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Original article

20th Anniversary Volume

Optimisation of large-scale food production using Lean

Manufacturing principles
Eva Høy Engelund,* Gitte Breum† and Alan Friis*
*Technical University of Denmark, DK-2800 Lyngby, Denmark; †The Central Kitchen, Glostrup Hospital,
DK-2600 Glostrup, Denmark


Correspondence: This paper discusses how the production principles of Lean Manufacturing
Eva Høy Engelund, The (Lean) can be applied in a large-scale meal production. Lean principles are
National Food Institute briefly presented, followed by a field study of how a kitchen at a Danish
Building 227,1.,
Technical University of
hospital has implemented Lean in the daily production. In the kitchen, the
Denmark, DK-2800 main purposes of implementing Lean were to rationalise internal procedures
Lyngby, Denmark. Tel: and to increase production efficiency following a change from cook-serve
+45 45255505; Fax: production to cook-chill, and a reduction in the number of employees. It was
+45 45939600; E-mail: also important that product quality and working environment should not be
negatively affected by the rationalisation of production procedures. The field
Keywords: study shows that Lean principles can be applied in meal production and can
foodservice, Lean result in increased production efficiency and systematic improvement of
Manufacturing, meal product quality without negative effects on the working environment. The
production, meals, results show that Lean can be applied and used to manage the production of
optimisation, planning
meals in the kitchen.

packing, hot fill and similar packing methods,

which all aim at prolonging the shelf life of meals
Public foodservice in many countries, including (Benner et al. 2003; McClelland & Williams
Denmark, is currently undergoing changes 2003). Cook-chill systems are more efficient than
(Hwang et al. 1999; Silverman et al. 2000; Mibey traditional cook-serve production, and generally
& Williams 2002; Engelund et al. 2007). Tradi- bring the possibility of reducing staff and thereby
tionally, foodservice has been organized with costs of production (Clark 1997; McClelland &
meal production carried out in kitchens placed Williams 2003).
near the end-users of the services. To reduce pro- The replacement of traditional cooking proce-
duction costs, sites have been concentrated in dures with cook-chill technology and concurrent
fewer, larger kitchens from where food is distrib- separation of cooking and serving introduce a
uted to satellite kitchens for final preparation and new paradigm in a large-scale meal production.
serving (Engelund et al. 2007). This restructuring When technology changes and output reaches a
has often been combined with a change in pro- certain size, the traditional cooking procedures
duction methods and production technologies established for smaller scale cook-serve pro-
used to increase output quantities. Cook-chill is duction are no longer suitable. They do not
the prevalent production principle that is often automatically fit production systems with in-
combined with the use of modified atmosphere creased scales of output because criteria, such as

4 © 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-0159.2008.00109.x
Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production 5

