For 75 years, Wyandot Inc. has been known as a leader in the snack industry because of its devotion to quality products and service. The company has evolved throughout its history – starting out in a one-room schoolhouse and now occupying an award-winning, state-of-the-art facility. It also has transitioned from manufacturing grain popcorn to numerous types of snacks, and moved from producing its own brand to being a leading contract manufacturer. What has remained consistent throughout its 75-year history, however, is the company’s ownership by the Brown family, which has been key to Wyandot’s strong foundation, according to CEO Nick Chilton.
“It was the family’s vision for the company to be family owned but professionally managed, giving it all the advantages of a private business but run like a public company,” he says. “They wanted to avoid the pitfalls that befall many family businesses, so the board of directors is comprised of business professionals and the family has three votes on a nine-member board.
“Additionally, the family established core values that reflect the company’s responsibility to its customers, its employees, its owners and the local community,” Chilton continues. “These values became the foundation for the business, which keep it strong but still allow it to evolve along with changes in the market.”
These values are known as “the Wyandot Way,” which can be summed up as a dedication to quality in every aspect of the company’s operation. Whether Wyandot is working with clients to develop new snack products, using new systems or technology to ensure consistent service or manufacturing and packaging a variety of custom goods, quality is the company’s constant focus.
“Our single mission is to make our customers successful,” Chilton says. “When they are successful, we are successful.”
Based in Marion, Ohio – a strategic location that is within 600 miles of two-thirds of North America’s population – Wyandot is set up to process a variety of custom products. The company manufactures and packages tortilla chips and strips, fabricated chips, corn chips, extruded snacks and candy-coated popcorn. Its clients are in three channels: contract manufacturing, private label, and foodservice and institutional.
“Our core business is in contract manufacturing – we have a team of food scientists who help our customers commercialize their product ideas,” Chilton says. “We also do private-label production for select retailers, and in our foodservice business, we provide solid toppings to leading restaurant chains.”
Wyandot’s processes involve extrusion, sheeting, baking, frying, popping and coating, and it has an order fill rate of 99.9 percent. Set up to be a “seamless annex to our customers’ manufacturing operations,” Chilton says, the company uses its electronic capabilities to connect to customers’ systems. These include electronic data interchange order entry, bar coding of raw materials and finished goods, process controls and just-in-time inventory. Additionally, Wyandot’s cooking and seasoning processes are monitored by computerized data-logging systems, and its fastback horizontal conveyor system virtually eliminates breakage and prevents excessive seasoning loss.
When adding new technology, Wyandot is careful to respond to the needs of the market, and not just follow fads. In the last few years, the company has focused on adopting the standards of the Safe Quality Food Institute to ensure it protects consumers, as well as its customers and their brands.
“We work hard to understand the business of our customers,” Chilton says. “The better able we are to serve our customers’ needs, the more we can improve their quality and sometimes reduce their costs. We are an active partner with our customers, not just a passive supplier.”
Wyandot recently added technology to produce fabricated chips, but it also is helping clients innovate in the area of “better-for-you snacks,” Chilton says. This involves creating products made with whole grains or that are fortified with vitamins and minerals. It also is creating items made with bean, sweet potato and other vegetable powders.
“We created vegetable chips for which a serving of chips is equal to a serving of vegetables,” he explains. “They taste great and take any kind of seasoning. “Three years ago, we added twin-screw extrusion capabilities, which allow us to be more adventuresome in product formulation. We can use a wide variety of flours or inputs and by adding vitamin and mineral fortification, we can make a small snack that is very nutrient-rich.”
With a lot of longevity among its management team and on the production floor, Wyandot benefits from the knowledge of its work force, Chilton says. “We keep an environment where every individual feels they can contribute his or her ideas,” he says. “Institutional knowledge is a key asset when developing and marketing new products.”
While employees on the production floor ensure Wyandot puts forth consistently high-quality products, the company’s management team is concerned with maintaining its reputation for service. “Our service levels are among the highest in the industry because that is our nature, and we need to satisfy the top-level companies that we work for,” Chilton stresses.
Client relationships are an ongoing focus for the company, but they also are one of the main topics discussed every two weeks at Wyandot’s Presidential Operational Meeting, which Chilton describes as “a key management tool.” Chilton and President and COO Rex Parrott meet with the company’s department heads to consider potential new business, review Wyandot’s performance with each customer and examine any issues that have arisen and how they are being resolved.
“Each team member is expected to comment on the business as an expert from their department and give their opinion as a businessperson,” Chilton explains. “The objective of these meetings is to get the best thinking as a collective group. We almost always debate and reach a true consensus.
“It really fleshes out the issues.”
He notes that these meetings maximize communication throughout the company and help to optimize the decision-making process.
“Each individual is more productive because they are not looking at the business from the narrow view point of just their department, they get to see the full picture,” he explains. “We have a lean management staff, and we work together well. Open communication helps us to minimize the politics and bureaucracy that can get in the way of serving the customer.”
Stressing that Wyandot is “very market-driven – we pay attention to the needs of our customers,” Chilton says the company has many plans for growth. Wyandot is “re-exploring all of our business channels,” he notes, and has found the biggest opportunities in contract manufacturing. The company is developing new products and is looking into other types of food that it can process in its facility.
“I’ve never seen more of a desire for genuine product innovation than there is right now,” he says.
Chilton has been in the consumer goods market for 43 years, and most of that time has been in the food industry. He is the first non-family member to run Wyandot, and is confident that the company’s capabilities and expertise will lead to much growth.
“The integrity of Wyandot’s entire offering can’t be surpassed,” he says. “That’s the integrity of the family ownership, how employees are treated and how everyone values our customers, vendors and consumers. We are located in the heart of the country, in an area that has the best employees I’ve ever worked with. They really care about this company and the products we produce.
“I’ve worked for a number of big and small companies, and I’m most proud of this association, and I’m very confident of what Wyandot can do.”