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Support Manufacturers With Tasty and Pampering Holiday Gifts

Robotic Arm Putting The Cover Of Gift Box On The Conveyor Belt
Credit: iStock/onurdongel

It’s that time of year again – the season when you start looking for holiday gifting ideas. Have you considered checking out your local manufacturers? They have gifts that range from tasty treats to pampering presents. You can delight even the most finicky person on your list, while also introducing loved ones (and yourself) to local manufacturers across the country. Take a look at these clients of the MEP National NetworkTM and learn how each company’s local MEP Center played a role in their growth and success.

Tasty treats

When you’re struggling to find the perfect present, think about food or beverages! When you support local manufacturers, there’s something to satisfy everyone’s taste.

Snacks

The MEP National Network has assisted manufacturers who outdid themselves with quality snacks that can be either stocking stuffers or trail treats. Here are two of them:

Hi-Country Snack Foods is a food manufacturer out of Montana and a client of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC, the Montana MEP Center) that is known for its meat-based snacks. Using traditional flavors and methods, Hi-Country’s customers are loyal to its beef, bison and elk dried-meat snacks. These products are made to help hikers maintain stamina while navigating tough terrain.

Hi-Country was faced with the challenge of attracting and retaining a limited workforce. Its goal was to become the employer of choice within 65 miles. The manufacturer worked cooperatively with its local MEP Center to develop a plan to accomplish the vision. The desired result was to increase employee compensation, benefits, and job skills while continuing to improve company profitability.

Assistance from MMEC resulted in:

  • $650,000 in increased or retained sales
  • 3 created or retained jobs
  • $383,787 in new investment
  • $103,000 in cost savings

Popcorn is the ultimate easy snack, but Pop Daddy Popcorn takes easy to the next level. Based in Michigan and a client of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center, the Michigan MEP Center), Pop Daddy now offers pretzel snacks as well as popcorn. It recently added small-batch orders to its offerings, with old classics along with new flavors like yellow mustard.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, several employees had to leave Pop Daddy due to childcare issues. Business also was lost from major customers, including all bar and restaurant accounts. As Pop Daddy’s full staff returned to work, with new hires joining the team, proper training was necessary to equip workers to manage recovery and continued growth.

For expert training in the areas of food safety, efficiency and leadership, Pop Daddy turned to The Center. Members of the Pop Daddy team participated in several types of training as well as hands-on training in 5S implementation.

Assistance from The Center resulted in:

  • 18% increase in sales
  • 90% of sales retained
  • 15 jobs retained
  • 8 jobs created

Drinks

Large, small, or seasonal and special-batch spirits all come to us courtesy of beverage manufacturers. Distilleries offer a range of drinks suitable for anyone interested in handcrafted cocktails.

Toledo Spirits, a client of CIFT which is part of the Ohio MEP, crafts a wide range of award-winning premium liquors. From gin to vodka to other unique alcohols, the manufacturers behind these spirits use local grains, fruits, and botanicals sourced from local farmers.

Faced with the prospect of being forced to shut down as a non-essential manufacturer in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toledo Spirits saw an opportunity to not only help its community; but also to continue to support its employees by being agile and transitioning to the production of hand sanitizer for healthcare and personal use.

But the company’s demand for low proof ethanol to distill outpaced its ability to ferment it. Toledo Spirits located a supplier of bulk industrial ethanol, but this supplier's minimum order requirements were more than the distillery could process on its own. Using a broad network of craft distillers throughout the state of Ohio, CIFT identified additional distillers who had made the transition to sanitizer production and connected them with Toledo Spirits. These new partnerships provided the distillery with the ethanol needed for production.

Assistance from CIFT resulted in:

  • $90,000 in increased or retained sales
  • $250,000 in new investment
  • $25,000 in training

Smooth Ambler, a client of the West Virginia University (WVU) Industrial Extension, is a craft distillery with several different spirits to choose from. Its offerings flow with the seasons and include gin, vodka, bourbon, and even white whisky.

Smooth Ambler was seeking support to evaluate the energy efficiency of operations to determine opportunities for improvement from both a cost and process perspective. The WVU Industrial Extension used the Industrial Assessment Center to conduct an energy assessment funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The assessment included a 94-page customized report including specific information related to energy consumption and costs including electricity, natural gas, propane, and waste disposal using a process map for key operations.

Assistance from the WVU Industrial Extension resulted in:

  • $58,979 savings that could be realized if all 10 recommendations were implemented
  • $15,085 savings from implementation of a recovery system
  • 153,475 pounds of carbon dioxide saved if variable speed drive were installed on chiller compressor
  • 486,000 gallons of waste and water reduced if evaporators were installed

Gourmet foods

If you are purchasing for a foodie, gourmet spices, seasonings, and specialties may be the perfect gift. Exotic flavors to try or top-of-the-line favorites, all produced with local ingredients by local manufacturers, are always a sweet (or savory) surprise.

If you can’t make a trip to the Aloha State in person, getting a taste of the islands may be the next best thing. For J’s Hawaii, a client of INNOVATE Hawaii, currently offers over thirty products ranging from gourmet sea salts and sugars to sauces packed with tropical flavors.

As a food manufacturing business that served the tourist market in Hawaii, the COVID-19 pandemic left For J’s Hawaii with a sense of uncertainty of the future. Tourism to Hawaii came to a halt in 2020 and the company needed to find new ways to reach customers.