volume-to-surface ratio and product time tem- high-volume repetitive manufacturing (Hines
perature history, are altered (Rodgers 2005c). et al. 2004) or mass production (James-Moore &
Internal production processes must change to Gibbons 1997), and the original version of Lean
reflect the demands for increased output, espe- focused on explaining the benefits in similar
cially when the number of employees is simul- operations. However, over the years, Lean has
taneously reduced. Hence, the rethinking of been adapted to fit a variety of industries, admin-
procedures and management of operations are istration and services with great success (Bowen
becoming increasingly necessary to maintain the & Youngdahl 1998; Bicheno 2004).
control of product quality when changing pro- Womack & Jones (2003) claim that Lean is a
duction systems (Rodgers 2005b). tool to ‘banish waste and create wealth in your
An industrial production principle, ‘Lean corporation’. Others characterise Lean as ‘an
Manufacturing’ (Lean), which originally stems intellectual approach consisting of a system of
from the mass production of automobiles, has measures and methods, which when brought all
successfully been applied to manage a variety of together have the potential to bring about a
production and service industries, and resulted “lean” and therefore particularly competitive
in both increased efficiency of procedures and state in a company’ (Warnecke & Hüser 1995).
improved product quality (Bowen & Youngdahl Yet others say that Lean is ‘giving people at all
1998; Bicheno 2004). As large-scale foodservice levels of an organisation the skills and shared
in general is facing demands for increased effi- means of thinking, to systematically drive out
ciency of production, the application of mana- waste by designing better ways of working,
gement principles in the foodservice sector is improving connections and easing flows within
becoming increasingly relevant. supply chains’ (Wood 2004). No matter what the
Applications of Lean in the food industry have definition is, the message is that a continuous
been described and discussed previously (Cox focus on value-adding activities through the elimi-
& Chicksand 2005; Lehtinen & Torkko 2005; nation of waste and connection of production
Stevenson & Jain 2005; Simons & Zokaei 2006; processes in a flow line will cut down costs of
Taylor 2006); however, this does not include the production and increase the competitiveness of a
applicability of Lean in the production of meals company.
for catering purposes.
This paper discusses the possibility of using
Value and waste in a production line
Lean Manufacturing principles in the manage-
ment of large-scale catering, and incorporates a Lean Manufacturing aims to increase customer-
field study with the practical implementation in a perceived value of products in every production
large kitchen. It commences with an introduction step. Value here is a characteristic that makes the
to Lean, followed by a presentation of the case product or service more valuable to the end cus-
kitchen and a description of the implementation tomer, for example, heat-treating components of
of Lean. a meal or mixing components in a culinary attrac-
tive way.
The contrast to value is waste, which is seen as
Lean Manufacturing
any activity that absorbs resources but creates no
Lean Manufacturing originally stemmed from the value (Wood 2004). Examples are excess heat
Japanese car producer Toyota. The production treatment of food or an increased number of han-
principle was later described and conceptualised dlings resulting from less than optimal planning
by Womack & Jones (2003) and Bicheno (2004), procedures. Originally, seven types of waste were
who found Toyota’s car production highly com- identified: waste from waiting, transporting, over-
petitive and superior to western production production, defects (rework products, paper-
systems, and made it their mission to spread the work errors and mistakes), unnecessary motion
knowledge of this production principle. To reflect (moving of people), inventories (overstocking),
the fitness of the system, they gave it the name and finally from unnecessary processing (packag-
‘Lean’. Car production can be characterised as ing, wrong equipment for job). Later, two more

© 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
6 Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production

types of waste have been added: design of goods dures, as seen in mass production, and aims to
and services, which does not meet customer reduce the amount of resources locked up in
needs, and untapped human potential. inventories. It implies that production must be
This categorisation implies that waste is not just-in-time, both internally between processes
only assigned to products but also to activities. and externally when delivering products to the
Wasteful activities must be avoided as they end-user.
increase the overall production time, reduce effi- The fifth principle is about pursuing perfection
ciency of the line, and absorb resources. Hence, through a continuous improvement. This is not
waste increases the costs of production (Womack only about creating a product that the customer
& Jones 2003), and eliminating this category of requires with a minimum of defects, but also
activities is the means to increase the efficiency of includes the perfection of every action in connec-
the production line (Simons & Zokaei 2006). But tion with the production process. It involves all
actually, Lean, as a production philosophy, is employees as they know procedures the most and
about preventing waste more than eliminating it are closest to make suggestions for improvement.
(Wood 2004). The involvement of everyone in the continuous
To facilitate the process of preventing waste in improvement is what makes Lean a philosophy –
production, Womack & Jones (2003) have sum- improving working processes is integrated in job
marised the essence of Lean in five principles that routines (Womack & Jones 2003; Bicheno 2004).
can be introduced into a production line using
Lean management tools. These Lean principles
The Lean management tools applied
and tools are described singly by Womack &
in the field study
Jones (2003) but work together systemwise in a
Lean setting. In the following section, Lean prin-
Value stream mapping
ciples and the tools relevant for this study are
presented. The tool ‘value stream mapping’ refers to the
identification and mapping of the processing of a
product or product group. It is used to get an
The five Lean principles
overview of existing production and activities as
The critical starting point when changing a con- it identifies all procedures from product design to
ventional production line into a Lean process is production and distribution of end products. The
the determination of value from the customers’ mapping (a real map is drawn) shows the location
points of view, which is important as the goal of of production equipment in use, and from the
the Lean process is a line where every activity map, the production process can be seen. With
adds a specified customer value to the product. the customers’ requirements for product charac-
Having identified the value of products, the teristics in mind, the map is used to characterise
second step is to identify and map the value activities as ‘value-creating’ or ‘nonvalue-
stream in the production line. Value stream creating’, the latter being eliminated in order to
mapping refers to the mapping of a product’s obtain an efficient and customer-oriented produc-
route and is explained in more detail further. tion line consisting of value-creating activities.
The third principle is the connection of value-
creating activities in a continuous flow process.
The housekeeping tool ‘5S’
Every bottleneck or ‘batch and queue’ process
must be avoided to obtain an uninterrupted flow Organisation of raw materials and utensils is also
throughout the production. The ‘ideal’ produc- a way to prevent wasteful production activities.
tion flow is drawn on a map, and existing proce- The ‘housekeeping’ tool 5S, which stands for sort
dures changed and equipment relocated to reflect (equipment, remove what is not used), simplify
this. (equipment and tools must be in the right place),
The fourth principle is not to produce anything sweep (tidiness, but also routine checking of
‘upstream’ unless it is needed ‘downstream’. The equipment for defects), standardise (working pro-
principle is in contrast to batch and queue proce- cedures) and sustain (housekeeping is an ongoing

