Sustainability: Locating the Low-Hanging Fruit
Using the proper tools, bakers and snack producers can identify simple strategic investments to lower overhead and energy costs for the long run.
BakingBusiness.com, May 2, 2011
by Dan Malovany
When Wal-Mart talks, its suppliers listen. That’s why executives from many of the nation’s largest baking companies took notes when Lee Scott, former president and CEO of the world’s largest retailer, took the stage at the recent American Bakers Association annual convention in San Antonio, TX, and explained why every business has to commit to sustainability.

“We simply cannot make and sell goods the same way we have for the past century,” Mr. Scott said. “We have to be more efficient, using fewer raw materials and less energy. Our products also have to last longer, and when they have outlived their usefulness, they need to be recycled back into the value chain. This should not be about philanthropy. Make sustainability about your core business and your customers, and it will last.”

Making that commitment may require an initial down payment, but the return on investment for energy management initiatives, which many engineers now consider the proverbial low-hanging fruit, is now quicker than it has been in the past, and the savings can continue into the foreseeable future. Take Mi Rancho, a family-run tortilla producer, for example. The San Leandro, CA-based company recently retrofitted lights throughout its production facility and warehouse with high-intensity, energy-efficient lighting fixtures. “We installed more than 200 lights, and according to the company that handled the installation, Mi Rancho is to realize analyzing savings of approximately $32,000 annually,” noted Joe Santana, vice-president of operations. “[That figure reflects] Mi Rancho’s cost for the entire project after PG&E [its electric company] and City of San Leandro rebates.”

In today’s competitive environment, where margins are pressed to the max, Rudolph Foods made several key investments to reduce energy costs to offset volatile ingredient prices, according to Mark Singleton, vice-president of sales and marketing for the Lima, OH-based producer of pork rinds and other products. Specifically, the company purchased a 7.5-hp compressor that satisfies the needs for compressed air on weekends instead of using its large 75-hp compressor seven days a week. That investment saves about 450,000 kwh per year. Additionally, the company’s light replacement program cut energy usage for lighting its facilities by 50%.

“Rising costs of materials is our biggest current challenge,” Mr. Singleton observed. “We are offsetting these raw material increases by intensively lowering our carbon footprint in every plant. We have energy teams that have identified opportunities to save more than 5% per year in energy usage. We have other teams working to have zero impact on our landfills. It’s amazing to watch the passion for this initiative by our plant teams.”

To become more energy efficient, Rudolph Foods has become a part of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s voluntary Energy Star program. As a result of its efforts, Mr. Singleton said, the company’s Atlanta, GA, plant recently received an Energy Star Partner award for its energy saving results.

STARS FOR EFFORT.

Other snack food companies also received recognition from the Energy Star program. John B. Sanfilippo & Son (JBSS), the Elgin, IL-based producer of Fisher nuts, received the Energy Star Partner award for excellence in energy management. EPA recognized three JBSS facilities for reducing energy consumption by more than 10% as a part of the program.

At this year’s American Society of Baking annual technical conference in Chicago, IL, Dave Van Laar, president and CEO of Oak State Products, described how the Wenona, IL-based cookie and bar producer spent two years to achieve Energy Star Partner status as a part of EPA’s program with the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers’ Association.

Specifically, Oak State replaced lights throughout its 200,000-sq-ft plant with energy-efficient fluorescent lighting, which resulted in a 9-month payback. “We had so much light in one area, we had to turn half the lights off,” Mr. Van Laar said. “They were too bright.”

Additionally, the company is reducing its use of compressed air, which Mr. Van Laar called “the least efficient form of energy,” and the cookie manufacturer is replacing older motors on its production and packaging lines with high-efficiency motors as needed. In a short time, he said, the company is halfway toward its 2015 goal to reduce energy usage by 25%. “Instead of band-aiding, we are going to the source of the problem,” he said.

Pineridge Group, Toronto, ON, is focusing on energy management as part of a complete lifecycle assessment program of its equipment and overall operations at Oakrun Farm Bakery and Gourmet Baker facilities throughout Canada, according to Dominic D’Amours, director, sustainable development. “We’re targeting projects that are simpler at first and then will move on to more complicated ones,” he said. “The simpler ones are those like energy efficiency and reducing packaging.”

In addition to quick changes such as replacing lighting, which Mr. D’Amours describe as a “no brainer,” Pineridge is conducting energy-efficiency assessments that qualify for rebates from Canada’s provincial government. To save electricity, the company also will add variable-speed drives on spiral freezers or other systems that do not run all day long.

Becoming more energy efficient often requires prodding from a company’s major customers, according to Mr. Van Laar. For Oak State, he’s now glad he has the Energy Star status. “When they ask about our energy plan, we just show them we’re an Energy Star Partner,” he said.

After that, he added, no questions are asked.

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