busy day to help NIST MEP staff see firsthand how services from our MEP Centers provide value to U.S. manufacturers. We are always interested in touring MEP Center clients and hope to set up more tours soon!