Non-cheesy Social Media at heart of the Cheese Company

abazhano    February 27, 2017


Parmalat is one of the largest food companies in Canada with $2.2 billion annual revenues. The company is a marketer of such popular retail brands as Black Diamond cheese, Ficello Cheese Strings, Astro Yogurt, Lactancia Milk & Butter and Balderson cheese. The company has a large and diverse work force of 2,900 people, operating a large corporate office in Toronto, 2 major sales offices in Calgary and Montreal and 16 manufacturing plants across Canada.


Given the scale and complexity of its work force, Parmalat Canada has been searching for effective ways of promoting company’s values and increasing employee engagement across many branches with their unique geography, organizational culture and regional dynamics. This challenge is especially magnified by the company’s work force composition – only about 30% of work force is full-time employees working in main offices or plants, whereas 70% of workers are part-time hourly workers at various plants. The HR Department has turned to Social Media to increase employees engagement. The idea was to encourage company’s employees to share new ideas on  improve various aspects of company’s operations ranging from work processes, life balance, health & safety and even new product ideas.

Social Media Solution

The choice of social media tools that will allow for maximum participation in the initiative was difficult one. The company’s digital culture has been defined by work force average age (40+), and a long practice of using IBM Lotus Notes as a major source of all inter-company communication. As such, the HR department has opted for finding new ways of using existing technologies, expanding their ability to function as social media tool as opposed to creating new social spaces on Intranet or developing dedicated digital applications modeled after popular applications like Facebook, My Space etc.

Towards that end, the corporate Lotus Notes was re-designed to give birth to a large digital project called “Parmalat’s New Ideas” that allowed employees to integrate social media functions with their regular activities on the Intranet.  The new platform provided capabilities to share and discuss ideas on various topics and select the best ideas by employees voting (15 votes required to put the idea for the Senior Management consideration).

Real Life Roll-out/Early Wins

In 2015, the Communication Manager, Ambra Sultzbaugh , led the roll-out of this initiative to employees in a series of in-person meetings across different regions. Since then, the program has significantly exceeded initial expectations of overall employee participation and engagement on-line (major KPI: number of employees signed up and time spent on-line).  Employees seemed to embrace a new digital outlet and were especially enthusiastic about proposing ideas on New Product Development, Work & Life, Work Processes improvement. Some topics seem to identify really important opportunities for employee, generating a lot of passionate on-line discussions and engagement in their development.

The important element of the program was the senior management commitment to exploring the ideas selected by employees. The “New Idea Platform” has been designed to provide an on-going follow-up to employees on their idea implementation progress. For example, once employees have voted an idea, they would start receiving emails with specific status updates on its implementation.

One of early big successes of the program was introduction the Family Day Celebration at a manufacturing plan, the idea that was championed and supported by a number of plant workers and senior management, who were then collaboratively working on its implementation.  As a result, a large crowd of workers and their families had a large celebratory event at one of Parmalat’s largest cheese plants in Victoriaville, Quebec. The event is planned to be recreated at other manufacturing plants.

Key Success Factors

Ambra has identified Key Success Factors that has made the program popular among employees:

  • The new system interface was intuitive and naturally integrated into the Lotus Notes main interface, increasing employee’s participation. For example, the system was accessible for the Lotus Notes Main Panel and was designed for easy entry: no any additional passwords or qualifications have been required from employees.
  • Initial efforts to educate employees on the program and promote engagement on-line. For example, computer tablets with the platform were installed in the Employee launch area in the corporate office enabling easy interaction with the system for employees having lunch. In addition, HR department made numerous field trips to the plants to show how the platform operates to plant workers.
  • Senior Management endorsement and active participation in the program. For example, the VP of Innovation is responsible for presenting employees product ideas to the Innovation Committee and owns a follow-up for the ideas that have been selected.  Ambra’s emphasized  that  “continuous nurturing of the program from the management is a key success factor“.









Lessons for Others

The views expressed herein are entirely my own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Parmalat

Key Lessons:

  1. Importance of choosing the appropriate social media platform for the audience

Parmalat has opted for the solution that have provided maximum reach and essential features vs. blindly adopting new technological solution with  more features.

  1. Importance of early efforts in educating and promoting early adaptation of a social media platform in the organization.
  1. Importance of Senior Management engagement and on-going efforts to keep the program relevant for employees



Organization: Parmalat Canada
Industry: Food Consumer Packaged Goods
Name of Organization Contact: Ambra Sultzbaugh  | Communications Manager Parmalat Canada | 405 The West Mall, Etobicoke, ON, M9C

Authored by: Alex Bazhanov

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