Slideshow: Highland Baking finds success in Spartanburg

by Laurie Gorton
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According to Highland Baking’s plans, its first manufacturing venture outside its native Chicago was supposed to be on the West coast. Instead, the company started up its newest high-volume bakery at Spartanburg, S.C. — on the East coast.  And yes, a western bakery is still in the picture. Click here for a slideshow of images from the new plant.

“Spartanburg gives us the ability to continue to grow,” said Stu Rosen, vice-president, Highland Baking Co., Northbrook, Ill. “Before, as a one-plant company, many potential customers didn’t talk to us because of concerns about scale and risk. They were worried they would outgrow our capacities. Putting in the redundancies of producing in a second location has allowed us to continue to grow.”

The Rosen family, owner-operators of Highland Baking, invested $20 million in the 230,000-square-foot building and its equipment. Set on a 12½-acre site, the bakery offers close proximity to I-85, a main north-south traffic artery spanning the Atlantic states.

The new location accounts for 30% to 60% of volume, depending on product line.

“We have one customer product we serve exclusively out of Spartanburg,” Stu said. “Otherwise, everything made here is also made at Northbrook.”

In many ways, the East coast bakery is a streamlined version of the company’s headquarters location. Both wholesale sites employ high-capacity ovens (four at Northbrook, two at Spartanburg) intended to be served by four makeup lines and four packaging lines, which Stu’s father, company president Jim Rosen, defined as the ideal bakery.

“Big enough to be efficient,” Jim said. “Contained enough to be manageable.”

Stu added, “In our industry, value is important. You have to make smart investments and grow into them. That was the model for Northbrook. Spartanburg represents a tremendous value for Highland Baking and our customers.”

The company specializes in developing custom bread and buns for food service.

Custom bread specialist

Jim Rosen and his wife, Gail, started up Highland Baking in 1985 when they took over a small bakery at Highland Park, Ill.

“That’s where the name of our company comes from,” he explained. But the business quickly outgrew its 1,500 square feet and a second site, 6,000 square feet at Lincolnwood, Ill. Demand for Highland products accelerated thanks to rising custom-manufacturing orders from a growing number of food service clients. Lincolnwood expanded to 80,000 square feet. When operations there maxed out, the Rosens found a former food processing plant with 250,000 square feet of empty space in nearby Northbrook.

Today, with Spartanburg stepping up its output to more than 2.5 million cases a year, the total company does about $125 million in annual sales, Stu said. The company specializes in making custom bread products.

The Spartanburg bakery outputs 17 different products: five pan bread varieties, 11 bun styles and sub rolls. Managers predicted near-term addition of mini-buns and ciabatta.

“The product lineup is a subset of what Northbrook makes,” Stu explained.

With 230,000 square feet under roof, the building currently uses 105,000 square feet for processing, 30,000 square feet for packaging and 75,000 square feet for warehousing, of which 30,000 square feet contains the freezer. Offices and ancillary services account for 20,000 square feet. The bakery employs 210 people.

“If we maximize the space in this bakery, we could fit in more lines,” Stu observed. “However, our internal goal is to be a four-line bakery. For the way we like to do things, four lines are ideal in terms of product capabilities.”

Everything goes out fully baked and frozen.

“We could add other styles because the bakery has a spiral freezer that could handle frozen dough,” Jim said.

“And par-baked,” Stu added.

Spartanburg started up manufacturing and distribution operations simultaneously because 99% of what is shipped from this site is also made here. To satisfy certain customers, a few items come from Northbrook and vice versa.

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