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Pinnacle Foods on Automation in Supply Chain Quality

Helen Timothy
February 12, 2020

Case Study: Automated Food Safety Systems for Pinnacle

Read the Case Study

Case Study: “Automated Food Safety Systems for Pinnacle”

Pinnacle Foods employs nearly 5,000 people and in 2018, was acquired by Conagra. The pairing of the two companies created the second-largest U.S. frozen food company. Our case study outlines how Pinnacle Foods is automating their document management and gaining supply chain insight. 

Read the Case Study

The Senior Manager of Food Safety and Quality for Pinnacle Foods Group spoke with SmartBrief,  sharing tales from the quality assurance industry and the critical role she plays in it.

Karen Klansek has an expression she likes to use when it comes to human resources versus automation in her role at Pinnacle Foods - “For so long as we require humans to do the work, we will manage humanity.”

While technology and automation help make everyday life easier, Karen believes human nature still plays a very important role, specifically in her behind-the-scenes world. Strong relationships and partnerships with others, both inside and outside the company, create constructive business solutions. And there are many instances when these relationships allow us to move quickly in exceptional circumstances.

Karen is an expert in QA and food safety, and has over 35 years of experience in the food and beverage manufacturing industry, working with big players like Nestle, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. 

SB: What are the biggest challenges you face in Quality Assurance?

Klansek: Our company is very proud of maintaining SG&A [selling, general and administrative expense] of under 8%, which is roughly half the indirect headcount of any other food manufacturers, and yet we are a world-class company. We have no fewer documentation requirements and no fewer requirements for follow-up supplier performance than any other company with twice the people supporting the activities.

So the main challenge is — and I hate the cliché — to work smarter, and automate as much as we can in the routine activities for suppliers, so we can adequately address the development needs, and for approving alternate or replacement suppliers, to make sure that we’ve always got not just a food safety-oriented, but a quality-oriented supply base.

We are also a company that makes a lot of acquisitions. It’s important for us to streamline documentation. 

SB: Do you learn things about QA from these acquisitions?

Klansek: In the case of the Birds Eye acquisition, which preceded me, it was a huge shift, from shelf-stable product to shelf-stable and frozen. Pinnacle takes these iconic brands and makes them more productive. We took Wish-Bone from a small-batch operation to a modern, bar-code assisted, allergens-separate-at-all-times type of operation. That’s how we breathe life back into the brand and make them profitable again.

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

Klansek: 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 reasonably anonymous system, with brokers, traders, and importers managing individual manufacturers’ business.

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 into 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. 

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

Klansek: 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.


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

Klansek: 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.

SB: How do you foster inter-departmental cooperation?

Klansek: 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.

SB: How do you garner and retain executive-level support?

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

If all is going well in supplier quality, we are completely invisible. We don’t hold up any processes and don’t negatively impact any plants productivity-wise.

How are you using TraceGains now, and what are the functions you are planning to implement in the future?

Klansek: We use their Supplier Management and Supplier Compliance solutions. We've also kicked off the SCARs [supplier corrective action requests]. They have the program written to upload the PO [purchase order] information from the ERP [enterprise resource planning] system and add it to TraceGains, so we implemented it quickly.

SmartBrief first published a shorter version of this interview.

Pinnacle Foods employs nearly 5,000 people and in 2018, was acquired by Conagra. The pairing of the two companies created the second-largest U.S. frozen food company. Our case study outlines how Pinnacle Foods is automating their document management and gaining supply chain insight.  Read the case study here


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