Profile: Taste of success

I’ll make you coffee – how do you like it?” Impressed that Bryce Howard, chief operating officer of Tasti Products is making his own coffee, as well as mine, I place my order.
It becomes obvious that Howard’s barista efforts show the type of ship he helps run, alongside three senior directors (the chairman, sales and marketing, and finance), and six key managers. It’s decidedly accessible, capable and unpretentious.
“The company’s very flat type of management structure, compared to competitors, has been key to our Waitakere Enterprise Awards successes.”
The company scooped the awards for best large business, top exporter, and employer of choice, then went on to take the supreme winner award.
Chairman Simon Hall agrees: “The management structure means easy access to decision makers and little corporate nonsense.”
Even the buildings are “no nonsense”. In one-storey, modest block that’s more converted house than company HQ, Tasti and its adjoining factory sit surrounded by heady baking smells in suburbia, at the end of Te Atatu Peninsula. It is one of West Auckland’s largest employers with around 240, mainly local, staff.
Tasti is privately owned, New Zealand-based food manufacturer, in business for 70 years, starting out processing glace fruit and supplying dried fruit and nuts to the grocery industry.
More recently investment has been made in the more dynamic added-value breakfast cereal and nutritional snacks market, including muesli bars and fruit-filled bars.
The nutritional snacks market came into existence only in the late 1970s to meet the need for portable, convenient and healthier options for lunch boxes and snacking.
“New Zealand was an early adopter and Tasti launched the first, and still existing, muesli bar called Snak Log, in New Zealand,” Howard says. “It’s still on supermarket shelves and selling well.”
Tasti has become one of the largest suppliers of muesli bars in New Zealand, supplying products under its own brand as well as Weight Watchers and Private Label brands. It is also significant player in Australia.
The company stays true to its mission statement, “We are resourced for growth,” says Howard, launching staggering number of new products into the market – 60 this year alone.
“This mission statement was developed by the directors several years ago, and reflects investment in two key areas of the company’s successes – manufacturing and staff capabilities,” he says.
“We do things little differently at Tasti,” says Hall, “and while we take calculated risks, the rewards are there. Our private shareholders encourage us to think long term, and not be driven by immediate returns on investment or shareholder dividends. We can also move quickly – our speed to market with new products, or redeveloped ones, gives us our competitive edge.
“In 2003 we recognised the nutritional snack bar market would continue to grow. With confidence in the market and using Bryce’s engineering and technical skills, we invested in purpose-built food factory and travelled to Europe to purchase the ‘best’ muesli bar technology.”
To give Tasti competitive advantage in Australasia this robotic equipment had to meet two important criteria – it must have the lowest waste, and the highest flexibility. The line was installed in 2004 at cost of $10 million – even though the company had no orders at that time.
“So we produced variety of samples, gave them to our sales team, and 18 months later the line was full. Two years later we installed second line twice the size of the first, and they are both now running 24 hours day, five days week,” Hall says.
Why only five days week?
“It’s all very well to purchase high-tech equipment and install second line, but if you don’t have happy, motivated staff who feel valued and enjoy some sort of life-work balance, then production will always be poor. So that’s why we close on the weekends and have only skeleton staff on over Christmas, so our team can enjoy time with their families.”
Tasti’s philosophy is to have all employees trained with the right skills and knowledge to succeed in their roles. Alongside on-the-job training, employees are also encouraged to broaden their skills by attending educational courses and, if appropriate, move up the ranks.
The support starts with the basics, like literacy and numeracy programmes, and progresses to leadership courses and in-house training that includes financial support for study or qualifications related to the job, including learning overseas.
Other strategies designed to make Tasti good place to work include rewards and recognition programme, to increase productivity and lower absenteeism, and team-building and conservation trips to an associated 25,000-hectare native forest in Hawkes Bay.
“We also value open and honest communication with our employees,” says Hall. “We have culture of no shame, no blame, to encourage honesty and ownership of outcomes.”
Information about the company is regularly shared with staff, at face-to-face meetings, TV ‘noticeboard’ in the cafeteria and at celebrations.
“After the awards we celebrated with all 240 staff by putting on BBQ lunch. We handed the awards around and many staff took the opportunity to have their picture taken with them. They are now proudly displayed in our reception area,” says Howard.
“We were so humbled about this recognition from our peers. Our focus over the years has been growing our business sustainably and profitably, while being good community citizens. Our success boils down to ‘We do what we say we are going to do,’ and our customers know that.” M

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