© 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production 7

procedure), supplies a set of practices that results

Use of measurable parameters and exchange of
in improved organisation of production if incor-
information in production
porated in the daily routines. Implementation
leads to a reduction in time wasted on nonvalue- Preventing waste is also about the clear commu-
adding activities, for example, locating tools or nication of goals in production, and Lean favours
raw materials that are needed in production, measurable parameters to express the state of
thereby increasing the time available for value- production, customer satisfaction with products,
adding activities leading to a more efficient number of defects, or other parameters that are
production. found to be important for production perfor-
mance. It demands the systematic collection of
data on performance, which, for example, in pro-
Improvement of production processes: Kaizen
duction can be performed by scheduling several
and Kaizen Blitz
short meetings (5 min) among team leaders. The
There are two elements to improvement: the purpose of these meetings is to exchange informa-
daily continuous improvement (Kaizen), that is, tion on the workload of single teams and on the
everyday small improvements of processes, and progress of their tasks. The information should
breakthrough improvements (Kaizen Blitz), the be displayed in the production area to ensure
result of a concentrated effort on one area of communication of the state of production to all
production. employees. The scheduled meetings are also a way
Kaizen involves all employees in production as to systematise communication among teams,
they are encouraged to come up with all kinds of and facilitate redistribution of resources with
suggestions for improvement of daily processes. the purpose of maximizing the efficiency of
In theory, nothing is too inferior and suggestions, production.
such as switching locations of two raw materials In summary, Lean is about delivering the best
or mounting a lamp in the production line, are all possible product value to the customer while opti-
considered, so long as they improve the efficiency mizing the use of production resources, and the
of production. To practise Kaizen, the collection method applied to achieve this is the elimination
of ideas is needed as well as the routines for of waste-using Lean tools. The involvement of
follow-up on the suggestions received. everyone in the continuous process of driving
Kaizen Blitz is a ‘here-and-now’ process to out wasteful procedures is what makes Lean a
improve the performance of one aspect of produc- philosophy rather than merely a production
tion, for example, one process, one area in the principle, and, once started, it is a never-ending
plant, or one safety issue. It involves a team of procedure that must be integrated into job rou-
both employees and management, who review tines (Womack & Jones 2003; Bicheno 2004).
machinery set-ups and production procedures to
identify possibilities for increasing efficiency.
Lean and meal production
During the Kaizen Blitz event, changes are imple-
mented and alterations in equipment are made to The central hypothesis of this paper is that Lean
observe the effect of the ideas, which may also principles can be applied in meal production to
cause new ideas to emerge. This process continues increase the efficiency of processes without reduc-
until the team is satisfied or the Kaizen Blitz event ing the quality of meals prepared. The questions
is over. to be answered are as follows: How this may look
Kaizen Blitz events are highly efficient tools and in reality, What challenges this may bring, and
are responsible for improvements to production Why the principles may be useful.
performance as resources are concentrated Lean stems from mass production of non-
(Bicheno 2004). However, it typically increases perishable goods, thus, all Lean principles and
flow and efficiency in one area of the production tools may not be equally applicable in food pro-
and not in the production line, and hence needs to duction, but it is, of course, important to consider
be repeated frequently to continuously increase this aspect when discussing the implementation of
efficiency. Lean in meal production.

