Mission Foods: In Full view

by Steve Berne
Share This:

The opening of Mission Foods’ newest facility, located at Panorama City, CA, marks a major restart of the company’s push to expand its dominance of the corn and flour tortilla market — an estimated 70% market share — and reach new customers, fulfill consumer needs and introduce new product innovations.

 
“We had a golden opportunity with this facility,” said Alfredo Blanco, corporate vice-president of engineering. “This is a nearly 200,000-sq-ft, open-floor building. When we leased the building, we forecast to fully use the space. But we decided that, post recession, we would start smaller and build up. So initial production requires only a portion of the available space. As the economy improves, we are already ramping up production capacities. Additional production can also come from any over-capacity at our other two Los Angeles, CA, area plants on Olympic Boulevard and at Rancho Cucamonga.” These two facilities have been Mission’s flagship plants, with Rancho Cucamonga being its largest plant for many years.

Currently, Panorama City runs at about 40% total capacity. The potential for the space is twice that, with all infrastructure already in place for additional production lines and material handling systems. Designed and erected in 2007 as a warehouse, the plant is located in an industrial park on the site of a razed General Motors assembly plant. Mission took advantage of the spacious building to install highly effi cient production lines and implement new sustainability strategies. “It was our mandate to make Panorama City a model for all of Mission’s plants, and the programs and initiatives are resonant of corporate philosophies,” Mr. Blanco said. Final commissioning was April 1.


THE RIGHT PEOPLE.

Management in charge of the Panorama City project and its ongoing ramp-up and production has well over 100 years of combined experience in the industry and at the company. Because Mission planned the plant to be a “green” facility, it called on many of its veteran managers to oversee the project. For several of them, it meant stepping out of their comfort zones to ensure success.

 
Mr. Blanco joined Gruma Corp. and Mission Foods in 2005, after nine years with Frito-Lay as a project manager in Latin America. In 2008, he was additionally tasked with facilitating the company’s sustainability initiatives. “We made sustainability part of the engineering department because we anticipated most of the initiatives would involve utilities and building infrastructure,” he said. Results have been well above any expectations and are a testament to the experience and flexibility of management and plant personnel.”

 
Also on the core project team at Panorama City is Juan Torres, a 25-year veteran of Mission Foods, and currently director, project engineering, at the Panorama City plant. He has been involved with most of the company’s 16 operational facilities, with projects ranging from new construction, adding capacity and effi ciency improvements.

 
Along with Mr. Torres, Alvaro Pelayo, Panorama City’s plant manager, brought 39 years of Mission Foods experience to the new plant, transferring most recently from the Olympic Boulevard facility in March. He also headed up the companywide conversion from cooking corn to using Maseca corn masa in 1979, bringing effi ciency and consistency to the company’s family of products.


Lucy Gonzalez, a 21-year veteran at Mission Foods, is key to the company’s sustainability initiatives. As vice-president of quality for Mission Corp. from 1997 to 2008, Ms. Gonzalez was asked in 2008 to start sustainability initiatives for the company. “Sustainability has opened up a new world of interest, and I see a strong connection of sustainability to quality, just at a different level,” she said.


SUSTAINABLE KNOWLEDGE.

Ms. Gonzalez, vice-president, sustainability, took her first year in this position to get a clearer understanding and to identify the meaning and opportunities for Mission Foods. She began to drill down and collect data. “We did pilot initiatives through energy audits at a few plants, some new and some old, and quickly discovered many potential areas of improvement,” she said.

 
In 2009, the president of Mission Foods along with her and key people from the different areas of the organization identified the top sustainability initiatives for the company. These include water conservation, smart use of energy, solid waste reduction, environmental initiatives, sustainable packaging and social responsibility. These initiatives have been implemented at various degrees; some at select plants and others at all plants.

 
While Mission’s sustainability department offi cially totals just two people, it works closely with Mission Foods employees, sister companies and key suppliers. “And we also have a tremendous number of volunteers within the plants who want to get involved,” Ms. Gonzalez added. “They have great ideas and see the benefits to the company as well as their local communities. Each program has a leader who coordinates efforts with all the plants and the rest of the organization. This has helped the programs be successful.”

 
ENERGY SAVINGS.

Within each sustainability initiative, there are subprojects. For example, within “smart use of energy,” programs focus on compressed air, lighting and motor efficiency. For the motor project, the company recently completed a full inventory of every motor used at each location, with some plants having as many as 800 motors, according to Ms. Gonzalez.