For J’s Hawaii founder Janis Tanga attended INNOVATE Hawaii’s e-commerce cohort looking for information and guidance on increasing her company’s online presence while making the e-commerce side of the business more accessible to customers. The cohort has been full of information that she has been able to put into immediate practice within her business.

Assistance from INNOVATE Hawaii resulted in:

  • 34% in increased online sales
  • The creation and implementation of a new SEO strategy

Located in Anchorage, Alaska, the chocolate bars and products manufactured by Chugach Chocolates, a client of the Alaska MEP Center, are made with local Alaskan flavors such as birch syrup, kelp and lingonberry.

Chugach Chocolates purchased a flow packaging machine, which would increase packaging production from 90 bars an hour to up to 90 per minute. However, certain flavors of the bars would not work with the new machine, and there was no easy explanation as to why. The Alaska MEP was able to identify and cover the cost of a specialist who provided the most likely reason for Chugach's issues. This allowed the company to rectify the problem and start using the machine for all of its chocolate bar flavors.

Assistance from the Alaska MEP resulted in:

  • Increased sales
  • Cost savings by receiving the contractor’s expertise for free
  • Improved productivity

Pampering presents

Since the holidays are often full of hustle and bustle, taking time to relax and recharge is often hard to make a priority. Everyone enjoys a little luxury in their lives and appreciates gifts they might not buy for themselves. There are some manufacturers who can help!

Candles

Ask anyone what they do to wind down after a long day, or season, and a candle will be on the short list. Aromatherapy coupled with a dancing flame can be enjoyed almost anywhere and invites everyone nearby to slow down for a few minutes or a whole evening.

With a laser focus on curating all natural candles, Aroma Flame, a client of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana (MEPOL), does things the old fashioned way. Aroma Flame candles are all-natural, soy-based wax, scented with a proprietary blend of essential oils – all with a nontoxic, sustainable foundation.

Aroma Flame Candles was in need of a new marketing strategy as well as business-to-business prototyping assistance. The manufacturer’s revenue was largely reliant on trade shows and face-to-face marketing. As a result of the pandemic, those types of opportunities had essentially vanished.

MEPOL performed a detailed assessment and recommended increasing the company's online presence. Additional recommendations included a retargeted website presence, new logo, and brand strategy.

Assistance from MEPOL resulted in:

  • Product manufacturing equipment and digital marketing campaigns
  • $5,400 in cost savings
  • 8 new fragrance lines
  • 3 new markets

Milkhouse Candles produces both soy and beeswax candles and is a client of the Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS, the Iowa MEP Center). With humble beginnings as a family business, the founders were drawn to develop healthier candles in support of their local agricultural community. Their products quickly gained a strong following, all the while staying true to their cleaner candle mission.


Milkhouse needed assistance with both marketing strategy development and tactical execution for a new product line. Together with trusted third-party resources, CIRAS facilitated the development and implementation of a strategic marketing plan as well as the development and implementation of digital marketing strategies. The team also developed and executed a social media marketing strategy while providing project management support to ensure coordination of resources and client success.

Assistance from CIRAS resulted in:

  • $2,500,000 in increased sales
  • 6 jobs created
  • $658,000 investment in equipment, information systems, workforce

Bath Products

You can’t go wrong with natural, handmade home spa products. Driven by a desire to limit toxins in everyday products, Spinster Sisters, a client of Manufacturer’s Edge (the Colorado MEP Center) was ahead of the curve in its development of plant-based soaps, which are now available in retail stores. This manufacturer offers a variety of products including gift sets, bundles and zodiac-themed collections.

Spinster Sisters has an excellent ongoing relationship with a large grocery store chain. When the store requested a large amount of product, pressure mounted to produce more faster. Manufacturer’s Edge spent time at Spinster Sisters studying its current workflow and experimenting with different methods for reducing waste and expediting the process. After studying the systems currently in place, a series of recommendations for improvements were made.

Assistance from Manufacturer’s Edge resulted in:

  • $118,000 in increased or retained sales
  • 2 created or retained jobs
  • $22,000 in new investment
  • $24,000 in cost savings

Wallets

Allett Wallets, a client of California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC, the California MEP Center), has a well-earned reputation for manufacturing the world’s thinnest wallets. These wallets are great for minimalists who want to carry more with less! It recently expanded its product line to include shop masks. 

With the company’s future growth strategy, a key element was an end-to-end redesign of its marketing efforts. Just as Allett began to realize those goals, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Allett management decided to rapidly re-purpose a portion of its operations to help the local community by manufacturing and making available reusable masks for adults and children. The marketing plan had to adjust accordingly.

CMTC partnered with Allett over a four-month period to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy and tactical plan. As a result, Allett was fully prepared to scale up quickly to introduce, market, and sell new products. The marketing strategies earned significant local media attention, which in turn generated increased sales.

Assistance from CMTC resulted in:

  • An estimated $6,500,000 in increased sales over a 12-month period
  • 1 new employee
  • $22,400 in new investment in new products and processes
  • $2,000 investment for employee learning and development

After the Holidays

Once the holidays are over and we’re all back to the grind, your local MEP Center will be ready and willing to assist you in 2023 like they’ve helped the companies listed above. Their expertise can help you grow your business in the next year or beyond. Learn more about the MEP National Network, or contact your local MEP Center.

About the author

Tom Williams

Tom is a Resource Manager for NIST MEP, helping Centers improve their operations, impacts and success while providing programmatic oversight.  Prior to his 1.5 years with NIST, Tom came to the MEP...

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