© 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
8 Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production

Lean deals with the identification of customer

Lean and product quality control
demands, flow in the production line, organisa-
The most important characteristics of meal prod- tional issues of production and continuous
ucts include the perishable nature of raw and improvement of processes, whereas HACCP pro-
processed materials (Stevenson & Jain 2005). It grammes identify if and how product quality can
implies that product quality will change irrevers- be challenged in a production line. The safety
ibly during processing and storing (Mibey & aspects of meal production are an example of the
Williams 2002; Benner et al. 2003). need to adjust Lean principles to the specific
The quality of meals produced is complex to requirements of a production scenario where it is
define, and usually parameters, such as odour, necessary to take these into account.
colour, microbial population and vitamin reten-
tion, are used as indicators along with texture
Pace and flow of production
(Rodgers 2005c). These parameters are difficult
to measure in a large-scale kitchen, thus, it is Another major difference between Lean and
extremely important to control the production traditional food production is the standardisation
parameters to avoid unintended changes in of products and coordination of procedures to
product quality. During processing, in the storage follow a certain pace in the production line. Stan-
of intermediate produce and in the storage of dardised procedures are extremely useful in food
finished products, controlling the production production, especially to ensure the chilling of
parameters are decisive to achieve the required food within the required time frame, and deter-
meal quality. It should also be recognised that mining the pace of production (the time used for
non-optimal processing may not have an imme- preparation of single components) is advanta-
diate effect on product quality but can show later geous in all kinds of mass production including
when, for example, the storage ability is reduced food (Simons & Zokaei 2006). In meal produc-
or the product sensory quality is impaired. There- tion, however, procedures can only be standard-
fore, a production principle suitable for meal ised to the point where natural variation in raw
production must both focus on controlling the materials is still considered. The variation in size
process parameters and on increasing the flow in and shape of similar ingredients is a major differ-
line. ence between the production of spare parts in
In Lean, analyses of the production line are car production and the production of food. To
performed to optimise the use of resources and achieve standardisation and flow under these con-
avoid wasteful procedures with the overall aims ditions is another challenge when applying Lean
of increasing the in-line flow and product value to principles to meal production.
the customer. This, it is argued, is in agreement
with the need to control the parameters during
Lean as a quality management tool
meal production, and Lean principles can support
the process of adequate planning and managing It may be questioned if the purposes and tools of
meal production processes. Lean differ from those found in other manage-
It is, however, important to remember that ment principles, for example, the total quality
Lean does not, in its original form, address the management (TQM) or Six Sigma. These produc-
safety aspects of food production. In meal pro- tion principles all stem from the Japanese quality
duction, the documentation of food safety is sup- evolution, but where the origin of TQM has not
ported by quality control programmes, which are been identified, Lean stems from Toyota, and Six
often developed from Hazard Analysis Critical Sigma from Motorola. Identification of the
Control Point (HACCP) procedures in agree- origins makes it possible to observe how Lean and
ment with national legal requirements (Rodgers Six Sigma are practised within their original
2005a). Although Lean aims to deliver value to frameworks, and makes the theoretic principles
the customer, it is a production philosophy and less diffuse and easier to translate into actions
not a quality control programme, and there are than those of the TQM (Andersson et al. 2006;
major differences between Lean and HACCP. Dahlgaard & Dahlgaard-Park 2006). Lean, Six