 
Working with suppliers as well as plant engineers and maintenance managers, the company classified these motors as to their efficiency ratings, and when replacements are needed, higher effi ciency motors have already been identified. “We also are working on calculating the carbon footprint at each plant, so when projects are implemented, we can quantitatively measure their impact,” Ms. Gonzalez said. (See “Creating a Cool   Planet” on page 36.) Training manuals also are being   written regarding proper use and maintenance of motors and compressed air systems.

 
The company takes part in “demand response” energy conservation programs for many of its metropolitan locations. “During peak energy demands such as summer months and high-use times of the day, we agreed to a 30-minute warning from the local energy utility to shut the plant down, thus reverting energy back to the grid,” Mr. Pelayo noted. “Southern California Energy calls its program Peak Energy Partnership. At the Olympic Boulevard plant, for example, we use almost 6,000 kW an hour during normal production. When called to shut down, we must reduce that use to below 400 kW. Everything in the plant must be shut down within 30 minutes, except emergency systems and a few lights. In return, we get reduced rates.” Mission plants participate in such programs wherever available. To date, seven plants are part of the demand response.


PACKAGING INNOVATIONS.

Another very successful initiative is Mission’s sustainable packaging project. The assembled team is looking at material use and potential savings.


One successful subproject has been the conversion from cardboard to returnable plastic boxes for products shipped through distributors. “We’ve gone from one turn with cardboard to 20 turns so far with the plastic,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “And we have a nearly 100% return rate.”


She noted that Mission’s five Texas plants have converted to plastic, and the program will be expanding to all its 16 facilities. Part of the initiative was awareness training for its employees as well as distributors, who play a big part in its success. “We calculated and shared the emission savings of the program, which helped everyone buy into the effort,” Ms. Gonzalez added.


Although plastic trays are commonly used by food manufacturing companies, return rates have always been a challenge. Under the direction of the IT department, Mission took the program one step further and embedded RFID tags in every returnable plastic box. “We can actually track each plastic returnable box and know its last location,” Ms. Gonzalez noted. While all sustainability initiatives at Mission have only been promoted internally, a new effort will bring consumers into the fold as well. Mission Foods marketing department recently began working with TerraCycle, a reuser of materials. The company collects packaging materials from consumers and food service customers and converts the waste into other products, thus reducing materials being dumped into landfills. More information can be found at www.terracycle.net .


Another important goal for Mission’s operations department and as part of the sustainability efforts is to reduce its plants’ landfill contributions to zero. “Ultimately, we want zero solid waste trips to landfills,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “Some plants are getting real close, working with suppliers and local recyclers in their efforts,” she said. Some facilities have reduced landfill trips from six per week to one.


BENCHMARKINGWATER.

Water conservation is a sustainability initiative that often falls under the radar, and it involves quality as well as quantity. “We benchmarked water use at each plant then challenged the cleaning crews to reduce total usage,” Ms. Gonzalez continued. “A benefit we didn’t expect was the feedback from these crews on why they needed to use so much water. They brought us ideas on small changes that would result in significant water use reduction. It was a winwin. Their jobs became easier, they took further ownership of their tasks, and they brought real value to the company.”

 
Since then the company has developed irrigation initiatives, including planting native vegetation for exterior landscaping that needs less water, and is researching reuse of “gray” water for irrigation or other uses. It is also focusing on quality of its discharge water and implementing projects to improve the quality being discharged to the city.

 
SOCIAL MANDATE.

Sustainability is a broad term with many definitions. Social responsibility falls into Mission’s overall sustainability program because the company believes that helping people live better is just as important as conserving materials and energy.

 
In 2006, Mission declared “the year of healthy products” as its corporate mantra for product development. It introduced multigrain tortillas — a whole-grain product made from seven grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, triticale, corn and rice). The tortillas are offered in fajita and wrap sizes, and a 49-g tortilla carries 140 Cal and 5 g of dietary fiber. The company also rolled out “heart healthy” tortillas that contain omega-3 fatty acids. They are available in flour and whole-wheat varieties. Products currently on the lab bench include pita, naan and other types of flatbreads; low-sodium items; vitaminenriched, high-fiber, omega-3 and others baked foods with functional ingredients; and enhanced flavor profiles.

 
“Last year, we signed up to participate in the ‘Share Our Strength’ program, whose mission is to reduce child hunger in America,” Ms. Gonzalez noted. That global program ( www.strength.org  ), which began in 1984 in the wake of the Ethiopian famine, strives to fight childhood hunger. Promoting healthy foods such as whole grain and multigrain encouraged Mission to become part of the program. Ms. Gonzalez took part in a trip to the White House where First Lady Michelle Obama has also taken up the cause in conjunction with her efforts to fight childhood obesity.

 
The buy-in from individuals and plants as well as top management is a prime reason for the success of all the company’s sustainable initiatives, formally called “Today’s Mission for a Better Tomorrow.”

