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A culture change at Klement Sausage

Klement Sausage Co. has been undergoing a significant cultural transformation with continuous improvement and leadership development at its core.

Founded 61 years ago, the maker of sausage products built its reputation through three generations of family ownership. In May 2014, the family sold the business to Altamont Capital Partners, a California private equity group. Klement now operates as part of Tall Tree Foods, which consists of four geographically diverse sausage manufacturers.

“You had a historically family-run company, a lot of family-based operating principles, a lot of old-school methodologies, and not a lot of what we would consider to be standard operating procedures,” Klement Chief Operating Officer Ray Deeter said.

The Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s work with Klement began with a focus on Six Sigma.

“We had 20 supervisors go through formal Six Sigma training through six different projects,” Deeter said. “Those projects generated, combined, $1 million to $1.5 million in savings.”

Klement, which has 350 to 400 employees, operates two plants in Milwaukee. The Chase Avenue facility produces fresh and ready-to-eat sausage products in separate parts of the facility to maximize food safety and avoid cross-contamination.

The Lincoln Avenue facility predominantly manufactures cooked and smoked products.

Productivity improvements with ME3

Improved productivity has allowed the Klement facilities to produce products for other Tall Tree sausage manufacturers, which includes: Richard’s Cajun Foods in Church Point, Louisiana; Blue Ribbon Sausage and Bacon in Houston; and the January Company, a Seattle-based maker of Chinese Ethnic Sausage.

“Each of us has a very strong regional brand that Tall Tree thinks has the ability to scale up and expand nationally within certain product segments,” Deeter said.

Klement and the WMEP also worked together to develop standard operating procedures and have been involved in energy-related projects, including the Milwaukee Economy, Energy and Environment program (ME3), a low-cost program to help manufacturers cut operating expenses while minimizing negative environmental impacts.

“The WMEP is very strong in its ability to connect with employees on concepts, perspectives and tools that can be viewed as very intimidating,” Deeter said. “It does a great job connecting with the shop floor and helping people understand those complex tools in a very simple way and make it applicable.”

The strong focus on continuous improvement has generated an array of benefits for Klement. “We are using data to help drive action as opposed to intuition, which can sometimes mislead us,” Deeter said. I think the connectivity between the work we’ve done with the WMEP and our leadership development has really created a very strong team.”

Refreshed facilities attract top workforce

Employee retention also has improved. Klement previously used temporary employees to fill 40 to 50 percent of the jobs on the plant floor. That number has dipped to 10 to 12 percent. “We’ve recognized that to get the consistency we want and to get the culture we want we really needed a core group of employees,” Deeter said.

A relocation of its corporate headquarters from an outdated building adjacent to one of its plants to a sparkling new office development at the former Pabst brewery in Milwaukee has made it easier to attract top-level executives and administrative personnel, Deeter said.

As part of its focus on continuous improvement, Klement also has a Level 3 Safe Quality Food (SQF) program certification. The level 3 requirements include quality standards in addition to food safety standards. The SQF program is being revised for 2018 to include continuous improvement as a key ingredient.

“There’s a significant quality element that is getting introduced in SQF,” Deeter said. “The reason for that is to catch up to the rest of the world in understanding that safety, quality, delivery and cost are all directly related.”

For more information about continuous improvement programs and other offerings from the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, go to

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