You could say it was the design and manufacturing work at small Kentucky injection molder Pioneer Plastics Inc. that saw it "rise to the top" on a recent project.
Longtime customer Pizza Hut put out a call to its suppliers to develop new bins for holding pizza dough in its 5,400 U.S. restaurants, as part of a long-term efficiency plan for its kitchens.
For Pizza Hut, that meant focusing on the preparation and handling of the dough.
For Pioneer, it meant rising to the occasion with engineering and meeting tight manufacturing deadlines.
Pioneer, in Dixon, Ky., ultimately snagged the business and picked up a 2022 Overall Supplier of the Year award, as well as a Smallwares Supplier of the Year, from Pizza Hut.
"We went to California [to the award ceremony] knowing that we were going to pick up the smallwares award, which would have been our fifth smallwares award," said Eddie Knapp, president at Pioneer Plastics. "And we got there, and we're surprised that they also award us our first Overall Supplier of the Year award."
Pizza Hut awards its top suppliers each year within the categories of smallwares items and equipment, store fixture supplies, food supplies, safety supplies and an overall supplier of the year.
The winners were announced during a ceremony hosted by the pizza chain's parent company, Yum Brands Inc., in Huntington Beach, Calif., with suppliers for Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell.
In December 2021, Pizza Hut reached out to Pioneer Plastics and other suppliers looking for new bin designs to save on prep time and cost.
"We got involved early in the design work for them," said Knapp. "They were working with other people as well and coming up with the design. At first, they settled on one design. Then we proposed something a little different and they liked our design better."
Pizza Hut wanted these back-of-the-house improvements in all their 5,400 U.S. locations.
Production for the new bins started in November 2022 and finished in January. Pioneer ended up creating over 137,000 custom bulk dough bins.
"There was a time crunch on this, and our people really stepped up," Knapp said. "We had told them the deadline and they knew what needed to happen. And they came in and made it happen with presses running 24/7 through the holidays."
Throughout the process, there were several changes and different designs to find something easier to mold. Towards the end, design tweaks involved changing a radius to make an airtight fit.
The biggest challenge the company faced was making the bins big enough to hold enough dough to meet Pizza Hut's efficiency goals, while still fitting in dishwashers.
Pioneer Plastics has visited Pizza Huts since delivering the new bins and has gotten positive feedback.
"We've been working with Pizza Hut for over 30 years, and we tend to know what they need," Knapp said. "We understand their processes very well from our close working relationship."