Latitude 36 Foods' Leslie Surber and Tobias Wisner Discuss the Company's People Culture and Growth
SALINAS, CA - In this business, it is those early-morning interactions that set the pace for the day. I was lucky enough to kick off last Tuesday with Latitude 36 Foods’ Leslie Surber, President, and Tobias Wisner, Marketing Specialist, who truly inspired and excited me. The company takes a fresh approach to providing individually packaged condiments and toppings, carving out a unique space in the market for its product, and perhaps more importantly, for its people.
When Leslie and Tobias say “people culture,” they mean it. The company has doubled in size after acquiring condiment supplier Hyde & Hyde, and those early days were crucial in the building of this culture.
“There were people within the business that were hungry for change and wanted to increase productivity and quality. Right away, we started engaging with our frontline employees and this grassroots culture emerged,” Leslie told me. “I certainly had my vision of who I wanted us to be, but I had no idea I would have this much support. We respect the ideas and opinions of those who make our products, and by engaging them in the solution, we are recognizing and honoring them. As a leader, it's been incredibly humbling to watch the company redefine itself from the ground up.”
Recently, Latitude 36 Foods has worked to integrate those values through concentrated efforts to become an employer of choice, building on its culture of driven and creative individuals who all bring a different perspective to the table.
“As we were recruiting during the pandemic, we realized people were searching for us on the internet and couldn’t find us,” Leslie explained, telling me how Tobias played an integral role in the process. “We started with Tobias building our online presence, and the response to that branding has been phenomenal.”
Tobias added, “I enjoyed the opportunity to be a steward of the culture and make sure people knew who we are. It was great to be a part of that branding from the ground floor.”
Latitude 36 Foods’ recent innovations have allowed the company to grow at a rapid pace, meaning the need for highly skilled team members who uphold its people culture has increased. The implementation of automation within its operations has not necessitated the loss of jobs, but instead spurred further innovation and growth.
“There has historically been a lot of hand labor in making these kinds of products,” concluded Leslie. “We have re-imagined the process with less hand labor and more skilled machine operators to create efficiencies while retaining our team. We started this innovation at our Salinas facility, which is our newest plant, and we'll be rolling out the automation in Ohio and other Southern California markets next year.”
With a forward-looking vision like that, I have no doubt this company will continue to hold its weight as a supplier to some of the biggest packaged salad providers in the United States.