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ROOM TO GROW: Allergen-free food manufacturer settles into Jeffersonville

Sep. 20, 2016

Enjoy Life Foods, a manufacturer of allergen-free snacks, needed a new facility in 2015.

Formed in 2001, the company is expected to grow from its $50 million in sales this year to $500 million in the next 10 years, said Joel Warady, the chief sales and marketing officer for the company.

So in January, the company, which is owned by Oreo-maker Mondelez International, announced it would be moving its operations from its Schiller Park, Illinois, facility near Chicago to America Place at the River Ridge Commerce Center in Jeffersonville, where it's expected to bring 200 jobs to the area by the end of 2017.

Production at the 200,000 square-foot Jeffersonville facility started over two months ago, but the Schiller Park facility was still in operation. Next week, that facility, which was once home to a fluctuating number of 90 to 130 workers, will shut down for good.

Enjoy Life Foods will celebrate the move with a ribbon cutting ceremony today at the Jeffersonville facility.

Enjoy Life is part of a fast growing demand for food created from specialty ingredients. The 52 products the company makes are free from gluten and the eight most common food allergens: wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy and shellfish. They're also made from sustainable proteins and ancient grains with unfamiliar names, such as teff.

Mondelez International claimed that the “free-from” food market was worth $12 billion when it bought Enjoy Life in 2015.

The industry is just in its early stages, too, said Warady.

Enjoy Life first outgrew a facility in 2006 when it opened its Schiller Park location, but as the company’s operations grew, an even bigger facility was needed.

Enjoy Life wanted to keep its operations in the Midwest, but was “somewhat landlocked” in Schiller Park.

The search for a new facility took nine months, but Enjoy Life settled on Jeffersonville because of its close proximity to truck lines and the available workforce.

There’s a lot of competition for employees in the area, Warady admits, but that also shows that other companies realize the value of the present workforce.

The Jeffersonville facility is twice the size of Enjoy Life’s Schiller Park facility. Many rooms in it aren’t filled to capacity with equipment and Enjoy Life can still expand by another 25 percent. Warady suspects the company will need to.

The company is currently making about 28 of its products in the Jeffersonville facility, but will eventually shift production of some of its other snacks to the facility.

Upwards of 50 snacks are expected to be added to Enjoy Life’s repertoire by the end of 2019, too, Warady said.

The extra space in Jeffersonville’s facility means the city is now Enjoy Life’s long-term home.

The facility has hired 100 people for various positions since announcing its move. Employees from the Schiller Park facility were offered a chance to follow their job to Jeffersonville, but less than a dozen made the move.

There are still 100 more jobs to be filled before the end of 2017.

Jobs that are still available include production, quality, supervisory and mechanic positions.

Wages depend on the experience level needed for each job. Enjoy Life also offers a full-benefits program.

The interview process is exhaustive. Prospective employees have to take aptitude, math and dexterity tests before they even make it through the Enjoy Life doors, said Tim Debring, the vice president of integrated supply chain at Enjoy Life.

If employees pass those tests, they come to the facility to take more tests and to participate in a group exercise where they make paper lanterns. If the interviewers like what they see, they’ll bring the interviewees in for an in-person interview and make their final decision based on that.

Debring said he’s not sure how many people he’s interviewed, but he estimates that it’s in the 400-500 range.

Employees are like family at Enjoy Life, Warady said, and the company is willing to take on a longer hiring process to find the right kind of family members.

Enjoy Life also wants employees who support the company’s mission. Up to 15 million people in America have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research and Education — a number that’s growing. A 2013 Centers for Disease Control study found that food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011 with no clear reason why.

“We take what we do very seriously, and we’re very passionate about the community that we serve,” Warady said.

That passion was part of why Enjoy Life picked the Jeffersonville facility. The company bought the facility when it was barely a shell, Warady said. A previous food company hadn’t operated there before and therefore hadn’t contaminated the building.

Anyone who enters the actual production portion of the facility must don a pocketless lab coat, hairnet, helmet and wash their hands. Anyone who doesn’t work at the facility isn’t allowed to proceed past the front door without a chaperone, either, and all ingredients that enter the facility are tested for allergens, Warady said. No peanuts are allowed in the facility at all.

Anyone interested in a job at Enjoy Life Foods can apply at www.awesomefoodjob.com or walk into the facility.

 

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