After several months’ delay due to antitrust concerns, the nation’s largest flour miller Ardent Mills officially started operations on May 29. A few days into their new roles, Ardent Mills CEO Dan Dye and chief operating officer and chief integration officer Bill Stoufer talked to Milling & Grains about the importance of transparency and how such a massive venture can think small in order to earn every customer.
M&G: Obviously there were concerns over the venture lowering prices paid to wheat farmers and raising prices for consumers, which played out publicly over the last several months. How will Ardent Mills ensure it stays competitive?
Dan Dye: We know we have to be competitive across the agrifood chain. We have to provide competitive markets for wheat farmers selling us wheat. That’s critically important. There are a lot of markets for farmers to sell their wheat and we want to be viable. We will provide more opportunities on specialty programs that are unique to certain flours, for example. On the consumer and customer side, we are going to be able to bring better supply chain optimization and better opportunities that will make our customers better positioned in the marketplace. We’ll work to create more value for wheat farmers and for our customers bringing end products to the consumer.
Bill Stoufer: With 20-plus direct competitors around the US, it’s a very competitive marketplace for us. Just because we’re big, we have to operate like a small business. We’re earning business on every shipment on every mill every day. We need that connection with the customer that demonstrates doing business with us and why we’re grateful... Just because we have 40 plants, there’s a lot of opportunity there, but if we don’t behave locally and win with every shipment, having all those facilities won’t do us any good.
What are your priorities as you get Ardent Mills up and running?
Dye: We wanted to make sure our people were ready to go and we had all the tools necessary for them to start up the business and focus on serving customers well from day one. We want to provide them with better quality service, products, communication tools and resources than before. A lot of preparation was done so we could be up and running without any issues or significant changes.
Stoufer: The goal is to really have clear communication and expectations inside the business with employees. The plan prior to day one and for day one and these next couple weeks are centered around executional excellence for customers and employees. Those are the two big buckets as we see them. We’re unique in that we were competitors until day we started up as Ardent Mills. We couldn’t go as deep and wide as one may have thought but we feel good with the plans we’re executing against now.
As we go forward, we aim to get in better alignment with our customers and bring product and process innovation to life. We will start going through some of the key buckets of working internally, like rounding out the organization through the hiring process, which has been structured and disciplined. We will start bringing organization to life externally as well with more customer meetings, key vendor supplier partnerships with farmers and the entire ecosystem Ardent Mills will support.
Any hiccups in service or other challenges to the integration process early on?
Stoufer: We’ve operated with a very clear lens through the integration planning process: What’s good for customers, employees and Ardent Mills? That’s the context in almost everything we’ve done. Will there be changes in certain processes? Yes, that’s bound to happen, but if we always bring it back to that lens of what’s good for the customer, we will provide clarity of where we are and what’s ahead.
Dye: We’ve already found opportunities where we can improve the experience with the customer by bringing product from a different mill or in a different framework, for example. So we’ve already had a few success stories.
What are the most notable benefits and drawbacks to having such an expansive network of mills, with 40 in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico?
Dye: With our network of facilities that’s going to provide all types of opportunities—for example, consistency of supply chain and backup supply and better logistics that enable us to create more value across the supply chain for customers. We have a nice complement of facilities in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. It’s about putting that entire network to work for our customers. That creates value and a good competitive marketplace.
It’s not just the network but also the resources and complementary nature of parent companies that allows us to bring innovation as we go forward. We’re committed to the future of the flour milling industry. We want to utilize the depth and breadth we can bring to the customer in around new product and process innovation and working together toward what’s next.
How has consumer perception of wheat and other grains changed in recent years? How is Ardent Mills positioned to adapt?
Stoufer: We look at the creation of Ardent Mills as a strong commitment from all three parent companies—CHS, ConAgra and Cargill—to their belief in grain-based products. While wheat at times may get a bad rap and it’s under pressure today, there are countless products out there that have gone through same thing. Once we tell the story of why wheat products are affordable, an excellent source of nutrition, available and actually healthy—and we get not only ourselves but industries like Grains Foods Foundation, American Bakers Association and others involved in grain telling the powerful stories we have—those setbacks can become mere bumps in the road.
Dye: I would only add that flour and wheat-based products have been the core of people’s diets throughout mankind and are good part of a balanced diet. Viewed through a different lens at the same time, changing demand gives us a great opportunity to provide more variety, more options, using whole grains, ancient grains and alternatives that expand on the products people love and enjoy today.