This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Every manufacturer loves a challenge. Whether it is creating a new product from scratch or innovating a way to improve the quality or efficiency of an existing product, manufacturing comes down to problem-solving. As a fourth-generation, family-owned business, Koeze Company has experienced its share of ups and downs since it was founded in 1910, yet this nut and confectionary manufacturer continues to push forward on solving modern manufacturing challenges all while offering something delicious in return.
“I like challenging problems — there’s always something difficult going on,” says Jeff Koeze, president of Koeze Company in Wyoming and the great-grandson of the company’s founder. “We’ve been around for 108 years so the challenges may have changed, but we’re always being tested.”
Originally a wholesale produce and dairy company, Koeze became primarily a peanut butter manufacturer until the mid-1990s when retail consolidation led to consolidation in the supply chain and the company shifted its focus to specialty markets where it has thrived as a manufacturer of gourmet nuts, fine chocolate and the same top-of-the-line peanut butter that made the brand a household name.
“One of the biggest challenges is keeping food manufacturing on the radar in Michigan,” explains Koeze. “We’re a state so well-known for the auto industry, that it can be easy to forget that Michigan has a rich agricultural heritage and manufactured foods are among our state’s biggest exports.”
When your product is food, the safety standards and facility processes are judged at a higher bar than in many businesses, even when compared with other manufacturing sectors. From new federal tariffs upending the supply chain, to the impact of customers demanding consistent products out of inconsistent raw materials impacted by crop yields and weather patterns, to issues with general distribution, there’s never a day at Koeze without a challenge.
To the manufacturer looking to build a quality reputation, Koeze believes it starts and ends with understanding your company’s value — what are you selling and why do people want to buy it.
“I think we’ve done well to weather the storms — we’ve worked to stay light on our feet, to not tie up too much capital on any particular customer or product — and we’ve always made safety and quality the primary points of emphasis,” Koeze explains. “We don’t mix messages — every person who works here understands that those are the two most important things and we have very visible and robust systems to underscore that.”
By knowing that, you can find success either as the first business to step into a new market or by being the better, more prepared brand in a well-established niche.
As a member of MMA’s Food Manufacturers Committee, Koeze and the rest of his team are working hard to forge the food manufacturing sector’s place in conversations across the state.
“We’re looking for any opportunity to get food manufacturing on the radar — there are so many great businesses out there, manufacturers like us who face unique challenges because of the products we produce and have a role in the positive direction our state’s economy is heading,” Koeze says. “Now is the time for all of us in the industry to work together and make the experience better for the customer.”