Food production: Sustainability seen as key ingredient

Bob Kessler is president and CEO of Kessler Foods in Lemoyne. - (Photo / Jeff Lautenberger)

Kessler’s Inc. is over a century old, but its leaders are thinking of the future by introducing sustainable manufacturing practices.

Officials at the Lemoyne-based company, which does business as Kessler Foods and produces various meat products, developed a “green initiative” about five years ago to reduce its environmental impact through new and retrofitted technologies, new products and employee efforts.

The initiative, a collaborative effort by company president and CEO Bob Kessler and officials in maintenance, operations and finance, is outlined in a living document, regularly updated and revisited to reflect new practices, said Kessler.

For Kessler, sustainability is as much about environmental stewardship as it is cost savings and increased efficiency. Occasional tax incentives for green equipment are helpful, Kessler said, “but to me, it’s quite an incentive to keep our energy costs as low as possible.”

Much of the efforts under Kessler’s green initiative focus on improvements to its existing equipment, which is built to last, Kessler said.

Like other manufacturers, Kessler is adopting automated tools in its operations, incorporating smart technology to work alongside employees to improve both energy efficiency and safety.

“Whenever we can replace something that’s done manually with something done mechanically, we do that. It’s faster, it’s safer for our team members and often times, it’s more sanitary,” Kessler said. Robotics and smart technology have not replaced or displaced Kessler’s 37 employees, he added.

Several years ago, computer controls were added to equipment that controls smokehouses and cook ovens to prevent excessive use of natural gas and steam.

Another component of Kessler’s green initiative was implemented about 10 years ago when solar panels were installed. Solar power now heats water for boilers and sanitation, which has cut down on the company’s use of natural gas.

One of Kessler’s longest-running sustainability initiatives is its use of liquid smoke for its smoked foods. Kessler, perhaps most well-known for its Nittany Lion Franks products, made a switch from whole smoke (smoke produced from burning whole materials like wood) to purified liquid, natural hickory-derived smoke over 20 years ago and upgraded its existing smokehouses accordingly.

Not only does the use of liquid smoke create a more consistent taste and color in Kessler’s franks and sausages, it’s also cleaner than whole smoke, helping the company to slash carbon emissions and improve employee safety.

Other sustainable efforts at the company include: reducing water usage by instead using foaming agents for sanitizing equipment; introducing a new line of antibiotic-free and organic meat and poultry; buying fuel-efficient vehicles; reducing paper waste; following proper recycling practices; installing more efficient lighting; and conserving power by, for example, turning computers and other electronics to “sleep” mode.

Kessler estimated his company, which reported about $6 million in revenue in 2017, saves about $4,000 annually from its sustainability efforts.

The upfront investment in sustainable technology may be costly, Kessler said. But for a long-established company like his, green practices are feasible. At more than a century old, Kessler found that sustainability efforts have helped his company maintain momentum.

“We’re in this for the long run, so to me, it’s wise to invest in equipment that helps with sustainability,” Kessler said. “It helps our bottom line. That’s the short and simple answer.”

But those investments are about more than the money.

“I believe all business people have to be good stewards and take care of the beautiful earth,” Kessler said.

Becca Oken-Tatum
Becca Oken-Tatum is the web editor for the Central Penn Business Journal. She also coordinates and writes for CPBJ's monthly Young Professionals e-newsletter. Email her questions, comments and tips at btatum@cpbj.com.

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