Illes Foods with Elsy Ocejo, VP of Supply Chain feature #55 of Together Talks
Updated: Oct 25
"Together Talks" feature #55: Illes Foods presented by KLS, freight company
Some Background on Illes Foods
Today's edition of "Together Talks" campaign, KLS had the fortune to interview Elsy Ocejo, VP of Supply Chain for Illes Foods. From marinades and seasonings to beverage solutions and sauces, ILLES Foods provides custom-crafted culinary creations and R&D expertise to foodservice chains, food manufacturers, and grocery retailers.
The values they have learned and lived for the past 96 years – integrity, curiosity, and partnership – motivate their people to help customers be better with them than without them. These pillars are the driving forces behind Illes Foods' growth. Women make up almost 40% of the Illes' team. 1/8 female partners are in leadership positions, an increase of 50% compared to six years prior.
Empowerment through Networks
Elsy reflected on applying for the 1st ever VP of Supply Chain in the 96-year history of Illes Foods. She took us through her interview process, "I knew this would be a career progression for me. Even with holding newly created roles previously, I still must overcome the fear of imposter syndrome that many of us women possess being held back for so long. The interviews were getting harder, which meant the end was near. Going into what felt like it would be the final interview, I was told the hiring team was divided into the final two applicants. I remembered being in their position from when I had hired in the past, usually when a team is divided it is because the two candidates are opposite. I couldn't fear I wasn't right for the job or didn't deserve it. I needed to believe in myself and my abilities. My strengths were in supply chain, in strategy, I brought the whole package for the company not only in strategy but also implementing execution. I told myself to go for it and I presented them with my 90-Day plan on how to transform the organization's supply chain. (I got the job!)"
For Elsy at Illes, her first 90 days were about leading her team. She discovered their needs, how she can guide them to be their best selves, helping them grow and improving the processes better. One way she approaches this is by mapping informal networks. Elsy loves networks, unsurprising given her career path, she said every company she joins she first creates a network of associates. This helps her understand paths of communication, informal connections, and determine when and where to use a pipeline to effectively solve a situation. “Everyone in the organization is interconnected… every decision, every project, every event has a trickle effect in every person in the company. Supply Chain touches every aspect in the organization not only formally but informally, knowing internal informal networks helps accelerate the learning process and impact in a new or current role.”
But the pressure and doubt are fuel in addition to the high standards Elsy places on herself and the challenge that excites her. She doesn't take lightly the opportunity she was presented with and realizes that there is potential not just to make a difference at Illes Foods, but also within the industry, within supply chain, and within business period for women.
She explained how important it is for her to be a role model, to inspire other women. While also being a Hispanic leader in supply chain, Elsy considers it a privilege to encourage other females, including fellow Hispanics. She reflected on how women in this space have grown as compared to when her journey started over in Monterrey, Mexico over 20 years ago, but to her the work is not done. Elsy shared this final piece of advice, "Knowing your network inside the company and how you impact this network is what I'd recommend. Of all the chats I've had with women, one thing I notice is women hold themselves back to make a career progression, they underutilize their networks to get there. We often doubt ourselves before asking the question or putting our name in the hat when we are totally capable of. My hope is we continually progress forward and do so by taking the doubt out of our minds, eliminate the fear, and believe in yourself."
We asked Elsy what type of company would make a good partner for Illes Foods. She told us the company must match and represent the values of Illes. The first value being integrity. That is implemented by their trust, transparency, and results that are all executed with no excuses. Illes stays accountable by providing their value chain to each customer. Elsy said team members all possess a "can do" attitude, where regardless of the department, they will seek out a solution to any problem presented. An example of this, during the Pandemic, Illes Foods pivoted their manufacturing making and started producing hand sanitizer in house as the country was in a shortage. Illes Foods considers the 3 S's as competition, Seasonings, Sauces, and Syrups. We asked Elsy what differentiated Illes Foods from competition, she explained, "Most companies focus only on dry or liquid, very few do both. In addition, we provide full and custom-made recipes which are unique. Other companies have standard approaches or processes they offer, but we are fully customizable with proprietary recipes. We are the crossroads of culinary innovation for companies."
