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John Wm. Macy’s CheeseSticks Inc.: A Truly Unique Snack Factory
John Wm. Macy’s CheeseSticks Inc. (JWM) is the definition of a niche snack manufacturing operation. John Macy founded the Elmwood Park-based company in 1985, hoping to expand his horizons from New York City to New Jersey.
“I was working as a business manager at a small educational nonprofit in New York City,” Macy recalls. “I had a flexible four-day schedule, so I was able to run trial batches of what would soon become CheeseSticks on Fridays. Conveniently, I engineered a move of the nonprofit’s offices to 740 Broadway on the seventh floor when I lived at 738 Broadway on the fourth floor. I had a vertical commute, so I was able to run home on occasion to keep an eye on nascent CheeseSticks activities without taking too much time off work.”
It is the same dedication to business and streamlined planning that keeps JWM growing today. The first JWM CheeseSticks – crispy, savory breadstick snacks made with real, natural cheeses – were manufactured in Macy’s kitchen. As the business began to flourish, JWM outgrew Macy’s home galley. The company has since moved to larger facilities in New Jersey. “Our plant is about 50,000 square feet with 60 employees,” Macy reports.
JWM produces three different types of snacks, all of which are made with all natural ingredients while embracing unique flavors. JWM’s classic CheeseSticks are made with sourdough, twisted with aged cheeses and baked twice for a signature crunch. CheeseSticks require no dip, and are perfect alone due to an assortment of gourmet flavors. Customers can choose from Original Cheddar, Melting Parmesan, Romano Garlic, Dijon Swiss, as well as Cheddar and Scallion.
Macy has also introduced CheeseCrisps, a bite-size snack cracker that packs big flavor. Made with sourdough, artisan cheeses and spices, the crispy squares were created especially for New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel and debuted as an upscale bar snack. CheeseCrips are available in Cheddar and Asiago, Melting Romano, Smoked Jalapeno and Sesame Gruyere, all of which are now available at the local Costco on a rotational basis.
For customers with a sweet tooth, JWM offers SweetSticks, a twisted pastry packed with tasty but mild dessert flavors like Dutch Chocolate, Java Cinnamon and Madagascar Vanilla. The hand-twisted crisps pair perfectly with coffee, cappuccino, tea and even ice cream.
JWM is doing well overall, despite a recent dip in the economy. “The recession has softened the activity at our base of specialty stores since 2008,” says Macy. “So we’ve had to branch out into club stores and take another look at the coverage of our existing broker network. We’re also looking at other packaging formats to open up other markets like convenience stores and foodservice.”
JWM’s diversification has left less room for new product design over the last year. However, Macy says he has also been running some JWM trial batches.
“We’ve had no new varieties in the last year, but we have run lots of samples,” Macy explains. “A new addition to the family has to be distinct from the existing lineup but also worthy of membership. We had a foray with a whole grain line a few years ago but those products never cultivated a sufficient following.”
Macy and the JWM team are focusing their collective energy on improving operations at the plant. “We’re working with a New Jersey State Department of Labor training grant to get our line workers more involved in the operation,” Macy elaborates. “The prep group that makes the dough and cheese fillings is being trained in cycle counting so that inventory of critical ingredients is more accurate on a day-to-day basis. Several of our machine operators in our pack group are being trained in total productive maintenance, which calls for them to perform basic maintenance on the machines to relieve the overworked maintenance department of some of their duties. Any kind of training takes a lot of time, but this particular effort shows signs of a real return on that investment.”
Most of JMW’s production element is handled in house, but Macy relies on a small network of strategic partners to keep the operation running smoothly. “We use a relatively short list of ingredients and materials so our vender list is small,” explains Macy. “Many of those venders have been with us for a long time, some as long as 25 years.”
As far as packaging goes, the team does as much as possible in the plant. However, according to Macy, he works with a small advertising agency for graphic design and advertising layout. Part of the operations revamp includes working with social media experts to improve the business’ online presence, but Macy wants to develop a division in-house to handle that aspect in the future.
The company will celebrate 30 years in business in 2015, but Macy is not expecting a big celebration. “Our 25-year anniversary came and went without a big to-do,” he explains. “We’re focused on manageable growth. Our current facility can handle twice our current volume, but we’re content to take our time attaining that plateau. A comfortable growth of 15-percent annually would give us five years to max out.”
Macy’s levelheaded leadership is keeping the team at JWM on track for sustained business. In addition, Macy has solidified long-term success for John Wm. Macy’s CheeseSticks Inc.