© 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production 9

Sigma and TQM can be seen as complementary

The case study kitchen
management principles as they differ in both
theory and approach, and the principles can be Glostrup Hospital is situated in the greater
used singly or combined (Andersson et al. 2006). Copenhagen area in Denmark. The central
Both Lean and Six Sigma can be used as ‘road kitchen is situated inside the Hospital grounds in
maps’ that support the practice of TQM a separate building, and every day, meals for
within an organisation (Andersson et al. 2006; approximately 1000 patients are produced and
Dahlgaard & Dahlgaard-Park 2006). However, distributed from the kitchen.
as Six Sigma is based primarily on statistics, Lean In 2005, the hospital’s management took the
focuses on improving production flow and reduc- decision that all services should be Lean, and to
ing waste. This difference in approach may be cut the costs of meal production, the kitchen
part of the explanation why Lean is more widely was forced to replace cook-serve with cook-chill
applied than the Six Sigma (Andersson et al. production and reduce the number of foodser-
2006), and it is also the reason why Lean prin- vice employees from 71 to 54. This brought
ciples are likely to be more suitable for meal pro- about a need to review and optimise the produc-
duction than either the TQM or the Six Sigma. tion procedures to maintain both output quan-
tity and quality. The change of production
system to cook-chill also had an impact on
the end-product quality as recipes and produc-
This research is a field study of how large-scale tion procedures needed adjustments. Therefore,
meal production can benefit from applying Lean in the systematic evaluation and improvement of
daily management and production planning. Data product quality was given a high priority in the
were obtained through interviews with kitchen kitchen.
managers supplemented with observations of The internal working environment in the
kitchen facilities and production procedures. kitchen was important to the manager as she
The case kitchen at Glostrup Hospital, insisted on maintaining this as a high priority
Denmark, was visited twice during the implemen- during and after the rationalisation process, and
tation process, and the managers were inter- that increased efficiency of production processes
viewed about procedures and perspectives of was obtained by the optimisation of procedures
working with Lean. Based on these interviews, the and not by making the staff work faster. Because
practical application of Lean in the kitchen is of these reservations, the implementation of Lean
discussed. At the time of the interviews, the was expected to result in both increased efficiency
process of implementing Lean had been running of processes and improved product quality while
for about 1 year, and the discussion deals with the ensuring a pleasant working environment for the
results gained so far, as the process of implement- remaining employees. The implementation of
ing is ongoing. From the observations, those Lean Lean in the kitchen began shortly after the change
principles and tools that have proved most appli- to cook-chill processing and before procedures
cable in attaining the goals set by the managers became routine.
are also discussed.
Lean is discussed at a plant level in contrast to
Meal production in Glostrup Hospital’s
supply chain level, multiple plants and single-
central kitchen
process levels (Rother & Shook 1999), and is
limited to the production plant level, and internal The kitchen produces most components of the
procedures with supply and distribution only meals themselves including breads, soups and
briefly being considered. A similar approach is processed vegetables. Previously with cook-serve
used in the discussion of Lean in red meat pro- production, there were separate production lines
cessing (Simons & Zokaei 2006) and in the pro- for hot meal components, vegetables, baked
duction of ketchup, jams and the like (Lehtinen & products, desserts and cold products (traditional
Torkko 2005), and is generally accepted (Rother Danish ‘smørrebrød’ or open sandwiches, sand-
& Shook 1999). wiches, breakfast items, etc.). For these meals,

