FullBloom Baking: LEEDing Through Flexibility

by Steve Berne
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With the mantra “fresh, quality and taste.” Karen Trilevsky, founder and c.e.o. of FullBloom Baking, Newark, CA, began producing sweet goods for San Francisco Bay area coffee shops in 1989, by renting space at a restaurant during off-hours. Ms. Trilevsky’s baking venture developed after years of working in the restaurant trade and owning a coffee shop for which she made her own baked foods. She realized there was more potential in supplying others with fresh, greattasting pastries than in actually running a shop herself.

Business for FullBloom “blossomed,” and eventually Ms. Trilevsky’s reputation for quality brought in business from national coffeehouses and specialty grocery chains. She soon transferred FullBloom Baking Co. operations into a 20,000-sq-ft facility in Menlo Park, CA. When production reached 24/7/365 in late 2005, it was time to expand once again.

The company’s current 95,000-sq-ft facility, located in Newark, CA, was previously operated by Nancy’s Specialty Foods, Inc. until that company was acquired by H.J. Heinz Co. in July 2005. “We took possession of the building in 2006 and immediately started renovations,” Ms. Trilevsky recalled.

As a self-made entrepreneur with a strong belief in environmental stewardship, she sought to implement as many earth-friendly tactics as possible during renovation to limit waste. That led her to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S, Green Building Council.

“LEED certification was raised as an option in the early stages of renovation and it was just the right thing to do,” she said. “We wanted to build green, and this was a way to authenticate what we already planned to do. And our concepts were very much in parallel with LEED parameters.”

Her decision created quite a challenge because many of the company’s contractors were not LEED fluent. “The concept was still very new at the time, so it was an education process for all of us,” she noted. “Some aspects of the certification and the points system were mandatory, while others were optional and could garner additional points for us. We had to sort this all out with our contractors and weigh the benefits against the costs.”

For the plant, the best possible achievement was Gold level since the infrastructure was already in place and the building was erected. The offices, however, were totally gutted and rebuilt, allowing FullBloom to go for Platinum level in that area.

“We have heard of a number of companies ‘greenwashing’ customers, saying they were green but having no way to really prove it,” Ms. Trilevsky said. “We wanted to be able to authenticate our efforts, and this resonated well with our customers. We received our notification from LEED on April 5, so time will tell of any positive impact on sales, although that was not the premise for the effort.”


LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system. Developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED provides a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. LEED employs third-party verification to certify that a building was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across specific metrics — energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts, according to the Green Building Certification Institute’s web site, www.gbci.org .

The voluntary certification program can be applied to any building type and any building lifecycle phase. It promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in key areas. Points are awarded in each category and the total determines whether a project is Certified Silver, Gold or Platinum LEED.

Sustainable Sites: Choosing and managing a building’s site during construction are important considerations for a project’s sustainability. The Sustainable Sites category awards points for redevelopment of land; minimized impact on ecosystems and waterways; integrating regionally appropriate landscaping; smart transportation choices; controlled storm water runoff; and reduced erosion, light pollution, heat island effect and construction-related pollution.

Water Efficiency: Buildings are major users of potable water. The goal of the Water Efficiency category is to encourage smarter use of water, inside and out. Water reduction is typically achieved through more effi cient appliances, fixtures and fittings inside and water-effi cient landscaping outside.

Energy and Atmosphere: According to the US Department of Energy, commercial buildings use 39% of the energy and 74% of the electricity produced each year in the US. The Energy and Atmosphere category encourages a wide variety of energy strategies: commissioning; energy use monitoring; efficient design and construction; effi - cient appliances, systems and lighting; the use of renewable and clean sources of energy, generated on- or off-site; and other innovative strategies.

Materials and Resources: During both the construction and operations phases, buildings generate a lot of waste and use a lot of materials and resources. This category encourages selection of sustainably grown, harvested, produced and transported products and materials. It promotes the reduction of waste as well as reuse and recycling, and it takes into account the reduction of waste at a product’s source.
IndoorEnvironmental Quality:The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans spend about 90% of their day indoors, where the air quality can be significantly worse than outside. The Indoor Environmental Quality credit category promotes strategies that can improve indoor air, provide access to natural daylight and views and improve acoustics.

Innovation in Design: This category provides bonus points for projects that use new and innovative technologies and strategies to improve a building’s performance well beyond what is required by other LEED credits or in green building considerations that are not specifically addressed elsewhere in LEED. It also rewards projects for including a LEED Accredited Professional on the team to ensure a holistic, integrated approach to the design and construction phase.

