Sometimes it’s the simple questions that reveal the most important answers. That’s what Ardent Mills’ Bill Boyden discovered while working with Tomato Jos, a tomato processing company in Kangimi, Nigeria. The company was formed to process locally grown tomatoes - in season for only a short time - into paste so that the tomato harvest bounty can be preserved.
Tomato Jos was in the process of building a new warehouse to help expand their business and optimize the space for both raw materials and finished goods. At the same time, a staffing and process optimization project began for their expected growth. That is where Bill became involved. “I literally had no previous knowledge of tomato processing at all. So, Tomato Jos may have wondered why I was asking a lot of simple questions.” he said. “This project helped me to understand the dynamics of the supply chain – the seasonality of the farming activities, limited time from harvest to processing due to no storage, plant operations only scheduled for a few weeks based on their year-one business targeted sales – and the difficulty of creating an efficient staffing plan with all these considerations.”
It was these simple questions that helped lead them to a very customized three-phase staffing plan that would allow them to develop and upskill their staff at the same time that their business was shifting from raw materials to finished product production. “A staffing plan was developed which included several key benefits: team members from the adjacent farming operation could support raw material unloading and maintenance resource needs, inexperienced team members assigned to entry level roles would be provided with learning and development opportunities that would allow them to grow and expand their responsibilities for next phase of roles as the plant progressed. This changes provided a more optimal structure for plant supervision, engineering and laboratory functions,” said Bill.
Ironically, Tomato Jos noted that the real life value of appropriate staffing and systems is evident in how PFS itself works. “Our favorite thing about working with PFS has to be how committed the team is to getting us high-quality volunteers,” said Processing Manager Francis Bulus. “It’s evident in how, at virtually every point, the team communicates its volunteer recruitment plans, philosophy, and status to us, as well as how clearly they often map out our expectations and how these have to align with theirs.”
Tomato Jos management reports that recruitment is currently underway for the second stage of their operations, exactly in accordance with their elegant plan.
Every year, we honor several special individuals for their outstanding contribution to Partners in Food Solutions. Named after our founders, John Mendesh and Peter Erickson, these awards go to people who most demonstrate enthusiasm, drive for results, employ creative problem solving, and show tenacity, grit, wisdom, and humility. After receiving 40+ nominations, we are excited to share this years award winners...
Emmy van der Heijden, DSM, Project & Project Engineer (John Mendesh Award)
"Emmy's ability to piece together complex moving parts to make them meaningful is a skill most people desire but few people possess. She does it all with a smile on her face. Her laughter and excitement for each meeting is contagious."- Gloria Maamee Abena Otoo, PFS.
Amanda Traaseth, PFS, Director of Operations (John Mendesh Award)
"Ever since Amanda joined PFS, she's added structure to our processes and formalized the way we do things in the field and she does it with boundless enthusiasm and a smile! I see her a the mother of the Direct Team!" - Christian Dedzo, PFS.
Kurt Schneider, PFS, Senior Advisor (Peter Erickson Award)
"Kurt has always been there for the Direct Team. He provides great advice, helps manage the team, and used his expertise to design and execute pilots for certifications and labs that were instrumental for our clients." - Erika Smith, PFS.
Staci Seibold, General Mills, (Retired) VP of Innovation, Technology and Quality (Peter Erickson Award)
"Staci's boundless enthusiasm, warmth, and creativity has been a bedrock of PFS from our inception. She has done as much as anyone to build an inclusive community of volunteers. So much of our volunteer community has its roots in her commitment and engagement." - Jimmy Bettcher, PFS.
In 2019, Aziz Rehman joined Partners in Food Solutions as a new volunteer. While looking for an opportunity to get involved, he was introduced to Rumishael and Daughters, a grain- based breakfast food start-up based in Tanzania. “I knew I wanted to work with Rumishael and Daughters because I felt like there was a lot for us to learn from one another,” said Aziz. “Volunteering as their Client Lead, I’ve had the opportunity to see their company grow from a small start up in 2019, to introducing their first product to market, to now – expanding their product portfolio after much success.”
Robyn and Rumishael, founders of Rumishael and Daughters, dreamt of starting a family-owned business that made a positive impact on the local Tanzanian community. After 13 years of living in New Zealand, the husband and wife duo made their dreams a reality and moved back to Tanzania with their three children to start Rumishael and Daughters. “We spent years ideating what Rumishael and Daughters could be and ultimately decided that we wanted our company to produce nutritious, tasty and affordable products made with locally-grown grains. We’re really fortunate to have Partners in Food Solutions and their volunteers as advisors. As a start-up, having PFS volunteers who selflessly offer their precious time and expertise to ensure our success, especially given how young and fragile our company is, has been absolutely invaluable and helped develop our confidence,” said Robyn.