The next pillar of their values is being not just curious, but genuinely curious. Elsy told us that the value chain goes from suppliers all the way to customers, with Illes Foods helping in both directions. She shared with us how Illes takes the time to meet in person with companies they partner with, they ask questions to learn what is working, what is missing, what can Illes bring to the table. Elsy shared a favorite moment, "I got to sit in and try these different samples and be educated on the nuances and differing flavor profiles. I was able to participate and understand another side of our business." Often in this introductory discovery phase, Illes can guide a company to where they want to go without knowing how to get there. Being an extension of the company they are partnered with, enables Illes to discover solutions for customers with suppliers. Elsy shared, "Ultimately it is a win-win approach because we help the customer grow and as they grow so does Illes. When our interests are aligned is when that partnership truly grows. That is the benefit of our value chain."
The last of the three pillars is the power of partnership. A recent change implemented is team members of Illes Food are now considered partners. Partnership encompasses everything, the entire scope of the value chain. The change in terminology is translating the value and transparency of partnerships. Elsy told us it is a critical change in the culture that allows the company to grow partnerships not only externally, but internally as well. She also explained how the company is invested in its partners by attempting to help develop not just professionally, but personally as well. Specifically, to the team she leads, Elsy explained, "Understanding which tools are required for their education, development, and then growth is vital. Whether it is training, process experience, or leadership development. We not only want partners to grow in their positions, but we are providing the platform and resources enabling them to grow."
Partner with KLS
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Women Evolution of Supply Chain to Value Chain
Elsy's newly created role is unique because it encompasses the customer experience. As VP of supply chain Elsy oversees every aspect of Illes Food's value chain: procurement, logistics, project management, and customer service. She commended Illes Foods for creating this role, which she said very few small to medium-sized companies invest in. As she explained, "Often times companies of this size have logistics or procurement or supply chain, but very little attention is given to developing the department. Until something goes wrong and then suddenly it is important, but this women-led company understood the value of incorporating a complete overhaul of the value chain and that was extremely attractive to me."
As CEO, Cristin Illes Kahale, the founder’s great-granddaughter and the fourth generation of the family, put together a fantastic team of VPs, Elsy shared, stating she was the last one added to the Executive Committee team. She commended the dynamic conversations the teams have, collaborating and challenging on where the company will go, how to guide and lead each department and then bring those ideas to their respective teams.
Lastly, Elsy emphasized her career progression, "It's not what a company can give you, but what you can provide as value to a company that creates an opportunity for growth." She continued, "Career progression is about responsibility and enabling growth (through supply chain)...Not only presenting solutions that solve a problem but also following through with execution. These steps force you to step out of your comfort zone and grow."
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Follow along for the Illes Food journey with their social handles below!
Also check out where Illes Foods has been featured in the following publications below!
Klimson Logistics Solutions - Together Talks with Illes Foods feature #55
*Klimson Logistics Solutions is an Industry Leading Customer Service 3PL. Our focus and commitment to our clients has us striving to be the BEST customer service 3PL for LTL, FTL, Reefer, and Drayage in the country. KLS, freight company, is a 3PL providing nationwide logistics solutions. KLS shipping services include: LTL freight, FTL freight, Reefer LTL freight, Reefer FTL freight, and Drayage. Klimson Logistics Solutions thanks you for viewing our marketing campaign, "Together Talks". If you have any interest in being featured or questions regarding your freight operations please contact us today!
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We handle every shipment with the exact same process. It does not matter if you move one shipment a year or ten per day, you will receive the same level of customer service from us. When we started this company, we had one goal in mind, treat every shipment like it was our own. With our vast knowledge of the industry, we understood what a customer would want from a communication standpoint. We applied that process to be the standard here at KLS. Our reliability and being able to depend on our consistency is why we have such long-standing relationships with our clients.
Every shipment in our industry starts with a quote. We are firm believers that time is money, thus we strive to have quotes back in a 5-10 minute reply time for LTL and FTL, any FCL quotes are at the mercy of the carriers getting back to us. For LTL we have the flexibility to quote both off of NMFC and also Density depending on the carrier. Utilizing our services, you’re allowing us to use our expertise to class your freight accordingly to ensure we are providing the best rate we possibly can.
Once a quote has been submitted and a client chooses to proceed with KLS handling the arrangement of the shipment our full process begins. We create the BOL that will be used for the shipment. If it is a new location for our system, we will obtain all the important/special details (reference numbers, contact details, shipping hours, closed for lunch, dock/doors, etc.). We meticulously build every detail into our software for all future shipments involving that location. After we have both locations built and necessary reference numbers have been applied we will tender the shipment to the carrier. We use this method because it provides us a real time pickup number from the carrier to obtain updates prior to pickup. Our staff will either email the BOL directly to you or to the shipper (at your request) the minute after the tender has been accepted by the carrier. LTL carriers require a 2 hour window prior to close time in order to schedule it for a same-day pickup attempt.
