For many chocolate lovers, the Fannie May brand needs no introduction. The national confectioner’s products have been enjoyed by generations of people for 90 years and remain a popular treat today.Maintaining the quality of the company’s products is of the utmost importance to Vice President of Operations Bill Rohm. “Our customers expect quality and the tried-and-true Fannie May recipes,” he says. “Since we’ve been around since the 1920s, some of our customers remember us as children growing up and getting a piece of chocolate from their parents or grandparents. They expect the chocolate to taste just as good now as they remember it tasting growing up.”
Fannie May’s top-selling item is the Pixie, which features pecans smothered in rich caramel and topped off with milk chocolate. Other popular products include chocolate-covered cherries, vanilla butter creams, Mint Meltaways, Trinidads and various chocolate assortments.
Fannie May produces about 60,000 pounds of chocolate a day during peak season and 9 million pounds annually in its production facility in North Canton, Ohio. The company runs two production shifts during peak season and a single production shift during non-peak season, Rohm says.
Chocolate comes to the plant by tanker in liquid form, and is then molded and poured over cream or nut centers, a process known as enrobing. The plant also handles wrapping and boxing for the company’s more than 1,000 SKUs. Fannie May expands its product line annually, with 250 plus new products launched last year.
“We don’t just do one type of candy; we don’t just set up and run candy bars all day long,” Rohm says. “Our ability to set up and run all different kinds of SKUs efficiently is our competitive advantage.”
While many products are distinct mainly in their packaging, the company’s research and development department regularly develops new chocolate recipes. “We have a state-of-the-art R&D lab on site which allows us to develop new recipes and also do testing to ensure we adhere to our high level of quality standards,” Rohm says.
“We’re constantly coming up with new recipes and products we can offer to our customers,” he adds.
The company’s peak period is from October to February, with its products most in demand during the Christmas holiday season. Holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter also bring big business.
The lean manufacturing philosophy guides much of the company’s operation. Lean methodologies influence processing, budgeting, quality control, and elimination of waste throughout Fannie May, and all employees are regularly trained in its applications. The seasonality of the business poses many challenges. In July, when the company ramps up production, the number of associates increases from 150 to 400, Rohm says.
It is critical for the company to have standard operating procedures in place along with visual management aids to assist with training seasonal employees during this period.
“From a productivity standpoint, we’ve been able to realize an 18 percent improvement in productivity this year because of our lean efforts,” Rohm says. “Lean has really allowed our culture to shift to a continual improvement culture.”
Performance is measured on an hourly basis throughout production, he explains. Rohm says the lean philosophy helped successfully guide the company through the recent economic recession.
“We’re heavily a retail business, and it’s been tough the last few years,” he adds. “Lean has helped us preserve our bottom line.”
The company’s peers note its operational efficiency and focus on quality. Fannie May’s facility is FDA certified, and the company recently applied for Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification. National auditor Silliker Inc. recently gave Fannie May a rating of “superior.”
A Rich History
Fannie May operates 82 retail stores in addition to its online catalog. The company plans to expand its retail footprint within the next few years with new franchises, Rohm says.
Founded in 1920 in Chicago, the company is owned by the 1-800-FLOWERS.com family of brands since 2006. The florist and Internet marketer offers flowers, gift baskets, gourmet foods, confections and stuffed animals through online and telephone orders.
Rohm, who joined the company two and a half years ago, says he is most proud of the work of its people. “We have great people here who are very interested in improving and making the best product they can,” he says. “They have a lot of pride in what they make.”