Agri-Mark’s history as a dairy farmer cooperative in the Northeast goes back more than 100 years. The company has three cheese plants in Vermont and New York State, where they manufacture award-winning Cabot brand of Vermont Cheddar, butter, and other dairy products, the McCadam brand of New York Cheddar and Pepper Jack, and a variety of whey powders. Agri-Mark is owned by the more than 800 farmers who supply milk for the products; a diverse group of families raising as many as 2,000 cows, or as few as 20 cows, as some Amish families do. The primary cheese manufacturing facility, the McCadam plant in Chateauguay, NY, employs around 125 people full-time, and makes around 150,000 lbs. of cheese every day.
Dairy production involves tough standards for food safety, and producing award-winning cheeses year after year requires diligent consistency on the factory floor. Agri-Mark leadership’s vision of steady growth requires that every worker understands some basics of continuous improvement. A cheese plant is sanitary by nature, but 5S training puts workers in the driver's seat for noticing and suggesting basic organizational improvements that reduce costs, increase productivity and provide a safer work environment. In addition to wanting to ensure plant staff were trained on 5S, leadership believed that a value stream map, including output data, to define the current state would reveal bottlenecks and prioritize solutions. For help Agri-Mark turned to CITEC, part of the New York MEP and the MEP National Network™.
Performing a VSM forced us to set aside our preconceived notions and 'go and see' for ourselves. This allowed us to open our minds to the data we collected, and to be creative in new ideas for solutions.