The following morning you’ll receive an email from us. It will either provide the reason the pickup was missed (driver’s trailer filled up, driver missed the close time, truck broke down, shipper said no freight, etc.) or if the pickup was successful you will receive the PRO (tracking) number from us, along with the eta for delivery. Our staff will track it throughout the duration of transit and advise if anything happens that will alter the estimated delivery date. The day the shipment delivers we will email you with confirmation and the POD (Proof of Delivery), should you require it.
Your shipment has been quoted, scheduled, picked up, and delivered. The next step is waiting for the carrier to invoice us and make sure the rate matches up. If it does, we close out the invoice from the carrier in our system and automatically your invoice is created and sent to the requested party at your company. In the event the carrier has an additional charge on their invoice “Variance”, we will never send you an invoice with an additional charge without first identifying you of the charge.
Let us repeat, NEVER WILL WE JUST BILL OUT AN EXTRA CHARGE WITHOUT YOU BEING NOTIFIED.
You are our customer, we represent you. Should the carrier provide an extra charge on an invoice, “Lift gate, additional weight, reclass, detention, etc.) We notify you of the charge via email first. Second, within that email we identify what is required should you choose to dispute the charge. Again our goal is to honor your request, if you want to dispute, we will dispute. During a dispute we will provide you updates every step along the way. Once a dispute is closed out, whether it is approved or rejected, then we will invoice you as the invoice has been resolved.
For reference, our company only had 6.2% of all shipments go to dispute in 2022 and we successfully won 91% of those disputes on behalf of our customers.
This is our process for every single shipment you move with us. We don’t cut corners, we don’t hide from difficult situations. We believe in being available, honest, and transparent. We don’t ever want to tell you that a shipment is lost, damaged, misrouted, but it is our duty to notify you the second we find out something has gone wrong. We hate to present bad news, but it is part of the job. What you can guarantee is that we will work a shipment all the way through and turn over every stone until we get a resolution for our clients.
Our core business is LTL and FTL. Within these options we have options for both dry and refrigerated/frozen. We also offer FCL/Drayage options. Our company as a 3PL has nationwide options and services clients across the US.
Let’s breakdown our services more in-depth
LTL: Standard and Guaranteed CFS (Imports & Exports) Tradeshows Hazmat Anything that is on a pallet can be moved LTL. Typically LTL is up to 10 pallets, but the sweet spot for a carrier is 6-8 pallets at most for an individual shipment. LTL quotes are good between 5-30 days depending on the carrier. LTL can be quoted either via NMFC or density to determine the class (we do this for you).
Volume: Anything over 10-12’ of space in the truck is the technical rule for a volume shipment. When we run a quote for you we will determine if it qualifies for volume and provide you a rate if available. Volume moves allow you to get a reduced rate for larger shipments. The caveat to volume shipments it the quotes are only valid for 3-7 days and they move on capacity between terminals. If a terminal is backed up they will move their LTL freight first before the volume freight, which can lead to longer transit times for volume moves.
FTL/Dedicated/Expedited: 53’ Dry and Reefer 26’ Box trucks with lift gate Sprinter Van The main difference for FTL vs LTL is space and transit time. For standard pallets you can fit either 26 or 30 pallets in a 53’ dry van. The other main difference is transit time, for FTL each day counts in the transit time, whereas LTL does not count the day of pickup, weekends, or holidays in their transit time.
Reefer/Frozen: LTL and FTL We specialize working in the CPG space with food manufacturers. We regularly deliver to the following locations: Kehe UNFI Core Mark DPI Wegmans Cugini H.T. Hackney Netrition HEB ALDI Chambers and Owens EBY Brown Nassau Candy Harris Teeter Wakefern NU INC Long Distribution
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There are thousands for freight brokers and 3PL in our industry. Barrier to entry is rather easy and agents or owners will often hire sales people without any intention of properly training them. It results in high turnover for many freight companies and a forgettable experience for the client. We choose to operate differently through our consistency. We truly care about doing right by our clients and prospects too. While we would love to help provide our services to every company we speak with, that just isn’t realistic. We won’t always be the right fit for every company that moves freight and that is ok. Our authenticity as a shipping company sets us apart from the competition and that is backed up by our testimonials. We also run a marketing campaign bi-weekly called “Together Talks”. We interview, highlight, and promote two businesses every week. Our goal is to grow our network, make new connections, and learn something new with each collaboration. Check it out on our website and if you’re interested in being featured reach out.
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