In Mexico, LALA is the beloved flagship brand of Mexico City-based dairy giant Grupo LALA. The brand covers a wide range of products — from milk and yogurt to cheese and dairy desserts.
But Hispanic consumers living in the United States don’t have to travel to Mexico to indulge in their dairy favorites under the beloved brand. LALA U.S. Inc., Grupo LALA’s Dallas-based U.S. business unit established in 2016, makes an assortment of LALA products at its approximately 90,000-square-foot cultured dairy facility in Omaha, Neb.
LALA-brand products produced at the plant include drinkable yogurt smoothies, blended yogurts and crema Mexicana (Mexican-style sour cream), notes Charles Mays, Omaha plant manager. The plant operates five days a week, with 161 employees working across three shifts.
Investing in operations
The plant has four production lines that are dedicated to drinkable yogurt smoothies, notes Sharon Thompson, vice president, supply chain. LALA is currently the market leader in the adult drinkable yogurt market.
“It’s healthy, tasty and convenient,” CEO Jorge Ramos says of the drinkable yogurt smoothie line.
A few years, back, in response to growing demand for yogurt smoothie products, the plant also installed two Serac blow-mold/filler lines for LALA 7-ounce drinkable yogurt smoothies, Thompson notes. The investment allowed the facility to increase capacity, and is part of a push toward continuing investment aimed at enhancing efficiencies, as well as food and personnel safety.
“Most single investments are not that large, but investing in our operations is a priority,” she adds. “We are always looking for better, more efficient ways to make great products.”
Such efficiencies are critical as production costs increase, and the facility must manage those costs without jeopardizing product quality.
Two of the lines in the plant also produce LALA spoonable yogurt and LALA crema Mexicana. The “delicious” crema is an “important and growing product” in LALA U.S.’s portfolio, Ramos says.
A safety standout
Because protection of its star brand is critical, LALA U.S. puts a very strong emphasis on food and personnel safety within the Omaha plant.
“Food safety and people safety are the foundation of this facility,” Mays stresses. “Without both, we don’t produce great products.”
Food safety goes beyond just a program — it’s instilled into the Omaha plant employees’ daily work, he notes. The employees perform testing and inspections throughout the entire process.
“Each of our employees goes through a number of trainings to make sure there are no gaps of understanding in our program,” Mays explains. “We also have a dedicated quality assurance team at the Omaha facility continuously monitoring our processes to ensure that we produce the highest-quality cultured dairy products every day.”
On the employee safety front, the plant is truly a standout, too. In fact, in 2019, Grupo LALA recognized it as the safest among its 25-plus facilities (located in Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica and the United States). And the National Safety Council named the facility one of “Nebraska’s Safest Companies” for the last four years in a row, Thompson points out.
“Our philosophy entails that each employee goes home to their family each and every day in the same condition they came to work — a sense of comfort while working with a sense of purpose,” Mays says.
A waste-not mindset
Like its food-safety and personnel-safety practices, the Omaha facility’s environmental sustainability practices are built into the daily workflow. And plant personnel are always looking for ways to improve on initiatives such as energy-efficiency efforts and paper and plastic recycling programs, Mays says.
“Strong environmental programs recognize that it’s not just good for the environment; it’s also good for the bottom line,” Ramos points out. “Rather than achieving one goal, we achieve improved sustainability with the same actions.”
LALA U.S. understands that environmental sustainability at the facility needs to go beyond regulatory compliance. That means thinking about how to prevent as much as possible from going down the drain or to a landfill, Mays says.
“It is about changing the mindset so that downtime isn’t just downtime; it’s waste,” he adds. “Over-processing is wasted utilities.”
The avoidance of paper and plastic waste is a critical part of environmental stewardship as well, Mays says. For that reason, LALA U.S. is making its packaging more easily recyclable and reducing unnecessary printing within the plant’s office.
The Omaha plant’s emphasis on technology improvements, food and employee safety and environmental stewardship should go a long way in helping LALA U.S. meet its ambitious growth goals (see the Processor Profile, page ___). But the company understands that another element — the plant’s team — ranks above all else in the quest for continued success.
“We believe that our people are our most valuable asset; therefore, the ‘hire-to-retire’ principle is fundamental to all of our interactions with the team, beginning with recruiting and hiring the right person for the right role,” says Aaron Armas, vice president, human resources. “We continually help our team members learn and understand our culture and support them to succeed and grow.”
He circles back to the facility’s approach to safety as an example. In-depth instruction on safety procedures now comprise almost a full day during each employee’s core onboarding process.
“We impress upon our employees the importance of having a clear understanding of expectations, what they can expect of us and, equally important, what we expect of them in maintaining their safety,” Mays explains.
Mays points out that the plant already boasts “great people” who are dedicated to finding ways to innovate and drive efficiencies so they can continue to produce outstanding products at a reasonable cost.
“They are smart, creative and have true ownership of their areas of responsibility,” he stresses. “It’s the team you want to have when you’re facing challenges to overcome. Everyone in Omaha is dedicated to making healthy and delicious products and selling them for a great price to consumers.”