© 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
10 Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production

all items were prepared, processed and kept tion of the exact number of meals ordered. This
warm until service. Initially, when changing to procedure contradicted the ‘pull’ principle in
cook-chill production, the separation of produc- Lean, which dictates that products should only be
tion according to meal was maintained with pro- processed when orders are received in order to
cessed meal components being assembled into minimise waste. As the routine of storing prod-
meals, packed and stored for up to 3 days before ucts for 3 days did not add value to the meals, it
final distribution to hospital wards. The packag- was categorised as waste and should be avoided,
ing was standardised in two, five or seven por- thereby increasing efficiency.
tions per pack, and the wards received the Kaizen Blitz activities were performed in
portion sizes equal to or the closest number selected areas of production. ‘Cold production’
above their actual orders. This practice of stan- was the first to have its routines observed, dis-
dardizing packaging was accepted by the man- cussed and optimised as procedures were found to
agement as a pragmatic practice of cook-chill include considerable excesses in the handling of
production. products. Next in line were the packing facilities
The kitchen staff are very international as and transport equipment.
employees come from 12 different nationalities, The housekeeping system 5S was first applied
which in turn complicates conversations. The in the storage facilities and in separate areas of the
manager chose to overcome this problem by using kitchen. The purpose was to minimise the time
both visual effects and written words in her daily used to locate ingredients and equipment needed
communication. in the production by systematically increasing the
organisation of the facilities.
Application of Lean in the kitchen
Evaluation and improvement of
The kitchen had three areas of focus during the
product quality
change to Lean, namely, improved efficiency to
reduce costs, improved product quality and To improve product quality, the Lean tool of mea-
maintenance of a pleasant working environment surable or visual parameters to express the state
in the kitchen. The following describes how of processes and to facilitate communication
Lean was applied in these areas and the results among groups of employees was used. The imple-
achieved. mentation of cook-chill production procedures
called for a systematic evaluation of product
quality. A graph on display in the production
Improving efficiency of production processes in
facility showing the daily number of comments on
the kitchen
food quality was chosen as an expression of cus-
The challenges in becoming Lean are to increase tomer satisfaction with product quality. The
the production efficiency through a reduction of number of complaints for each meal component,
product waste and an increased process flow. based on feedback received from wards and
Selected Lean tools were applied in the produc- patients, was totalled and each day marked on the
tion to establish how existing procedures could be graph. This procedure was chosen as a way to
optimised, namely, value stream, Kaizen Blitz and ensure communication of customer product satis-
the housekeeping discipline 5S. faction to all employees.
Value stream mapping of a single product was An internal quality control system was devel-
the first tool used to visualise the flow in existing oped to reflect the need for adjusting recipes to
processes, and the experience from this was sub- improve meal quality after the change from cook-
sequently used to identify the flow in other pro- serve to cook-chill production. It consisted of a
cesses. Value stream mapping highlighted the three-colour gradation of product acceptability
procedures of packing and storing meals for up to where red refers to ‘not acceptable’; yellow,
3 days before use. Meals were prepared, por- ‘acceptable’; and green, ‘good’. The testing of
tioned and packed before actual orders were product quality was performed internally in the
received, and the routine often hindered distribu- kitchen, and the products had to obtain a yellow

