Digital technology serves up a productivity feast
Mexican Corn Products
November 05, 2013 — Ottawa, Ontario
In a crowded marketplace of designer tortilla chips and discerning chip aficionados, an eight-employee Ottawa, Ontario-based tortilla chip manufacturer stands tall. Thanks to help from National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) and NRC-IRAP's Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program (DTAPP), family-owned Mexican Corn Products (MCP) is taking on the industry Goliaths and winning consumers over.
"Our sales really took off after we developed our own brand (Los Cantores: making tortilla chips better)," says Gabriela Godinez-Laverty, MCP's president. The company promotes its unique Canadian-made products as gluten-free tortilla chips with superior taste, quality and consistency. They contain natural ingredients including authentic Mexican corn flour. "We did quite a few consumer taste tests before we introduced the brand, so we are confident we have the right recipe."
Since the new brand was launched and the marketing strategy implemented in 2011, MCP increased sales by some 23 per cent and has quickly been eating up market share. "Before, 80 per cent of our sales were to one private-label company and 20 per cent to others; now, that is 60/40." In addition to food boutiques, MCP has piqued the interest of large food chains—and selling to them is a game-changer for this small enterprise.
DTAPP: adding digital technology ingredients
Manufacturing for the big leagues put a strain on the company's staff, equipment and processes. "We had always been resourceful in adapting machinery to our needs, but we face different challenges now," adds Godinez-Laverty. "DTAPP helped us understand those problems and deal with them by providing funding, advice and connections to experts."
According to NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor Jeff Linton, DTAPP helped MCP improve production throughput and cut cleanup time at the end of a production run by replacing manual processes with digital technology. For example, the fryer is more efficient because a new system cuts the time to heat cooking oil to the right temperature, while a digital panel keeps the heat at an even temperature. Other parts of the process that have been digitized address product quality, such as ensuring each chip is the same thickness and that package seals are always airtight.
Cutting the cleanup time at the end of a production run from one hour to a half-hour means MCP can now produce 5600 more chips during an eight-hour shift. Before changes were made to the machinery, the company produced 1000 boxes of packaged chips per week; they now produce up to 1800.
Another DTAPP contribution was providing support for assessing hazards in the manufacturing facility, training staff and attaining certification in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), a complex production control system for ensuring food safety. A University of Guelph consultant referred by DTAPP was instrumental in helping MCP through the process.
"As the company ramps up its production, employs more people and puts on extra shifts, they will be able to meet the demands from increased sales," says Linton.
DTAPP helped MCP to:
- Increase production line speed by 20 per cent.
- Shave cleanup time at the end of production runs by 50 per cent. This means MCP can produce an extra 5600 chips per shift.
- Boost weekly production of packaged chips from 1000 boxes to 1800.
- Install various quality assurance measures.
- Create jobs for at least three new staff.
"Adopting digital technology for any manufacturing process makes a huge difference in productivity and efficiency—and we could not have managed our rapid growth without it."—Gabriela Godinez-Laverty, president, Mexican Corn Products
A gourmet future
MCP had been selling only to clients in Ontario, but has recently acquired a large customer in Quebec. In future, the company is targeting the rest of Canada as well. Godinez-Laverty is now looking to expand not only production and sales, but also the product line. This includes using blue corn and adding gourmet items to pair with chips, such as salsa, guacamole and other dips.
"DTAPP is an amazing program and was very important to our success," she points out. "Adopting digital technology for any manufacturing process makes a huge difference in productivity and efficiency—and we could not have managed our rapid growth without it."
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