Alan Sargent: A Sweet Confection Connection

Alan Sargent: A Sweet Confection Connection

Alan Sargent is supply chain and logistics director with Just Born Quality Confections, the Bethlehem, Pa.-based company behind PEEPS®, MIKE AND IKE®, and HOT TAMALES® candy brands. He has held this position since August 2005.

Responsibilities: All logistics and transportation functions.

Experience: Plant logistics and distribution manager, customer service facility manager, and logistics operations planner, all with General Mills; professional sales representative with Baker Norton Pharmaceuticals; captain, quartermaster, and logistics officer with the United States Army.

Education: MBA, University of Minnesota, 1998; BA in financial administration, Michigan State University, 1986.

I went to Michigan State as a non-scholarship, volunteer ROTC cadet with enough money for one year of school, and then earned a three-year Army ROTC scholarship. That was how I paid for college.

My first choice for my Army commission was quartermaster. I wanted to do something interesting that had applications in the real world.

I spent three years in Germany, and then came back and completed the Officer Advanced Course. I was the logistics officer for a Special Forces battalion, which took me to Korea, Panama, and all over the United States.

When looking for my first job out of the Army, the recruiter said, "You’re an operations and supply chain guy. Leverage that." But I wanted to try something different.

So, I took a pharmaceutical sales job, where I was told ‘no’ 20 or 30 times before I’d get a 60-second audience with a doctor. Three years of that proved the recruiter was right. My skill sets were better applied to logistics and supply chain.

I moved to Minneapolis, and was hired by General Mills. I took over for someone on maternity leave and then stayed 10 years, working in planning, production planning, and logistics operations planning. One of my biggest achievements was automating an operation that involved hand-labeling and pre-printing cereal boxes. The amount of manual labor was crazy. I worked with engineering and packaging to build a labeling machine, which lowered the cost by almost 50 percent.

I also engaged in many professional debates about run lengths and days of inventory. Many manufacturing or plant managers think the longer the run, the better, because there are fewer changeovers. That means less downtime and a better cost per case.

But you have to consider inventory carrying costs. Shorter runs let you service the business with less inventory, because you’re cycling the flavors more often. You often have to have a cross-functional discussion with operations, logistics, and finance to see if you can cost-justify more changeovers.

Today, at Just Born, which I refer to as a large small company, we rely on collaboration in lieu of size and scale. Our collaborative warehousing and transportation program, the Confection Connection, involves several other confection manufacturers.

The Confection Connection helps smaller candy companies function at a cost and scale that’s bigger than what we actually are. We can deliver less-than-truckload orders at truckload or close-to-truckload cost by partnering with our competitors.

We have been running this program for a long time, but we super-sized it in 2009 with the purchase of a 600,000-square-foot building. As the collaboration grows, we face additional challenges. We work with four or five manufacturers and the trucks make three or four stops. The program requires enhanced processes and transportation management software and other tools.

As Just Born grows, one of our big challenges is moving from a single source of production and shipping to a single-source, multi-node distribution network. Eventually, we’ll evolve into multi-node production with a multi-node distribution network. We’re in the beginning stages, and looking at multiple shipping and storage sites.

This is primarily a regional deployment strategy for PEEPS. We produce Easter all year round; we’re never done making PEEPS.

The Big Questions

How do you like to unwind away from work?

My wife, our four children, and I like to spend time at Chincoteague Island, Va., on the beach and riding bikes.

What was the last book you read that left an impact?

This summer, I re-read Good to Great by Jim Collins to remind myself and my children that successful organizations and people can become comfortable with good, versus striving for great.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

I would go to the Grand Canyon and raft the Colorado River. I’d also travel to Alaska and wander around Denali National Park for a few weeks.

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