Regional Priority: USGBC’s regional councils, chapters and affi liates have identified the environmental concerns that are most important for every region of the country, and six LEED credits that address those local priorities were selected for each region. A project that earns a regional priority credit will earn one bonus point in addition to any points awarded for that credit. Up to four extra points can be earned in this way.


While some equipment remained with the building after Nancy’s vacated, other equipment was purchased new or came from the old bakery. “During the transfer from one plant to the other, we couldn’t, and didn’t, lose one day of production,” Ms. Trilevsky noted.

One of the biggest changes to the operation was the shift from rack ovens to automated tunnel ovens. It was a totally new way of operating for FullBloom, and production that had required three shifts seven day a week now takes up only two shifts five days a week. “Efficiency of scale is very large, and while products were high quality coming out of the rack ovens, the tunnel ovens require so much less manual handling and so much less labor,” Ms. Trilevsky said.

Most production is frozen (thawand-serve), another change that occurred as the business evolved. In the past three years, FullBloom doubled to more than 300 associates. Its customers are roughly 95% private label and food service with a small amount of branded items. “Operations are set up for long runs, and our business is striving for this type of customer,” said Frankie Whitman, vicepresident, marketing. “This is also a shift in business philosophy made possible by the new facility.”

Being a self-taught baker of fresh products, Ms. Trilevsky preferred fresh and natural ingredients and had little need for preservatives. That approach did not change when production increased to industrial scale, then shifted to frozen. “We have specific guidelines established for our operations, including organic and all-natural ingredients,” Ms. Whitman noted. “Not all production is organic, so thorough cleaning protocols and scheduling are enforced to ensure compliance with our organic certifier, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).”

For FullBloom, natural is a term defined mainly by its customers. “We basically have do-not-use lists from our customers, and we have combined all the lists and work from that,” she added. Current plans for the company are to expand with its key partners and find new ones to fill capacity. The newest area of interest is school food service. There is a significant push in California and other states for healthier school feeding options. FullBloom serves several school districts and communities and is involved regionally with customers in Colorado and other states.

The company owns 10 acres adjacent to the existing building for future expansion, and the plant was originally designed as a USDA-inspected facility, so FullBloom has the potential to add meat to current or future products. “We have a lot of capability and flexibility to produce just about anything our customers desire, provided the volume is there to make it advantageous,” Ms. Trilevsky said.

FullBloom produces more than 200 SKUs. Two oven lines with flexible makeup systems prepare up to seven dough and batter types. Product styles include cookies, bars, laminated items such as croissants and sweet goods, muffins, granolas, sheet and loaf cakes and scones. “Most of our work is custom,” Ms. Whitman said. “We do not make gluten free claims because we do not have a separate gluten free facility. Some of our products are wheat-free, dairy-free and vegan. We advise our customers to test for gluten if they want to make a gluten-free claim on their labels because wheat is present and used within the facility.”

The R&D team at FullBloom focuses on natural, creative and customized products. The company employs three product developers and one technician and is looking to expand. “We also have one person specifically in charge of commercialization — taking the R&D process from bench top to full production,” Ms. Trilevsky added.


All employees have their temperature taken and their ID badges physically checked upon entering the building. The company started this procedure during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak but has continued it as a preventive measure and food safety step.

Processing takes up 25,000 of the facility’s 95,000 sq ft, with the remainder divided into 10,000 sq ft for packaging, 21,000 sq ft in warehouse space and the remainder for office and ancillary activities.
Entrance to and exit from the production area is through a controlled-access room consisting of an automated handwash station followed by an automated shoe cleaner. Adjacent to the entry pathway is the exit. “We have the same setup for exiting, so employees do not track flour dust or debris into the office or outside,” Ms. Trilevsky said.

In addition to skylights installed in the warehouse for the LEED points, brightness sensors were added to the light fixtures that automatically adjust the bulbs to one of three possible settings. Motion detectors were also added here and in other areas of the facility to turn off lights when there is no activity.
Production is evenly split between bake-to-order and bake-to-inventory, a major shift for the company as it built up its food service business. The facility’s single flour silo is under renovation with new piping and software being installed. The plant also features a bulk oil tank, but all other ingredients are hand scaled and manually added to each mix.