As a Client Lead, Aziz’s role is to support Rumishael and Daughters by helping manage their project portfolio. Since Aziz started in the role, he has overseen more than seven projects ensuring the projects go smoothly and reach their objectives. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Rumishael and Daughters,” said Aziz. “I’ve learned so much about product development and marketing, and have seen Rumishael and Daughters reach milestone after milestone. This has been a great opportunity to improve people’s lives across Africa while working remotely.”
Rumishael and Daughters is currently working on some new projects including developing new products and creating a marketing strategy. Furthermore, Rumishael and Daughters has started the process of partnering with the World Food Programme and will produce super cereals for them in the near future. “Partners in Food Solutions and Aziz have helped us make Rumishael and Daughter’s journey shorter, straighter and smoother. We really enjoy and appreciate working with Aziz. He is a constant source of support to us. He is committed to our success and we are incredibly grateful. When our factory laboratory is more sophisticated and worthy of a name, we plan to name it the ‘Aziz Rehman Laboratory’.”
Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited is a Kenyan based milling company that specializes in the milling of cereals and dried fruits to produce nutritious, pre-cooked and fortified porridge flours for children. Eric Muthomi, the founder and CEO of Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited, started the company to support smallholder farmers and provide nutritious and affordable products to his community. Last year, Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited needed to make several strategic decisions in order to achieve company growth. The company looked to Partners in Food Solutions and their network of expert volunteers for advice.
“We realized we were at a critical point in the company’s journey and in order to continue growing we needed to address some key issues,” said Eric. “We needed to review our product range, our pricing structure, what market/channels we could add for distribution, and how we could lower our raw material sourcing costs to increase our overall return.” Eric met with a group of PFS volunteers, including Cargill Corporate Strategy Associate Victoria Rau, to develop a business plan that would help him increase the company’s revenue and continue to fulfill its mission.
One of the most important aspects of the project was gaining a better understanding of Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited’s customers. “When addressing issues such as pricing, product development or distribution methods, it’s important to let the customer lead the strategy,” said Victoria. “We therefore conducted market research and learned about the factors Kenyan consumers considered most when buying porridge flour. These learnings helped us advise Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited and position their company in a way that would tick all the boxes that the customers wanted.”
Since the project closed in May, Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited has already started to make changes. “We are improving our product formulation so it aligns with the ingredients/nutrients our customers care about. We are also rethinking our marketing strategy to make us a more competitive processor,” said Eric. “Despite the support being 100% virtual, the volunteers fully understood our business as if it was an in-person support. We are very grateful to the PFS volunteers for helping us gain a better understanding of our customers, and we can’t wait to share more about our success in the months to come!”
AJ Aumock is a food industry veteran with over 25 years of experience as a marketer. He currently leads the marketing efforts for Cargill’s Truvia, a zero-calorie, plant-based Stevia sweetener brand. Throughout his life, AJ has been an avid volunteer – working with children, building schools and packing meals – but saw PFS as an unique opportunity to use his skills and expertise to help others and develop sustainable businesses. For the past six months, AJ has been supporting PFS client Assisi Foods, a Ghana based maize milling company, with the development of packaging label designs.
Assisi Foods was established in 2017 and currently produces several varieties of maize flour blends. “Our vision is to grow our business and supply staple foods for the Ghanaian market,” said Victoria Dzigbordi Akumpule, co-founder and general manager of Assisi Foods. “PFS created the perfect platform for us to receive much-needed professional help in designing our product labels so we can reach as many food lovers as possible.” In collaboration with Minneapolis-based design agency Mackey Creative, AJ and the volunteer team developed several packaging designs that brought Assisi’s brand to life. The team was influenced by the colors of Africa when conceptualizing the design for the labels. They also incorporated a popular pattern that would be
recognized by the local community.
“My favorite part of this project was the moment we unveiled the packaging designs to Victoria for the first time,” said AJ. “Seeing her witness her vision through colors, words and images was a magic moment for us.” Through this project, Victoria and her team have learned a lot. “Working with different experts on the various areas of marketing brought up strategic areas as a brand we will continue to focus on as we move forward,” said Victoria. Assisi Foods is currently in the process of getting their brand registered with the Food and Drugs Authority and the Ghana Standards Authority. “I know the new labels will help us reach a more elite customer base and increase our market share,” said Victoria. “The outcome of the product labels really got me excited about what is next for Assisi Foods!”