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Growth Manufacturers Case Study

A Recipe for Transformation: New England Natural Bakers

"Trust and respect has increased at NENB. This [training] provided a great foundation for preparing the company to become an ESOP and was a perfect way to launch this new phase of our company. Now everyone has a voice and everyone can enjoy the benefits of being employee owners of the company. Employees will now be able to contribute and benefit at a higher level."
— Susan Dorais, Director of Human Resources, New England Natural Bakers

New England Natural Bakers (NENB), of Greenfield, Massachusetts, is the east coast’s leading granola manufacturer. They thought they were a "lean" company. They had implemented many good procedures like FIFO and demand management and were cautious about the amount of inventory they carried. But they hadn’t provided employees with tools or empowered them to make improvements on their own.

So in 2008, John Broucek, owner and founder, brought together a team to initiate change. He hired Susan Dorais as Director of Human Resources, hired a new controller, and rehired their sales and marketing manager. The team’s objective was to embody NENB values and drive the company to operational efficiency.  

With the team in place, Dorais could envision their transformation. She communicated the values clearly to employees, gave them guidelines, and told them exactly what was expected of them. She recognized that continuous improvement training would play an important role in initiating positive change at the company.

Workforce Training Grant
Susan Dorais contacted the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) in 2011 for assistance with a Workforce Training Fund grant to help with training costs. By that time she felt NENB had the culture in place to support the training. The company acknowledged that their employees are the experts at doing their jobs and wanted to empower them to get more involved.

"We chose to work with MassMEP and Project Manager Susan Janus because of their approach in engaging the workforce and learning by doing," shares Dorais. In time, the MEP won NENB’s respect and trust and formed a strong partnership with the company.

Project work elements included:

  • Lean Training
  • Value Stream Mapping
  • TIPS (Team Involvement Problem Solving)
  • Kaizen focused improvement events

"Some people were a bit skeptical, but overall the employees liked the whole idea of the training," says Dorais. " Once they saw the value in the changes that made their work lives easier, they jumped on board!"  NENB machine operators were aware that there were better ways to do things but lacked the tools or weren’t comfortable enough to initiate changes on their own.

Remove Waste, Reduce Process Times, Increase Value Add

  • VSM Training: Employees learned to identify waste and find where non value added time was being spent.
  • 5 S and Set-Up Reduction Kaizen: Employee teams made improvements and removed waste from processes, thus negating the need for expensive equipment purchases. They were able to cut process times and increase value add activities.
  • TIPS: Employees learned to work as teams to solve problems and communicate ideas more effectively throughout the facility.

"By the time we had our final Kaizen, a Set-Up Reduction, participants were overflowing with ideas and creative solutions," adds Dorais. "People had begun working as teams instead of pointing fingers or blaming other shifts. Now they are apt to work in groups because they recognize the value and cultural benefits."

Dorais adds, "Many at NENB felt that new equipment had to be purchased in order to improve productivity." Utilizing 5 S and Set-Up Reduction Kaizen, MassMEP worked with employee teams to make improvements and remove waste from processes, thus negating the need for expensive equipment purchases.

Most of all, the improvement work allowed employees to see how changing or streamlining a process or making even very simple improvements can have great benefit, making jobs easier and saving the company money. Dorais regularly stocks up on gift cards from local businesses. She uses them as a thank you to recognize and reward employees for doing great work or making beneficial suggestions.  

Dorais says she doesn’t have enough good words to say about how successful the work with MassMEP has been for NENB.

"Using the right trainers has a big impact on the outcome of the training," Dorais states. "Everyone has been very pleased with the instructors and work that they have done here. Part of our success comes from the fact that we found MassMEP. They have that certain personality — they are listeners and coaches who know when to step back and when to get involved. They have a professional grace and ease so that people do not realize that they are being guided to do things differently and come to the appropriate conclusions themselves."


  • Increased line efficiency >10%
  • Reduced mixing times by 9 minutes 
  • Decreased waiting time before packaging by 22%
  • Reduced packaging waste from 20% to 12% (goal was 12.5%)
  • Reduced changeover time for packaging from 72 minutes to 66 minutes
  • Productivity improvements = new equipment not needed – cost avoidance of $105,000.

Transition to Employee Owned
As Broucek prepared for retirement, he needed assurance that the company he had nurtured for so many years would be sold to someone with similar values and mind set, that the focus would be kept on employee participation and input so that NENB would continue to be a vital, wonderful place to work. When no buyers came forward they began considering another suggestion — an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan).  As seen on the company web site:

"ESOP emerged as the best solution for our 45 plus employees; guaranteeing the viability of our values based culture and preserving jobs while remaining at our current location, Broucek will remain with the company in the role of General Manager, allowing the people and the company to function and prosper."

Not every company can successfully become an ESOP. At NENB, everyone knew their focus, had the same ideals and goals, and was willing to work for those. Additionally, they have Broucek, who will continue to participate and help transition.

Employees were paid their stock appreciation rights when the company sold. Everyone also had thorough ESOP education and soon realized that what they do directly impacts their bottom line. Today, NENB feels that they are in good place. Employee-owners can be heard saying things like "shut the door you are wasting my heat!" Now everyones’ voice counts in decision-making.  

Systematic Approach to Transition
Says Susan Janus, MassMEP Project Manager, "We took time to learn about NENB, and working with their management team designed a project around their goals. We taught our systematic approach to continuous improvement, introduced Lean tools, and provided coaching, where needed."

"NENB is a role model in how to execute a continuous improvement initiative," she continued. "They took action on their own, experimented, and made things happen. Employees’ roles were elevated — allowing them to actively participate in the change, follow up on action items, and implement ideas. Not every company has the leadership in place to accomplish this; leadership that is willing to examine workplace culture, make adjustments where necessary, and successfully engaged their workforce in a powerful way. This is why NENB has been successful."

Looking back over the past year, NENB acknowledges that outside resources can play an important role with shifts like this. Often it is difficult for decision makers to step back. They are afraid to let go. MassMEP built a relationship and became a trusted partner with NENB. They became an external voice to guide and direct them and, in turn, NENB followed through and executed through the engagement of their people. This created an strong foundation for continuous improvement work and growth at the company, and allowed them to pursue ESOP with more confidence. NENB has applied for a phase II grant to continue bringing positive change throughout the plant.

The Right Ingredients
The key to any successful recipe is having the right ingredients. This notion has been playing out in John Broucek’s mind since 1977 when he began baking all natural granola and building a business focused on his beliefs and goals. Today, New England Natural Bakers (NENB), of Greenfield, Massachusetts, is the east coast’s leading granola manufacturer, producing all natural, nutritious, and organic products of both their own brand and private label granola and trail mix.  In over three decades the organization has grown to 45 plus employees who share John’s vision and many of his passions. They are hard working people who take pride in creating good foods to promote healthy minds and bodies, in being conscientious about natural resources and the environment, and in giving back to their community.


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