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Growing Workforce Success with Palumbo Foods

By Staff Analysts

Aug. 23, 2020

The valleys of Pennsylvania are home to a robust agricultural industry that generates employment on 59,000 farms in every county. Due to its mild climate, rich soils, and dedicated farmers, the industry generated a direct output of $83.8 billion in 2017.

Among top outputs are eggs, winter wheat, potatoes, oats, rye, soybeans and barley. But Pennsylvania ranks first nationally in mushroom production. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculturemushrooms play a key role in the state’s agricultural economy, with an annual yield of 425 million pounds valued at over $330.7 million per year. 

Nobody knows the significance of mushrooms better than the owners and staff of Palumbo Foods in Avondale, Pennsylvania. Founder Tony Palumbo, having grown up in the mushroom industry, invested in his own company in 2008.

A decade later, Palumbo is joined by several members of his family in overseeing more than 40 staff members. They sell over 350,000 pounds of mushrooms each week. Together, they supply mushrooms and seasonal produce to customers not just in Pennsylvania, but also in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, and Texas. Vice President Shawn Palumbo is Tony’s son and talked about running this successful food business.

Talented people behind a family business

“We have a lot of talented people on the staff who really go above and beyond,” Palumbo said. “And that goes from our office team to our dock employees who are building orders day and night to our over the road truck drivers. We have a lot of dedicated people and that’s really what makes it work.” Company founder The Palumbos are joined by daughter-in-law Kimiko Palumbo.

Besides providing fresh, locally grown produce, the Palumbo Foods team also emphasizes customer service. Indeed, the family business has thrived through the tight-knit relationship of the staff, not just with each other, but also with their customers. Shawn Palumbo said, “A bunch of loyal customers believed in what Tony was looking to do and stuck with us to help us get started.  Years later, most of those customers still work with us.” Today, from locally grown mushrooms, they’ve branched out into seasonal produce like garlic, ginger, peppers, onions, cucumbers and microgreens.

Data-led improvements that matter

Time is of the essence, especially in the food business. That’s where Shawn Palumbo’s team encountered their biggest challenge. They thought they could make headway by keeping most of their staff in the first shift. “We always only operated with a first shift team, but we realized we were overloading them. There just was too much work for anyone to get done,” he said. Enter the Workforce.com platform, a workforce management software with tracking and reporting capabilities.

“The biggest key is visibility. Workforce.com gave us visibility to see where our hours were being spent and where we could place them,” he said.

From just having a first shift and seeing what needed to be done during the day, using the Workforce.com platform allowed Palumbo Foods to see that they actually needed a third shift. “Looking at the numbers and seeing the physical data on paper and on the computer allowed us to make a decision that we wouldn’t have been able to make without the platform so to speak,” he said. The team in charge of carrying out improvements relied on the Workforce.com platform to make the decision to add a third shift.

The results were astounding.

“They’re coming in at night getting a third of the work done, so the team during the morning shift does not have as much pressure to get everything completed,” Shawn Palumbo said. The simple change decreased production errors and increased employee morale. “They’re less stressed and they’re more efficient. The quality has gone up to our customers as well. We’ve seen our returns decreased,” he said. The addition of the third shift even allowed their trucks to leave earlier, which assists in completing their deliveries within service rule hours.

Also read: Labor analytics: A how-to guide for company leadership

Team visibility despite the miles

“When I was younger, I worked at places and you grabbed the card, you put it in the machine, you put it back. What visibility does that give anybody?” Shawn Palumbo said, recalling the punch clocks that most businesses used decades ago, and which some still use today. For him, Workforce.com’s Time Clock App increased visibility and engagement with their teams who are working 2,000 miles away. “As management is in Pennsylvania, we have cameras at our Texas facility, but no one is sitting here watching the cameras all day. With Workforce.com, we can see what time they’re punching in, and coming and going,” he said.

For Palumbo Foods, the increased visibility has allowed them to operate better. It linked them to a critical part of their operation without actually being there. “We could remotely monitor and verify the hours being worked and make the appropriate decisions based on that data,” he said,” It has also increased trust among team members. Before switching to Workforce.com, employee attendance caused some friction. “The staff is now operating 24/7 so staff can come and go, and sometimes it was not being noticed. It was causing issues between team members as some were showing up later and leaving earlier than others,” he said. Now, they can look at the timesheets and resolve these conflicts easily.

Growing with workforce technology

In 2017, Palumbo Foods opened a facility in San Antonio, Texas, with seven employees. They also service Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Florida. The business is still slated for more growth and success, and Workforce.com is with them as they continue to optimize and improve their operations. “Knowing that, at any time, we can look at these reports, from anywhere has been a big, big help for us,” Shawn Palumbo said.

Pennsylvania continues to lead the mushroom production industry in the United States. Contributing to this boom is Palumbo Foods, a company that continues to flourish through its talented staff and loyal customers. “It kind of really grew this into something that no one ever expected it could be,” he said.

And with their investment in workforce technology that lets them track employees and operations accurately, they’re all set to keep providing quality produce to more customers in the years to come.

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