In order to ramp-up production of its ever-growing product line for its expanding customer base, Chelsea, Mass.-based Kayem Foods ( has invested handsomely in new technology for its flagship processing plant over the years. Starting up in 1970, the plant has grown from 60,000 sq. ft. to 190,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space.

But needing to increase throughput to meet growing product demand and no room left to add brick-and mortar, company leaders are relying on automation to meet production needs in addition to hiring proven managers to help drive business forward.

The two-shift plant employs 350 people, 25 percent of whom have worked there 10 years or longer. Approximately 500 stock-keeping units (SKUs) of cooked, branded and private-label products such as premium hot dogs, brats, chicken sausage, Italian sausage and deli meats are made at the Chelsea plant.

Its signature brands are Kayem, al fresco and McKenzie, but it markets 14 total brands, mostly regional and value brands, plus private-label.

“We can process 1.5 million to 1.8 million lbs. a week out of our Chelsea facility,” says Peter Monkiewicz, vice president of operations and grandson of founder Kazimierz Monkiewicz, whose first and last initials – K and M – is the basis of the company’s name, Kayem Foods. Matt Monkiewicz, vice president of marketing, is the great-grandson of the company’s founder.

Chelsea plant highlights

The Chelsea facility operates a batch operation that processes many small runs of SKUs; a continuous frank operation; and a high-automation, continuous operation focused on their al fresco all natural brand of chicken sausage.

“There are multiple lines in the batch operation,” Peter says. “Typically, runs don’t last much more than 30 minutes to an hour. It’s a part of the business we do well. We satisfy small customers with unique products.”

The continuous line or CT area, the final of five additions to the Chelsea facility’s footprint, was built in 1999, and it is a showpiece of high-tech processing technology.

“We have six basic stuffers and we swap back and forth in between natural casing franks and skinless franks in about a 15-minute changeover,” Peter says. “We’re looking to add robotics [for various material-handling tasks].We’re phasing in that technology.”

A custom-built, 140-ft. long oven installed in 1999 featuring an 8,000 lb.-per-hour capacity has four cooking zones for operators to dial in cook cycles. This oven limits shrink, ensures quality color and product appearance.

Since opening in 1970, there have been multiple additions and upgrades at the Chelsea plant. In 1982, Kayem Foods began its roast-beef business. “We added a portion to the building to facilitate making whole-muscle meat items,” Peter says.

In 1989, a warehouse area and blast freezer were added. An internal sliced deli room was incorporated after that. The final addition came in 1999: a high-volume, continuous frank line built to help grow the company’s branded business.

The continuous-frank line was the last physical expansion of the facility and company executives then started revaluating the costs inside the building. As a result, an Alkar PureLink system was installed in 2011.

This 3,500-lb.-per-hour line allows Kayem to produce natural-casing sausage and utilize cook-in package technology, among other things. It incorporates robotic technology to load individual packages into boxes plus place boxes of product onto pallets.

“What we produced on our former continuous line with approximately 25 people [per shift] was converted into a highly automated line now staffed by 12 people [per shift] – and we’re getting the same throughput,” Peter says. “Our objective is to produce more pounds within the same footprint.”

The installation added about 15 million lbs. of capacity to the facility, Matt says.

“We needed to expand our food-safety capability plus address some ergonomic issues in our existing processes,” Peter says. “It’s giving us product with no preservatives added and tremendous shelf-life, upwards of 90 days. We addressed most of the repetitive-motion and lifting issues by utilizing robotics. It also improved productivity. Where that line operates today used to be dead storage space. We get about 180 lbs. per-man-hour out of that footprint. That’s a big strategy for us.”

Other benefits include product uniformity, increases in yield and food-safety benefits, such as the final cooking and chilling is done in the package.

At the front of the PureLink system, devices stuff, link and cut the sausage links into lengths. Product then transfers to a loading device where individual links are automatically loaded into the cooking and smoking module. Kayem’s system can use both natural and liquid smoke.

Product then passes through a series of zones that apply the smoke, flavor and coloring. Next, product is automatically transferred to a robotic loading device that loads product into a package. Packages are then sealed, evacuated and labeled and transfered to the pasteurizer where packaged product is brought up to final cooking temperature (the technology can fully or par cook) and then chilled down. It is then discharged to a dry-off device and sent to a boxing and palletizing station via robotics.

Packaging at Chelsea primarily consists of vacuum packaging and gas-flushing packaging.


To further ramp-up operations, the company recruited professionals from outside of the company. “Kayem has been hiring professional managers since the late 1990s to partner with the family-based leadership to take the business to the next level,” Matt says.

