In the heart of Australia’s food bowl, Ricegrowers, and the many brands and facilities it operates as Sunrice, play an important role for consumers domestically and abroad.

“We are trusted to transform nature’s goodness into healthy, enjoyable and nutritious foods that meet the needs of consumers around the world,” says Simone Anderson, General Manager of Operations at SunRice.

Maintaining the multiple moving parts of such a large supply chain can be complex and challenging in its own right—optimising that supply chain can be even more so. But SunRice is on a journey toward making its supply chain more efficient and effective than ever before. Through this endeavor, the company is poised to push forward into new markets and new applications.

Streamlining the procurement process

When Frank Wolfarth joined in 2014 to lead the SunRice procurement team, he notes that most of the company’s procurement was centralized and focused primarily on transactions. But since then, the Procurement Manager has observed a change underway to move toward a group procurement structure to centralize strategic sourcing via Procurement Category Management. This approach aims to aggregate and bundle volume across SunRice’s business units, consolidating the way that the company procures its goods and services in order to secure the best value for money outcomes.

“The major process change to support the strategic sourcing approach has been to automate our procurement systems, in order to convert transactional roles and administrative positions into category management positions for procurement,” he says. “These category managers are engaging across the group of business units in order to achieve the best value outcomes considering quality, service levels, and compliance in the contracts they negotiate.”

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According to Wolfarth, adopting this strategy has helped SunRice increase its level of service to customers. “It enables us to improve our technology with strategic suppliers,” he explains, “and it enables us to better manage risk with a fewer number of suppliers across larger plant networks to support our growth journey.”

Improving the manufacturing process

Elsewhere throughout the SunRice supply chain, other departments are finding their own ways to optimise operations at all levels. From the company’s Leeton mill and manufacturing facility, Site Operations Manager Joe Trevaskis discusses continuous improvement strategies within the manufacturing process, including non-negotiable daily safety meetings and concrete standards set around issues like quality assurance and acceptable health and safety KPIs.

As Trevaskis points out, a significant part of SunRice’s efficiency success comes from strong leadership, from the top down.

“Leadership that is engaged and involved—that walks the walk and the talk—is pivotal in ensuring that people are aligned to high performance objectives,” says Trevaskis . “It’s about being visible and available, and it’s about daily communication and following up that people are performing their roles as expected.”

Trevaskis adds that setting and maintaining high standards from a management level is critical to continuous improvement—with only bare minimum goals to strive for, staff may slide into poor habits and paths of least resistance. By setting higher operational standards to strive for, SunRice is able to keep moving its goalposts of success onward and upward.

“The goals we set as management must be ones that employees have to aspire to achieve,” he says. “If you set a goal that is mediocre, you can only ever expect to achieve mediocre standards.  It is important that we set a high aspiration, and service and support the operations teams to achieve that.”

Taking pride in a sustainable culture

“When we evaluate our vendors, we don’t do that just on price—we also look at the capabilities of our vendors,” says Wolfarth. One critical capability that SunRice seeks out in its potential vendors is a vendor’s ability to operate with consideration to the environment.

“Clean and green branding is very important for us,” he explains. “We are a premium brand looking for suppliers that have the right capabilities—and if we make sure that we have the right partners with the right capabilities, our organization automatically becomes more sustainable.”

“We also have a sustainability piece in terms of Australia being the most water efficient rice growing country in the world,” adds Trevaskis . “We can take that skill and apply it to other countries and maintain the sustainability base for the planet. We have a triple bottom line profitability perspective: we incorporate sustainable practices for people and their communities, our renowned rice products are relied upon as the main source of carbohydrate for many parts of the world, and our efficiency creates a fantastic future for the business.”

Making a difference

With years of experience with some of the world’s largest food, beverage and FMCG manufacturers, Wolfarth is in a distinctive position to observe exactly what sets SunRice apart from the competition in terms of its supply chain operations.

“We are a very small procurement team, influencing only high spend Procurement categories in a fairly efficient way for the number of people that we have,” he says, explaining that this achieved through the company’s operational strategy. “SunRice is an organization that is very hands-on, where changes can be made quickly inside the organization.”

“We pride ourselves on that everyone can make a difference in the company. If you want to make a change in the supply market, the organization is agile enough to allow for these changes to be made in a fairly quick time frame,” he says.

Looking toward future growth

From end to end of its supply chain, the SunRice team sees good things ahead in the near future—particularly growth and an increased reach into the Middle Eastern and Asian marketplaces.

“Australia and SunRice have never been in a better position for growth,” says Anderson. “We have the opportunity to take our expertise in the conversion of rice products around the world and into the markets where we sell our products.”

SunRice also plans to continue its focus on building synergies along its supply chain with vendors and suppliers. “The next 12-18 months are about where we can win and where our suppliers can win as well,” says Anderson. “How can we share the benefits of innovation? We’re really looking at supplier relationship management, and how to extract the best value, in terms of both getting the best service levels as well as bringing world-class suppliers into our network.”

Throughout its future, sustainability will also continue to be a priority. “We have almost a duty to improve the efficiency of our growing practices in order to feed the growing global population,” says Anderson, adding that its efficiency improvements will also help the business grow throughout Australia as well as beyond. “There’s never been a more exciting time to be part of the SunRice business than now.” 

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