Stemilt achieves full Equitable Food Initiative certification
Stemilt received new Equitable Food Initiative certifications in August to become one of the first apple, pear and cherry companies to achieve EFI certification of its entire operation. The new certifications bring EFI standards and continuous improvement practices into all Stemilt-owned orchards and warehouse facilities and represent over 3,500 employees.
According to Stemilt President West Mathison, achieving full EFI certification is an important milestone for the company, and comes less than a year after Stemilt’s first EFI certification at its Quincy, WA, orchard. Stemilt began working with EFI on a pilot in 2019, and Mathison quickly saw the value in EFI’s training program and standards. He recognized EFI as a program to build a culture around continuous improvement to help Stemilt on its journey to cultivate people and delight consumers through excellence.
“Being the first tree fruit company to achieve full EFI certification across our organization is an incredible accomplishment for our teams,” said Mathison. “Most of this training and work occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the perseverance our team showed to bring full certification to reality is a true testament of their dedication to provide consumers all around the globe World Famous fruit.”
There are more than 300 rigorous standards around labor practices, food safety and pest management that a farm or facility must meet to achieve EFI certification. The standards also emphasize collaboration, respect and creating a culture of food safety. Stemilt exists to cultivate people and delight consumers through excellence and the EFI certification solidifies Stemilt’s commitment of fulfilling their mission.
“Each facility or ranch is led by an EFI leadership team made up of a group of cross-functional individuals,” said Mathison. “They are taught EFI’s soft skill training around leadership, communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution and then tasked with putting those newfound skills to the test through a collaborative project approach around continuous improvement. The leadership team structure promotes better engagement and helps us find leaders within the organization.”
These projects not only put EFI training skills to practice, but they also help the organization improve upon existing and new processes. With nearly 100 employees trained under the EFI umbrella and three team members that can train others on EFI standards, Stemilt has made improvements within their social and pest management areas, safety, and the well-being of employees.
“All of the employees who are part of the EFI certification process have demonstrated their desire to improve and help Stemilt fulfill its purpose,” said Mathison. “We have only just earned this full EFI certification, but I know the impact that it will make will be substantial for years to come.”
Stemilt’s commitment to continuous improvement and EFI standards were apparent while moving through the EFI certification process for the orchard and warehouse areas of its business. Kevin Boyle, director of new product and business development for Equitable Food Initiative, said being the first apple, pear and cherry company to achieve broad certification solidifies Stemilt’s dedication to their employees and products.
"Stemilt has been a leader in developing its workforce through training and improvement processes, so it’s not a surprise that they became the first apple, pear and cherry grower to certify its entire Washington-state operation,” said Boyle. “Their work throughout the pandemic is testament to their dedication and commitment to the certification process, as well as to their product quality and team culture.”
To maintain certification, Stemilt will move through two years of verification audits that take place annually and one re-certification process that occurs prior to the end of the three-year certification. These audits ensure that all food-safety and pest-management standards and work involvement indicators are being met.
“The EFI certification not only communicates our commitment to high quality fruits, but it also ensures our workers that we are building a culture that is employee centric,” said Mathison. “By teaching these skills, we are building confident employees who are committed to delivering fruit that is ‘Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured.’ That is one of the most rewarding things of all.”