The bakery’s primary mixers, two Tonelli 400-l systems, each with a bowl capacity of about 600 lb, supply batters for FullBloom’s many varieties of muffins and cakes as well as fruit scones, cookies, icings and fillings. An Allen-Bradley PanelView recipe control system for the two mixers is capable of automatically scaling flour, sugar, eggs, oil and water for 200 separate products. Presently, all FullBloom products are hand-scaled, but with the company’s move to more bulk storage, automatic batching of certain ingredients will follow. A clean-in-place wash system sanitizes the mixers in about four to six minutes during product changeovers.

Mixing operations also employ a Sancassiano spiral mixer to prepare dough for laminated items. The facility uses a variety of depositors, including Tromp (cakes), Hinds-Bock (muffins) and Reiser Vemag (cookies). A Tonelli automatic bowl lift feeds the Hinds-Bock depositor, raising the bowl about 12 ft high, turning it over and then scraping the bowl completely empty into the hopper.
For scones and other sheeted items, FullBloom uses a Moline automated line and a Fritsch system that produces laminated items such as croissants. Products are transferred from makeup to baking via Nercon plastic modular belts.

Baking operations use two tunnel ovens, one of which — a DFE Meincke 40-ft, 3-zone indirect-fired unit — was inherited from the previous owner. The other oven, from C.H. Babb, is an 86-ft, 3-zone indirect-fired system. Five Revent rack ovens, transferred from the old plant, bake short runs and R&D tests.
Bars such as marshmallow squares and other products that require portioning travel through an optional Bakon ultrasonic cutter. All baked foods travel the twin I.J. White stainless steel ambient cooling spiral conveyors. The coolers use very little floor space as designed and take advantage of the ceiling height to get ample cooling. Product enters low of the first tower, travels up and connects to the second spiral, traveling back down before exiting low. The spiral belt is an Ashworth Advantage 120 plastic modular system that was chosen for its strength and compatibility to handle the variety of products produced. Centralized cleaning and more effi - cient cooling compared with an overhead racetrack conveyor system were other advantages noted.

The spiral coolers converge to a Frigoscandia spiral blast freezer where products dwell for about 35 minutes at -40°F.

Products enter the freezer at floor level and exit at the top to a second floor packaging area, equipped with a variety of overwrappers and case packers.


While managers were reluctant to discuss too many details of the operation because of the proprietary nature of formulations and customer information, they are proud of FullBloom’s accomplishments toward LEED certification. Among the efforts for LEED points were:

• Lighting changed and skylights added.

• Bike racks installed, supporting alternative transportation.

• Preferred parking spaces established for hybrid vehicles.

• Water-efficient landscaping added.

• Water use reduced by 42.8% from baseline design.

• Refrigerant management enhanced by selecting refrigerants and HVAC components to minimize emission of compounds that contribute to ozone depletion.

• Insulated and operable windows installed.

• Materials used in the offi ce included bamboo flooring, duct socks, furniture made from recycled material, cork/bamboo stair treads and more.

• Green power implemented, with 100% of building’s electrical power provided by renewable sources.

• Building structural materials reused, with 98.3% of existing wall, floor and roof elements retained.

• Building nonstructural materials reused, with 73.9% of existing interior nonstructural elements maintained.

• Construction waste managed by diverting 130 tons of onsite generated construction waste from landfills.

• Resource reuse accomplished through the project’s use of salvaged, refurbished or reused materials.

• Recycled content applied, with 12.5% of the total building materials manufactured using recycled materials.

• Rapidly renewable materials employed, with 19% of the total building materials extracted, harvested or recovered from within 150 miles of the facility and from sustainable forests.

• Outdoor air delivery monitored, so that no high-density spaces require CO monitoring.

• Increased ventilation accomplished, increasing by 30% all occupied spaces with outdoor air ventilation.

• Low-emitting materials selected by choosing all indoor adhesive and sealant products to comply with VOC limits including paints, carpet systems, composite wood and agrifiber (any fibrous material generated from agricultural/bio-based products).

• Thermal comfort designed into office area.

• Innovation in design acknowledged for major equipment reuse; for organic certifying agency, California Certified Organic Farmers; for composting food waste; and for employee input in design.

• Daylight views provided, so that 92% of occupied seated spaces have direct line-of-sight views.

For an entrepreneurial company dedicated to fresh, quality and taste, FullBloom Baking can clearly position itself among the elite, LEEDing the industry and satisfying its customers. •

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