© 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production 11

to pass. This system was developed to visualise

Results and discussion
the progress of adjusting existing procedures to
cook-chill production.
Improving production process efficiency
with Lean
Maintaining focus on the working
The three tools, value stream mapping, Kaizen
Blitz and implementation of 5S, all contributed to
The Lean principle of involving all employees in improved production efficiency by reducing the
the daily improvement of production processes amount of product waste and wasteful proce-
(Kaizen) was applied as part of the effort to dures. Value stream mapping made it clear that
improve the working environment. Before Lean the procedure of storing finished meals included
was implemented, the working environment was wasteful activities as it contradicted the principle
already addressed through teamwork and joint of letting customers pull products from produc-
responsibility. During Lean, it was extended to tion. Waste from the distribution of excess meals
involve the continuous improvement of processes was estimated as being up to 10% of the number
(Kaizen). Process improvement was based on the of meals distributed. The portioning procedure
facilitation of job routines as the way to optimise was changed, and only low cost products (por-
production flow. To involve staff as much as ridge, sauces and soups) were portioned in stan-
possible in the continuous improvement of pro- dard sizes, while meat dishes were portioned and
cesses, the systematic collection of suggestions packed when orders were received. This reduced
for improvement was needed. A system to do so the number of meals wasted to 5%. A further
was established (a whiteboard with a drawing of reduction demands a feedback of waste at the
production facilities, ‘post-it’ stickers and a pen ward level, but this cannot be established at the
to write down suggestions were located in the moment because of internal organisational barri-
production area). Every morning, a meeting for ers among the staff.
all employees was held in front of this white- The Kaizen Blitz events and the implementation
board, as were three daily briefings where team of 5S supported the process of increasing the flow
managers reported production status. The use of in production. Kaizen Blitz caused changes in the
the whiteboard as a meeting place ensured that processes and relocation of equipment in three
staff had regular contact with the whiteboard, areas: cold production, packing room and trans-
which enabled them to give suggestions for im- port equipment, which have benefited the flow in
provement by placing stickers on the board. This production. Defects were fixed and equipment
could also be carried out at any time throughout were optimised to facilitate production routines.
the day and independent of the presence of the Still, some nonvalue-adding handling had to
managers, and was considered more flexible to remain because of the temperature requirements
collect ideas. The systematic communication (quality related) of cooling products. The imple-
among team managers also facilitated the reloca- mentation of 5S in the storage facilities resulted in
tion of resources between teams when workloads improved organisation of ingredients and raw
demanded it. materials, which decreased the time needed to
All employees participated in a weekly meeting locate these. Alhough Kaizen Blitz and 5S had
to follow up on existing projects and prioritise different roles in the process, it was difficult to
new suggestions for improvements. The accept- make a fair split of results according to each tool,
ability of the working environment was expressed and both helped to facilitate the process of main-
through employee absence because of illness and taining output quantity with fewer production
the amount of overtime. The change to cook-chill employees.
technology had increased overtime in the kitchen, Another initiative designed to increase effi-
and employees wanted to reduce this burden; ciency was to change the production planning
therefore, these parameters were chosen to from meals to processes. Production of similar
express the state of the working environment in components but of different meals was changed to
the kitchen. one consecutive procedure, in contrast to the

© 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
12 Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production

former procedure of finishing one meal at a time. suggestions were actioned, an increasing number
The new practice reduced change-over times in of staff took an interest. Team spirit across
processing, and was extremely advantageous in existing teams has been improved with the
cook-chill production. This is because the distri- establishment of three daily status meetings. As
bution must be timely and separated from the information of workloads and time pressures was
processing of meals to show an effect of gathering shared among teams, they increasingly helped
production of similar products. each other finish the production tasks.
The focus on the reduction of overtime caused a
more flexible approach to the planning and perfor-
Evaluation and improvement of product quality
mance of production. As a reduction in the staff
The use of measurable parameters (the number of numbers, because of illnesses and holidays, was a
customer complaints and the colour system for reoccurring event, a general procedure to minimise
recipe acceptability) provided the staff with production tasks during these periods was estab-
benchmarks for product quality. The systematic lished. This involved a change in the menu so that
evaluation of product quality clarified where less work-intensive meals were substituted for the
improvements were needed, and facilitated the more demanding menus during these periods, and
communication between managers and respon- in this way, overtime was reduced.
sible employees. Combined with the use of cook- Another outcome of the focus on working envi-
chill technology, the systematic evaluation of ronment and reduction of overtime was the estab-
product quality has made the kitchen less liable to lishment of more flexible job tasks. An employee
distribute meal products of a questionable quality. with, for example, an aching back was offered a
It has also changed the culture in the kitchen as it part-time job or a change in job tasks to reduce
is now generally acceptable to ‘re-do’ products in the amount of absence because of illness and to
order to improve product quality. The additional minimise the loss of resources. This caused a
waste that this may cause is considered part of the change in attitude among the staff when they were
costs of training and adhering to processes in a too ill to go to work, and was part of the solution
new production system. to the problem of reducing overtime in the
The field study showed how Lean principles
Maintaining focus on the working environment
and tools can be successfully applied in a meal
The involvement of staff in the continuous production in a hospital kitchen. The implemen-
improvement of working processes and the estab- tation of Lean is a continuous change process,
lishment of ways to collect suggestions increased and thus it is difficult to quantify all results.
the number of ideas for changes. The actual Instead, progress can be expressed by qualitative
number of suggestions before and after the imple- evaluation of the effects of the principles imple-
mentation of Lean was not collected, but the mented, actions taken and changes made to the
manager’s clear impression was that the number organisation to achieve an improved performance
has risen. The suggestions cover everything from (Karlsson & Åhlström 1996). Following this pro-
the relocation of process equipment and raw cedure, the results can be summarised as follows:
materials in storage facilities, to changes in pro- 1 Increased flow as a result of optimizing han-
duction procedures. dling routines in selected areas and better plan-
The weekly follow-up meetings have made ning of the daily production;
more people interested in taking part in action to 2 reduced product waste resulting from changed
improve the working processes. It is the manag- storage and portioning routines;
er’s opinion that before the introduction of Lean, 3 improved efficiency in storage, transporting
a limited number of staff commented on pro- and packing procedures;
duction procedures, and process improvements 4 a common system involving all employees in
were seen as the management’s responsibility. improving/evaluating product quality;
However, as the new processes became more 5 increased team spirit; and
established and employees could see that their 6 reduction of overtime.

