Welcome to 2014. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions to improve our personal lives (weight loss, achieving happiness, saving money, being better parents/husbands/wives, etc.). Here are 10 resolutions that might take your dairy to the next level.

Develop new products.  A successful company is like a shark: it is always moving, never standing still. You need to be developing new products or line extensions constantly. Take the cheese category as an example. Consider using seeds, nuts or herbs to add flavor to your cheese product. How about blending two or more cheeses to create a third flavor? Re-examine your packaging and formats. Can you capture new sales with more convenient packages that meet the needs of foodservice clients or on-the-go consumers? Resolve to introduce an appropriate number of new dairy foods or beverages this year.

Operate a safer plant. When was the last safety incident at your plant? When was your last safety meeting? Make it a point to communicate regularly and frequently about best practices in employee safety. In one food manufacturing facility I visited, I saw photos of children, husbands, wives and families on bulletin boards pinned by employees under the banner “Who have you taken the safety pledge for?” Resolve to reduce safety incidents to zero this year.

Make safe foods. You are making products that are fundamental to the health, wellness and enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of consumers who expect nutritious and/or fun-to-eat (as in ice cream or frozen novelties) safe foods that are free of bacteria, foreign objects and allergens. Review your best practices and stay up-to-date on the research and regulations in food manufacturing. Resolve to have zero product recalls this year.

Invest in training. Employees in the plant and those driving trucks are not the only ones who need training (see the plant safety and food safety resolutions above). Those in administration offices need to hone their skills in accounting, marketing, communications, purchasing, data interpretation and contract negotiations. Require those in the home office to update their skills. Hire a training company, send employees to classes or attend the many free webinars offered by your partners (including those sponsored by Dairy Foods.) Resolve that you will fund continuing education programs for your employees and that they in turn train their counterparts.

Attend a trade show. Trade shows are Petri dishes where ideas flourish. Take advantage of educational programs, see what’s new from exhibitors and seek out your opposite number at another dairy to talk shop. Here are some shows and events where you’ll find Dairy Foods this year: International Dairy Foods Association’s Dairy Forum, IDFA’s Ice Cream Technology Conference, International Cheese Technology Expo, Food Safety & Security Summit, International Dairy-Deli-Bake Expo, IFT Show, Pack Expo and Private Label Trade Show. Resolve to get out of the office and attend a trade show or two.

Acquire a new customer. You are always at risk of losing a customer to a competitor or because of a business failure or because of a merger or acquisition. Look for customers in channels of distribution that are new to you, like foodservice or club stores. Resolve that your customer base has increased by one (or more) before the end of the year.

Act on consumer trends. You can read all the trend data you like (like that reported on pages 30 to 34), but at some point you are going to have to act on it. Demographic trends (age, race, sex, income) can point you to the potential in niche markets. Sales data showing where consumers shop can point you to new channels, like club stores, dollar stores or drug stores. Resolve to form a new-business development team that meets monthly to explore product development ideas and prospect for customers.

Fill excess capacity. Perhaps the saddest sight in the dairy industry is a machine that is not running. A pasteurizing system or filler that sits idle for 12 hours isn’t delivering a return on investment. If you can’t produce enough of your own product, then look for customers who need your processing expertise. Resolve that your plant will be running more hours at the end of the year than it is in January.

Be active in your associations. Resolve to do more than write dues checks to the associations that represent the dairy industry. Serve on committees or in leadership positions to advance the goals of the association. Resolve to place one or more employees on committees in key state, regional or national associations.

Listen. Ideas for products, process improvement and customer acquisition are available for free. Listen to the employees who operate your equipment and those who talk to your customers every day. They know what’s going on. Tap into their expertise. Resolve to set up better channels of communication at your dairy so that you are involving all of your employees.

 Happy New Year and for the 364 days that follow.