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Keynote Conversation with Koeze Company's Ben Zorn

This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Q: Tell us briefly about Koeze and the company’s effort to invest in Michigan’s continued economic growth.

Zorn: Koeze Company is 108 years old and over that time our family owners have been involved in every aspect of the food business from the farm to the table. Today, as manufacturers of the world’s best selection of gourmet nuts, fine chocolate and peanut butter, we are investing constantly in food safety. For example, we worked with a testing equipment company to adapt for peanut butter an automated sampling machine designed originally for sampling extremely heavy crude oil. Investments such as these are some of the best we can make and learning what our fellow manufacturers are doing helps us invest wisely.

Q: Koeze is a member of MMA’s Food Manufacturers Committee. What led the company to join and what vision do you have for its role in advocating on behalf of food manufacturers?

Zorn: Koeze has participated for many years in a joint effort by peanut butter manufacturers to improve the industry’s food safety performance. From that experience we’ve learned the value of coming together to share knowledge about food safety challenges. Food safety is becoming much more driven by scientific knowledge rather than old rules of thumb passed down in the factory, and keeping up is a challenge for everyone. In our experience staying current is especially hard for regulators who are often generalists covering many different processes and products. We also are in a much stronger position when we don’t see eye-to-eye with regulators because we can draw on the expertise of other food manufacturers to educate them.

Q: You are working to coordinate the development of a Food Safety subcommittee within MMA. Why does this area require a unique focus? What are some immediate issues you expect the subcommittee to focus on?

Zorn: Providing safe food to our consumers is priority No. 1. All manufacturers want to provide safe food to their customers. Two heads are better than one, so let’s gather food facility leaders from around the state to discuss the best practices at their facilities and help each other improve food safety. We also want to understand how the FDA and the Michigan Department of Agriculture are enforcing the new Food Safety Modernization Act so that we can be better partners with our regulators. We all win by learning the do’s and don’ts as new regulatory policies are developed and implemented.

Q: Regardless of their subsector, why should manufacturers take on an active role in advocating on behalf of their business and the industry as a whole? How can they become more engaged?

Zorn: The Food Safety sub-committee of the MMA will thrive with an engaged, diverse group as we tackle food safety challenges. Our initial focus will be on learning from each other and strengthening the network of food manufacturers in the state. That creates a base if down the road a more robust policy and advocacy agenda emerges.

The plan is for the sub-committee to meet quarterly. Locations will rotate between the manufacturing facilities of the committee members. We will discuss recent regulatory visits and discuss the experience. Then we’ll take a tour of the host’s facility and learn how best practices are implemented on the plant floor. If you are interested in learning more and want to get involved, please reach out to Brianna Mills, MMA director of political and strategic partnerships, at mills@mimfg.org.

About this Month's Keynote

Ben ZornBen Zorn has been with the Koeze Company since March of 2015 as Director of Operations.

This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Q: Tell us briefly about Koeze and the company’s effort to invest in Michigan’s continued economic growth.

Zorn: Koeze Company is 108 years old and over that time our family owners have been involved in every aspect of the food business from the farm to the table. Today, as manufacturers of the world’s best selection of gourmet nuts, fine chocolate and peanut butter, we are investing constantly in food safety. For example, we worked with a testing equipment company to adapt for peanut butter an automated sampling machine designed originally for sampling extremely heavy crude oil. Investments such as these are some of the best we can make and learning what our fellow manufacturers are doing helps us invest wisely.

Q: Koeze is a member of MMA’s Food Manufacturers Committee. What led the company to join and what vision do you have for its role in advocating on behalf of food manufacturers?

Zorn: Koeze has participated for many years in a joint effort by peanut butter manufacturers to improve the industry’s food safety performance. From that experience we’ve learned the value of coming together to share knowledge about food safety challenges. Food safety is becoming much more driven by scientific knowledge rather than old rules of thumb passed down in the factory, and keeping up is a challenge for everyone. In our experience staying current is especially hard for regulators who are often generalists covering many different processes and products. We also are in a much stronger position when we don’t see eye-to-eye with regulators because we can draw on the expertise of other food manufacturers to educate them.

Q: You are working to coordinate the development of a Food Safety subcommittee within MMA. Why does this area require a unique focus? What are some immediate issues you expect the subcommittee to focus on?

Zorn: Providing safe food to our consumers is priority No. 1. All manufacturers want to provide safe food to their customers. Two heads are better than one, so let’s gather food facility leaders from around the state to discuss the best practices at their facilities and help each other improve food safety. We also want to understand how the FDA and the Michigan Department of Agriculture are enforcing the new Food Safety Modernization Act so that we can be better partners with our regulators. We all win by learning the do’s and don’ts as new regulatory policies are developed and implemented.

Q: Regardless of their subsector, why should manufacturers take on an active role in advocating on behalf of their business and the industry as a whole? How can they become more engaged?

Zorn: The Food Safety sub-committee of the MMA will thrive with an engaged, diverse group as we tackle food safety challenges. Our initial focus will be on learning from each other and strengthening the network of food manufacturers in the state. That creates a base if down the road a more robust policy and advocacy agenda emerges.

The plan is for the sub-committee to meet quarterly. Locations will rotate between the manufacturing facilities of the committee members. We will discuss recent regulatory visits and discuss the experience. Then we’ll take a tour of the host’s facility and learn how best practices are implemented on the plant floor. If you are interested in learning more and want to get involved, please reach out to Brianna Mills, MMA director of political and strategic partnerships, at mills@mimfg.org.

About this Month's Keynote

Ben ZornBen Zorn has been with the Koeze Company since March of 2015 as Director of Operations.
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