2012 Supplier Of The Year: Saputo


A decades long commitment to customers, staff and product sets Saputo apart.

In a world where change is constant, Saputo stands for tradition, and that tradition keeps paying dividends for the world’s 12th-largest dairy processor serving the retail and foodservice markets.

It helps that its executives continue to uphold the original company values, despite operating 47 plants and employing more than 10,000 workers, serving customers in more than 50 countries and earning revenues of $6.9 billion in fiscal 2012, up 15.4 per cent from fiscal 2011. “We really stay true to the original Saputo values and culture,” confirms Dominic Bombino, SVP of Foodservice, Canada for the Montreal-based company. “Although we’re a large organization, we always try to think small. We run our operations as if it was a family run business like it was in 1954.”

Those values speak to standing together to overcome challenges; adapting to needs, trends and changes in the environment; and valuing every employee’s contribution. The company motto perhaps says it best: ‘Standing Together, Looking Ahead.’

Bombino, who works out of the company’s Vaughan, Ont., plant, admits it can be a challenge maintaining the small business approach as the company continues to grow its products and markets. “That’s why cultural fit is a very big part of our decisions, whether it’s acquiring organizations or hiring people; or whether we’re looking at plant operations, logistics, sales or finance. Everything has to flow back to Saputo’s original commitment.”

That commitment began nearly 60 years ago in Montreal when Giuseppe Saputo established the business with $500, basic equipment and a bicycle for cheese deliveries to local foodservice operations. The rise in pizza consumption prompted the company to establish its first production facility three years later. From there, the organic growth continued, starting with distribution throughout the Atlantic provinces and then a national network in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the company execs made their first move into the U.S. market, and they’ve been acquiring businesses and expanding to global markets ever since.

And, innovation within those markets is part of the company’s modus operandi. Saputo’s R&D team continues to work on new product concepts to meet growing demand for healthy, quality food.

In the past year the company has developed more than 13 cheeses made from cow, goat and buffalo milk. Noteworthy introductions include an enhanced flavoured crumbled blue cheese; Mozzarina di Bufala made from buffalo milk; and “The Ultimate,” a protein-enhanced post-workout dairy beverage.

Within Canada, Saputo has distribution facilities in every province. “We’re fortunate enough within the dairy industry to be selling to every channel within Canada,” Bombino reports. “Our customer base runs the gamut from A to Z, from broad-line distributors and restaurant chains to quick-service restaurants, independents and institutions.”

Since Canada is now a mature market for Saputo, recent growth efforts are focused on the U.S. and abroad. But those could not have been successful without the foundations that have been built here, Bombino says. “We’re still experiencing organic growth through new customer acquisitions and partnerships.”

One of its larger customers is Pizza Pizza, who has a 20-year partnership with Saputo. Both companies have dealt with significant expansion throughout their relationship, says Paul Methot, VP of the chain’s Operations in Toronto. “There are always issues that come up when you have constantly changing conditions. But the key thing for sustaining any successful partnership is to have someone that can respond and be proactive. When issues do come up, Saputo is very good at rectifying them.”

Similarly, Boston Pizza has a rich history with Saputo. In fact, the supplier played an instrumental role in the chain’s expansion eastwards. “We tripled the size of our company in 10 years. Saputo always made sure we had the product we needed to do it,” says Mark Pacinda, president and CEO of the Vancouver-based Boston Pizza.

And, it’s good service and good people that seem to be a common theme at the company. In fact, when asked to identify the number-1 contributor to ongoing success, Bombino points to its people.

“They have great people, no question about it,” confirms Joel Grade, CEO of Sysco Canada Inc., a Toronto customer. “No matter how big they get, their commitment to quality and service is always part of their DNA. It’s what they believe in and their people exemplify it. They also produce quality, innovative products and build strong and deep relationships with their customers.”

This brings us to Bombino’s other secret to success — a commitment to customer service. “Because our supply chain also encompasses retail, and we have strong distribution partners, we can ensure service to all markets, including little towns and rural communities.”

Bombino notes its responsibility is to make sure customer needs are clearly understood and met. “It really comes down to being in front of customers on a regular basis and ensuring dialogue happens. Some companies don’t follow up for weeks or months. One of our strengths is we have a large enough team that makes sure they are talking to customers about what’s new at Saputo.”

As the market evolves, Saputo is looking at innovation beyond product and services. Changes will include efficiency improvements in production, packaging and logistics throughout its plant network. “We have been very focused on the operational side to take costs out wherever possible.” This includes working to reduce its environmental footprint throughout a product’s life cycle and implementing sustainability metrics to gain further insight into operational efficiency. Among other initiatives this year, it has partnered with Energy Star to reduce consumption even further.

Additionally, the company plays a prominent role in the communities it serves, donating one per cent of pre-tax profits to local organizations focused on providing a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition and physical activity. This commitment comes in the form of financial contributions, employee volunteering and product donations. Recipients are community- and sport-minded organizations such as Breakfast Clubs of Canada and Quebec as well as Camp Taillevent for youths from disadvantaged areas of Quebec.

The company puts a similar focus on its employees through the Saputo Health & Wellness – Feed Your Life program. It provides tools, activities, information and reference materials to help its employees maintain a healthy lifestyle, says Sandy Vassiadia, director of Corporate Communications for Saputo in Montreal.

As part of the initiative, Saputo focuses on a different theme each month, such as healthy diets, cardiovascular health and prostate testing. “There is a huge range of group activities,” Vassiadia says. “Employees have formed walking and cycling groups; some do kickboxing at lunch; others are in a buddy system for quitting smoking.… There’s a slew of things we do to make sure they are getting the right information to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

Whatever the initiative, Bombino believes it’s the people that count the most. “We strongly believe our success is based on the people we have working on our organization. It’s everyone, from foodservice, logistics and plant operations, to the top management levels. They are what give us our competitive advantage.”

photo courtesy of Brian Summers

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