Kayem president and CEO Ralph Smith, who assumed both positions in September 2008 when former president and CEO Ray Monkiewicz became chairman, is the first non-family CEO. Smith was an executive with LE Mason before joining Kayem in 2001 as CFO. John Gary Jr. came from Sara Lee Corp. and recently retired as vice president of operations. He continues to work as a project consultant. Chris Reisner, vice president of sales, worked for Johnsonville Sausage. Steve Tapley, Chelsea plant manager, has more than 20 years of industry experience including a stint at Tyson Foods. Matt O’Malley, vice president of sausage operations, worked for ConAgra among other companies. Dr. Robert Campbell, director of quality control, has vast food-science experience from working for companies such as IBP Inc., West Liberty Foods and Salm Partners. Vinnie Palazzo, HR director, came from Monsanto; Bob Kufferman, senior brand manager, came from Dunkin’ Donuts, and Sarah Crowley, senior brand manager of al fresco all natural, came from Staples.

The ISO factor

Years ago, Kayem executives began pursuing the ISO 9000 designation.

“The growth Kayem underwent in the late 1980s and 1990s created the need to have all procedures and practices very specifically documented and controlled for quality, consistency, training and promoting our talent from within,” Peter says. “Implementing ISO 9000 enabled Kayem to have reviews in place when procedures would change.”

While Kayem still finds value in the ISO 9000 quality standards, it has since integrated these standards with its HACCP. It was certified BRC last year.

Pathogen interventions used at Kayem’s Chelsea plant include lauric arginate, sodium diacetate, potassium lactate and cook-in packaging.

Kayem Foods launched its META (“goal” in Spanish) continuous-improvement platform in 2007, which encourages employees to get involved and be a part of its success. By using META philosophies and practices, the company has saved a significant amount of money on packaging, energy expenses and operational expenses.

Product highlights

Although almost 87 percent of Kayem’s production mix is retail and foodservice products total 13 percent, it is working at opening markets throughout the US in the foodservice arena.

Kayem Foods makes several all natural items, but does not offer organic products. “al fresco products are all natural, including chicken dinner sausage, chicken breakfast sausage, chicken meatballs, chicken burgers and uncured chicken franks,” Matt says. “Our Kayem Italian Sausage line is all natural, as well as our new Kayem Lean Franks, which are lower in fat and sodium and are uncured.”

“Many consumers are trying to eat better, but they also want ‘delicious’ and ‘healthy’ in the same package – which we offer,” Crowley says. “In the past year, the volume of dinner sausage has grown about 4 percent, but chicken sausage has grown about 40 percent – and we’re the No. 1 chicken-sausage processor. Consumer trends are working in favor of al fresco.”

Recipe creation helps drive the al fresco business. “Fifty percent of the time people buy al fresco products to use as an ingredient. On our website, we feature approximately 200 recipes,” Crowley adds. “We’ve partnered recently with, which gets about 20 million visitors per year.”

Supplying sports venues is a growing business for the Kayem brand. The company supplies Kayem franks and sausages to the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Marlins.

Kayem brand products are successful because consumers want a brand they can trust, says Bob Kufferman, Kayem senior brand manager.”

Kayem has long supported many Minor League teams throughout New England. To maximize its branding efforts, it began reaching out to professional teams and in 2009 became the Official Frank of the Boston Red Sox. Kayem is also the No. 1 brand of franks in New England.

“Through relationship building and the success of this program, Kayem used sports programs to open new markets such as Florida [its fastest-growing market], with retail through the branding efforts of these high-profile sports venues,” Matt says.

Kayem’s Research & Development team includes a director of R&D, corporate chef, labeling expert and a food technologist. It constantly works on line extensions and researching new product categories Kayem could enter.

“We feel product development is the life-blood of Kayem and the key to future growth,” Matt says.

Recent new-product successes include al fresco all natural Smoked Andouille, the first smoked-sausage entry for al fresco. Kayem Lean Franks with 75 percent less fat, 50 percent less calories and 45 percent less sodium were also recently launched.

Kayem’s R&D/Pilot Kitchen, managed by Susanna Tolini, product development chef/Certified Research Chef, makes bench-top samples, tests seasonings and flavorings and conducts sensory evaluation and more.

Products made in the Chelsea plant are distributed nationally and on a limited basis internationally.

What’s next?

Kayem Foods has expanded its Chelsea facility as far as it can. “But we believe there is a lot of opportunity for us to get more productivity out of this footprint [using more automation],” Peter says.

The company plans to continue creating new, premium products.

“We’re focused on high-end products,” Matt says. “The push toward all natural products, clean labels and healthier options will drive our efforts.”