Simmons Foods’ Brian Dietrich on Operations, Supply Chain, Growth
Simmons Foods and its affiliates are leading suppliers of poultry, pet and animal nutrition products. Based in Siloam Springs, its collective team is 9,000 members strong.
Simmons Prepared Foods ranks in the top 15 poultry producers in the United States, producing premium chicken for leading restaurants and retailers around the world. Simmons Pet Food is the largest supplier of store-brand wet pet food in North America, supplying top brands and retailers with products in a variety of formats, including cans, pouches and cups.
Simmons Animal Nutrition boasts an innovative line of wet and dry protein ingredients for animal diets and supplies products to top brands in pet food, aquaculture and animal feed industries.
Simmons Foods is a third-generation, family-owned business started in 1949 with founder M.H. “Bill” Simmons. His son, Mark Simmons, took the helm of the company in 1974 and now serves as board chair. Mark’s son, Todd Simmons, became CEO in 2012.
In 2021, Simmons Foods’ total revenues grew to $2.4 billion, up from $2 billion in 2020.
Simmons and its affiliates serve customers in 50 states and more than 40 countries.
We visited with Brian Dietrich, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Secretary for Simmons Foods Inc., about the company’s recent growth.
AMP: Tell us about Simmons’ Arkansas plants. Where are they located, and what are the main operations at each facility?
Dietrich: Simmons Prepared Foods has a total of six chicken production facilities. This includes two harvest facilities — one near Gentry in Northwest Arkansas, which opened in 2019, and one in Southwest City, Mo., both of which produce fresh and frozen chicken. Then there are three facilities in the Van Buren-Fort Smith area, which produce portioned, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat chicken products. And there is one portioning operation in Siloam Springs.
The company also has three hatcheries in Arkansas and Missouri, two feed mills in Arkansas and Oklahoma, more than 300 independent growers and more than 20 company-owned farms.
Simmons Animal Nutrition has five production facilities, including one in Siloam Springs, two in Missouri and two in the Northeast. Those facilities produce proprietary wet and dry protein ingredients for the top brands in pet food, aquaculture and animal feed industries.
Simmons Pet Food has five production facilities including one in Siloam Springs; two in Emporia, Kan.; one in Dubuque, Iowa; and one in Canada. These facilities produce wet pet food in cans and a variety of flexible packaging formats.
AMP: How long have you been with the company and what is your role?
Dietrich: I became a team member at Simmons Foods in November 2013. My current role is Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Secretary. Prior to this position, I served in several leadership roles until my appointment to CFO in December 2019. My career includes over 20 years of corporate accounting and finance experience.
AMP: It seems that most, if not all, of Simmons Foods’ operations could be vulnerable to recent product and supply chain issues. Which operations have been most affected by these issues, and what are some solutions that have been realized as a result?
Dietrich: We’ve been reminded over the last couple of years that everyone is vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. At Simmons, we have the advantage of the vertical integration of our business units — poultry, animal nutrition and pet food. This doesn’t eliminate all supply chain issues, but it does give us an edge in some cases. Beyond that, our approach is to have strong relationships and good communication with our suppliers and customers to ensure we are well-positioned to work through these challenges. It is also critical to have a broad base of vendors and a strong balance sheet to weather unforeseen events within the macroeconomic environment.
AMP: What led to the decision to expand the Van Buren operations, and what exactly will that expansion entail?
Dietrich: Customer demand for ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat products was a primary driver for the expansion of our “Van Buren Cook” facility. Another key factor was the collaboration and support from the community. Those long-term relationships are important when a $100 million investment is being made.
This project will add 65,000 square feet to the existing plant. Two new production lines will be installed, adding over 20,000 pounds of capacity per hour. Currently, the plant has three production lines. The project also includes fully automated packaging and palletizing systems and additional cold storage.
AMP: What are some key innovations consumers can anticipate from Simmons Foods in the near future?
Dietrich: Simmons takes great pride in our talented and committed team members. They give us the ability to lead with technical expertise as we produce high-quality, customized products. As a private label business, we help our customers to be successful in building their brands. Part of this process is providing leading consumer insights and R&D services to our customers. The result can be creative packaging solutions, new product formulations or value-added products to reduce preparation time in restaurant kitchens.
AMP: As the CFO, how do you balance the competing needs and priorities of three distinct businesses?
Dietrich: We are experiencing strong demand growth across all of our businesses and that creates opportunities for capital projects and competition for investment dollars. We have to be intentional about looking across the entire business, and using a collaborative process as we develop and execute against our strategic growth plan. We refer to this as a “One Simmons” approach. This helps provide alignment, accountability and shared success.