By Heather Mullinix
Mustard is a happy food. From ballparks to backyards, the condiment has brought smiles to old and young alike as they top their sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs.
But you might not know that much of the mustard found on the store shelf may originate in Crossville at Mizkan, the leading manufacturer of specialty vinegars, mustards, cooking wines, Asian sauces and dressing, and other liquid condiments.
“Mizkan wants to own the refrigerator door,” said Mike Nuss, regional director of manufacturing for Mikzan Americas, Inc..
The Crossville location makes and bottles 1,000 tons of mustard each month. Most are bottled into private label brands, the store brands found in many supermarket chains.
“Many stores take great pride in their store labels, and the quality specifications are stringent,” he said.
The company employs 78 people operating 20 hours a day, six days a week. They’d run seven days a week, but the vinegar line must be cleaned thoroughly after bottling wine vinegars on the weekends to prepare for the Kosher vinegar bottled through the week.
That’s been a pretty steady amount of work for the employees, Nuss said, thanks in part to the recession.
“When 2008 happened, consumers started changing their buying preferences,” Nuss explained. “Now people are buying private label brands and saving money and it provided an opportunity for us to flourish.”
Mizkan began as Indian Summer in Crossville, purchasing land in 1987 and opening in 1990 with about 50,000 square feet. Indian Summer produced apple juice and vinegar. Mustard was added in 1993. Apple juice production was discontinued in 1997. During the time, the name changed from Indian Summer to Nakano Foods to Mizkan Americas. Today, the plant occupies 110,000 square feet of space, much of it warehouse space, and utilizes other warehouse space offsite in Crossville.
There are five bulk and bottling plants in the United States for Mizkan, where the product is made and bottled for distribution. Nuss said the Crossville location is the highest producing plant in the company with more than 5.4 million cases produced annually.
“The associates here and the operation here is exceptional,” Nuss said. “It sets the standard.”
Nuss bragged on the employees, saying they were highly efficient. The key to that is communicating company goals and processes, and letting them know how each can positively impact the bottom line. Delegating also helps provide a feeling of ownership, and there is a focus on self-directed, self-managed teams. The company also provides competitive pay rates and retirement and health benefits to employees.
“Our employees are the reason for our strong growth,” Nuss said. “We hope they appreciate the stability we offer and won’t job hop.”
Safety and quality are top concerns. The plant has gone more than 150 days without a lost time work accident, and has had only one OSHA recordable event this fiscal year, which runs from March to February.
There is also a focus on perfect order completion, ensuring the customer receives what they ordered, delivered when they want it and how they want it packaged.
The food products have busy seasons, with vinegar consumption highest beginning at Easter, and mustard peaking in the summer. Nuss said the plant will build up an excess of vinegar leading up to the busy system, but the increase in sales at that time will wipe out that extra inventory.
But buyers need to know that they can get the products they need, and building up that inventory is vital to providing on-time orders without interruption. The Mizkan plants also provide redundancy so that should a plant need to go offline for a period of time, customers will still be served.
Making the products takes time, especially vinegar. Making vinegar takes about 50 hours, using 195 grain alcohol, acetobacter, nutrients, controlling oxygen levels and temperature, and letting chemistry do the work. Seven acetators are used, and are under constant supervision to control the process. When complete, two-thirds of the vinegar produced is discharged from the acetators to be used for bottling for consumers or shipped to other manufacturers as a food ingredient. The remainder is kept to seed the next batch of vinegar.
“Everything has vinegar in it, from frozen foods to ketchup to salad dressing,” Nuss said.
Mizkan produces about 13 million gallons of vinegar each year, with half of that bottled for retail customers and half sold as a food ingredient.
The volume of white distilled vinegar produced in Crossville also makes it an ideal location to produce mustard. While the main mustard product at the Crossville location is yellow mustard, made with mustard seed, vinegar, water, salt, paprika and turmeric, the plant also produces some specialty mustards, including spicy brown and horseradish. It also recently began producing dijon and honey mustards.
New equipment has helped the company reduce its waste and save money, with a packaging line using cardboard trays instead of full boxes, and highly efficient lighting that not only cost lest to operate, but are cooler and provide brighter work areas.
The company also installed a waste water pretreatment system in 2007 because it was growing faster than the city of Crossville’s wastewater system could handle. The company invested $1.7 million in the system that pretreats wastewater before it enters the city’s system, saving the city wastewater capacity.