John 2
Dietz & Watson's John Schoenfellinger holds the plaque commemorating his successful career. 

Part of the family

In the ensuing 26 years, Schoenfellinger has been part of a family organization that has seen significant growth over that period of time. His contributions from both the engineering and operations standpoint have been key to the company’s continued growth.

“I began working for the Eni family, and that’s where I’ve been ever since. I started at Dietz & Watson running the maintenance department, while also doing some engineering. After a short period of time, I became engineering manager, and in 2000, I became vice president of engineering.”

In Schoenfellinger’s tenure at Dietz & Watson, production volume and revenue has grown tenfold. Chris Eni, COO at Dietz & Watson, credits Schoenfellinger for his role in the company’s growth. Eni comments on Schoenfellinger’s time there.

“Since arriving at Dietz & Watson in 1990, John’s creativity, engineering expertise, and leadership skills with people has not only helped us grow volume many times over, but has also helped drive productivity that has allowed our company to grow its customer base while retaining the premium quality that has made us successful.

“John is that rare person who not only has the engineering skills to design complex equipment, but is willing to work side by side with the maintenance personnel to successfully install such equipment and to teach people how to use it. I know there has been many a long weekend that John has spent, at any one of our facilities, making sure an installation went exactly as he had planned,” Eni says.

Growing Plants

Part of the company’s growth has come through acquisitions in the last two decades, and Schoenfellinger’s role was to bring Dietz & Watson operating sensibilities to the acquired plants.

The company’s first production foray outside the Philadelphia area was in 1999, when Dietz & Watson acquired the former Parks Sausage in Baltimore, Maryland. Schoenfellinger’s assignment was to convert a sausage plant to a poultry processing plant, and increase plant capabilities while doing so.

“Parks Sausage was a small sausage processor that was doing 60,000 lbs. per week. We took that facility and brought the sausage production to our facility in Philadelphia, which was assimilated here without much notice,” Schoenfellinger says with discernible pride, “because we are so much more efficient here.”

“I spent a year-and-a-half retrofitting that facility to process poultry products, primarily turkey. We took the facility from a sausage plant that produced 60,000 lbs. per week, to a poultry processing facility that is putting out 2 million lbs. of turkey and chicken per week with almost no increase in footprint of the facility. We bring in raw material, mostly turkey and some chicken breasts. The finished deli items go to our warehouse for distribution, and the logs for slicing go to our Philadelphia plant for finished processing and packaging.”

Another acquisition for the deli meats manufacturer was the purchase of the Yancey’s Fancy plant in Corfu, New York, in 2004. Yancey’s Fancy was an artisan cheese producer that was already supplying products for D&W’s deli business, and was a natural addition to the D&W lineup. They made cheese the way that Dietz & Watson makes deli meats – Old World formulas made the old fashioned way, maintaining product quality and integrity with modern packaging methods.

So how was it for meat guys getting into the cheese business?

“We didn’t change the cheese making process, they already had a great product. But we added new packaging systems to increase the output of the original facility,” Schoenfellinger says.

Philadephia Plant

The heart and soul of the D&W operation is the Philadelphia plant, and the evolution of the operation during Schoenfellinger’s 26 years there has been a labor of love.

“The plant was a hog slaughtering facility in the early 1970s. That’s when Dietz & Watson originally moved here. We’re close to 300,000 sq. ft. in this facility. It was around 60,000 to 100,000 sq. ft. as a slaughter facility. Along with the growth in physical size is the modernization of the equipment to get more pounds throughput per square foot,” he says. “We’ve achieved the output per square foot by utilizing more efficient equipment, higher speed equipment, in particular with the packaging machines. We’ve also increased cooking and chilling capacities along with that.”

The concept of improving “throughput per square foot” is a common thread that weaves throughout the conversation with Schoenfellinger. Through much of his career with Dietz & Watson, he has dealt with the constraints of limited space. “For many years our plant was landlocked, and we couldn’t expand outward, so we had to make the best use of the space we had,” he says.

Managing throughout

“We have so many products to keep track of, and that’s very challenging. Part of our success is the way we cater to our customers – some products we make in small quantities for just one customer, as a convenience for them, hoping they’ll buy other products, which they always do.

“It’s challenging for us from the manufacturing standpoint to be able to get the throughput with all of these changeovers. And it’s not just equipment changeovers, it’s also sanitation changeovers, and species changeovers. There’s a lot involved in trying to produce so many items all the time,” Schoenfellinger explains.

The complexity of managing this production is intertwined with the wide number and variety of products that are made in the Philadelphia plant. With over 1,000 SKUs in the warehouse, the challenge of producing such a wide range of products, including some very small runs, is an everyday affair. And that includes a wide variety of D&W’s signature hot dogs.

“With hot dogs, a lot of manufacturing facilities will specialize in a few items, generally the same size because of cooking times. They can utilize continuous runs to make mass quantities of frankfurters per hour; but they don’t change over.

“We make over a hundred different SKUs of frankfurters: six inch, five inch, footlongs, different flavors, different brands, different pack sizes,” he says.

Rich Wright, vice president of sales and marketing, adds, “It’s not just skinless, mass produced hot dogs. We are a German company with German heritage dating back to the 1930s, so we have a lot of hot dog and sausage recipes made with natural casings. It’s a 4th generation family company where a lot of the recipes and a lot of the techniques used back then are currently used in present day production.”

Talking to Schoenfellinger about production throughput is like listening to a lecture on the Theory of Constraints according to Schoenfellinger. He is continually solving the next bottleneck, reducing the next changeover time, improving the operating efficiency of the next forming, grinding, extruding, cooking, chilling or packaging machine. He refuses to acknowledge that a bottleneck can’t be improved.

“When things aren’t right, it’s not acceptable to say, ‘Well, that’s how it works; there’s nothing we can do.’ We’re going to find the solution. I always say, ‘There are no problems, only solutions.’ And there always is. It’s important that everything that is to be accomplished comes to fruition, no matter what. If it takes three straight days, what we call marathon weekends, so be it – whatever it takes to accomplish things,” Schoenfellinger explains.

Creativity and perseverance is Schoenfellinger’s modus operandi. “The maintenance department cringes when I mention that I have a five-minute project,” 
he laughs.