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Davenport Oscar Mayer plant proud to work for Kraft
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Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Plant Manager Steve Steiert stands in the buffer warehouse of Oscar Mayer Food Corporation in Davenport. The warehouse is 100,000 square feet and holds 8,600 palettes of products. About 35 semi-trucks a day are loaded with Oscar Mayer and Kraft Foods items. Mr. Steiert has worked for the Oscar Mayer facility for 22 years and has been the plant manager for one and a half years.
DAVENPORT -- Steve Steiert's bologna has a first name. It's O-S-C-A-R. And his bologna's second name? You guessed it: M-A-Y-E-R.

Mr. Steiert is an unabashed fan of Oscar Mayer food products. And he should be. Mr. Steiert, 48, who grew up in the small farming community of Osage, Iowa, has been the plant manager of Oscar Mayer's Davenport facility for 18 months.

The plant, Mr. Steiert said, employs about 1,700 people who run 30 processing lines and 24 packaging lines. The plant produces more than 3 million pounds of bologna, as well as about 700,000 pounds of Lunchables in a given week.

"One of our claims to fame is we're the biggest bologna plant in the world," Mr. Steiert said.

Mr. Steiert's work day typically starts about 7 a.m. The plant runs 24 hours a day, so one of the first things he does when gets to work is check in with his night superintendent, who runs the plant during the graveyard shift. After that, he said, he attends a startup meeting where he and other plant officials talk about inventory levels and how well the lines started that morning.

"My job is to get the folks that work here what they need to do their jobs," he said.

Pretty much all of Mr. Steiert's professional life has been spent working for Kraft Foods, which owns the Oscar Mayer brand. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1985 with a degree in agricultural business and worked for one of Kraft's pork suppliers from 1985 through 1988.

"I spent a lot of time on the farm growing up," he said. "I always knew I wanted to do something in agriculture."

Though he had worked with Kraft's supplier for three years, Mr. Steiert's first job with Kraft didn't come until 1988. Since then, he's been all over the country, working at Kraft plants that make cheese, cereal and meat products — many of which have corn or corn syrup as an ingredient.

"I've worked days, nights, weekends," he said. "I was a small plant manager in New York. This is my seventh location with Kraft."

Mr. Steiert said one of his most gratifying jobs was that of night superintendent.

"You finished up operations for the night," he said. "You knew when you left, you got it done."

Mr. Steiert said moving all over the country has been good for him and his family, which includes his wife of 10 years and their four kids.

"It's been an adventure," he said. "In every move, you meet new people, new friends. I love new experiences."

Mr. Steiert calls himself a hands-on manager who likes to get out on the production floor and see what's going on. He said one of the best parts of his job is when employees come to him with ideas for new products or ways to make things run a little more efficiently.

"One of the things we pride ourselves on is open doors," he said. "What's really pleasing is when they come with ideas."

Mr. Steiert said that one idea that came from an employee was what he called an "adult Lunchable." Instead of the normal Lunchable, which is generally a small, round cracker, slice of meat and round of cheese, the "adult Lunchable" is a long cracker with a cream cheese spread and thin slice of Oscar Mayer's "Deli Creations" lunch meat.

"We've got over 600 ideas that have come from the operators out on the floor that we've implemented," he said.

Mr. Steiert said that Kraft corporate officials are usually as open to new ideas or products as he is.

"The corporate office is very open to ideas that come from the plants," he said. "We have an avenue to suggest new things."

That's not to say every idea suggested becomes reality.

"We tried a deli-shaved bologna," he said. "That was thinly shaved bologna. I think consumers are used to a thicker slice of bologna."

Another one of his jobs, Mr. Steiert said, is making sure the plant keeps running even when Mother Nature doesn't want it to. Because the plant, located at 1337 W. 2nd St., Davenport, is so close to the river, flooding can be a concern.

"When the river gets to a certain level, we build dikes," he said. "Typically, the plant never slows. We haven't missed a beat."

Not all of Mr. Steiert's life is spent working. He and his family enjoy living in the Quad-Cities, he said, especially being so close to the Mississippi River.

"I love boating," he said.

Although the song says "Oscar Mayer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A," Mr. Steiert said his favorite Oscar Mayer product is the deli-shaved roast beef. Even after 22 years, he said, he doesn't see himself working for any other company but Kraft.

"It's what Kraft stands for," he said. "We produce high-quality, safe foods."

Local events heading

  Today is Thursday, Aug. 21, the 233rd day of 2014. There are 132 days left in the year.

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1889 -- 125 years ago: A kindergarten was started in the downtown district of Rock Island with the Misses Dodie Hawes and Grace Knowlton as teachers.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Pope Pius X died in Rome.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Rock Island's new theater was named Esquire.
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1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illowa Council Boy Scouts of America reached and passed its campaign goal in a drive that began 14 months ago by raising more than $2.2 million for the expansion of Loud Thunder Reservation near Andalusia.

(More History)