© 2008, The Authors

Journal compilation © 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Journal of Foodservice, 20, pp. 4–14
Lean Manufacturing & Meal Production 13

These results show that implementing Lean meals served and maintaining the costs within
principles and tools have caused positive changes what might be a low budget. The use of cook-
to the focus areas ‘efficiency’ (1–3), ‘product chill systems has made the large-scale cooking of
quality’ (4) and ‘working environment’ (5–6). meals comparable to the larger scale industrial
Hence, the Lean tools have proven to be appli- production, and this has brought about a need
cable in meal production although the success has to review the planning procedures and the
varied. Value stream mapping, use of measure- management of operations. Lean Manufacturing
ment and visual presentation of key parameters, theoretically fits the special characteristics of
5S, Kaizen Blitz, and increased involvement of meal production as improved product quality,
staff in the process improvement have brought through optimised production planning and
visible results to the kitchen. The efforts to strict control with the process parameters, is its
increase efficiency did not result in the achieve- main objective.
ment of just-in-time production and consistent A field study in a hospital central kitchen shows
pull production as this required a dedicated cook- that the Lean tools, value stream mapping, use
serve production. Still, the principles challenged of measurement and visual presentation of key
the managers to change portioning procedures parameters, 5S, Kaizen Blitz, and increased
towards just-in-time, and portioning of more involvement of staff in the improvement of pro-
expensive meal components now reflects actual cesses (Kaizen), have led to an increased efficiency
orders. in the kitchen. The implementation of Lean has
In meal production, the management and staff also resulted in continuous evaluation of product
are forced to consider special routines and the quality and of the visual presentation of daily
unique characteristics of food, and to take into customer satisfaction. From the continuous col-
account legal temperature requirements. This lection of customer feedback, systematic efforts to
may cause handling procedures that in the Lean improve product quality were established. In the
terminology are categorised as waste. An example kitchen, Lean tools have also shown to be useful
of this was seen in the ‘cold kitchen’ area where to increase employee involvement in the improve-
optimised procedures still contained nonvalue- ment of production and in increasing team spirit.
added handling to ensure the adequate cooling of The field study also shows that Lean Manufactur-
products. In addition, the meal distribution ing principles can improve the efficiency of meal
system at the hospital limited the successful production, but that the resulting effect is depen-
reduction of product waste, because of internal dent on the particular production system and
organisational barriers. Thus, the successful external conditions.
application of Lean in meal production depends
not only on the internal production planning and References
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