LEED BY DEFAULT.

“Becoming a LEED-certified plant was never the intent of the sustainability initiatives, engineering layout or design efforts for the Panorama City plant,” Mr. Blanco said. “It was really the other way around.” Through all the initiatives, which Mission just believed were the right things to do for its corporate mandate of greener manufacturing, LEED certification fell in line with its progress and programs.


“We never thought about it until someone suggested using the program as a guideline,” Mr. Blanco said. “At that point, many of the projects were well under way. Once we started looking at the criteria, it was fairly easy to qualify and quantify to reach the Silver level. The addition of the solar panel system qualified us for Gold certification.

 
“So it really came as a by-product of what we already were doing or planned to do,” he continued. “It was something we got because of what we were already doing.”


WALK THE TALK.

The layout of the Panorama City plant divides it into three departments, with its operations area designed in the shape of an “E.” A common packaging area runs along the open side of the space. Production uses 69,000 sq ft, while the warehouse takes up about 75,000 sq ft; the remainder being office and ancillary spaces.


“We split operations into corn, chip or fry, and wheat departments,” Mr. Pelayo said. Currently, the plant has two corn tortilla lines, with space for four additional corn lines. Two press lines currently manufacture wheat tortillas, with potential for two more and one new product pilot line. These lines run 24 hour a day, five days a week. The plant also has two lines in the fry department, one for chips and one for tostadas, with no current plans to add more fry lines.

 
“Our mandate for this plant has always been effi ciency — minimizing energy output per pound of product produced,” Mr. Blanco added. “And that was before any sustainability initiatives were conceived. We installed what is now the company’s only SCADA system to map energy consumption among other process variables. We know exactly what areas are the biggest ‘offenders’ when it comes to energy.”

 
Mr. Blanco was very resolute when looking at HVAC systems as well as compressed air. “All our systems are high effi ciency and variable speed,” he said. “All systems are centrally located and isolated to reduce noise, minimize heat emission and enhance worker safety.”

 
The plant is also the first Mission facility to install a solar panel system. Taking up about 20,000 sq ft of roof space, the REC Solar system includes 194 panel units. “It produces about 185 kW at 200 amps, which is sufficient to power our lights and smaller energy demands,” Mr. Blanco added. Capital investment on the system was approximately $1.2 million, almost half of which was immediately offset by incentives. The remainder has an expected ROI of four to five years.


Mr. Torres was in charge of working with Southern California Gas Co. to design an efficient layout. He also worked with Technomaíz, Mission’s sister company in Monterrey, Mexico, that engineers and fabricates equipment for the Mission Foods production plants, to be sure it offered the most gas-effi cient systems available.


About 80% of the plant’s equipment comes from Technomaíz, according to Mr. Blanco. The fryers are supplemented with thermal oxidizers from Heat and Control that reduce NOX and SOX emissions. Fryer exhaust heat is recovered to preheat combustion air for the burners that heat the frying oil. This is the eighth such system installed at Mission plants around the country. ON A MISSION. Bulk storage uses six Reimelt 155,000-lb-capacity silos, four for Maseca corn masa and two for wheat flour. Silo pads are in place for six additional units. Technomaíz provided the ovens, presses, continuous mixers and fryers for the fry lines. “These are the largest fryers of this type supplied by Technomaíz to any Mission plant,” Mr. Pelayo said. Each fryer uses Flynn Burner combustion systems and, with the aid of heat exchangers, has enhanced efficiency by 8%. Innovations being tested could increase energy savings even more.

Peerless 1,000-lb-capacity mixers prepare dough for the flour tortilla press lines, producing 3.5 batches per hour on average. A PRISMA software system, also supplied by Reimelt, tracks ingredient movement to the various lines and helps maintain traceability in the event of a recall. Gemini dividers portion wheat dough, after which dough balls rest five to six minutes before pressing and baking in the 3-tier oven.

 
After cooling, products travel through EyePro Q-Bake product inspection systems installed ahead of automated counter/stackers and manual packaging operations. Corn tortilla output totals 1,200 tortillas per minute per line. These lines feature continuous mixing and sheeting systems, while packaging is similar to wheat tortillas.


Packaging is primed as the plant’s next big investment, according to Mr. Blanco. “We will be automating many of the processes next year that are very manual at this time,” Mr. Pelayo noted. “We really concentrated on the processing efficiency first and knew we would need to address packaging at some point.”

 
Heat and Control supplied the Ishida checkweighers and metal detection for both types of tortillas as well as chips and tostadas. Urania baggers with Ishida weighscales are used to fill the flatbottom bagged items.
After a 2-year delay, the 6-monthold plant has eclipsed expectations of even its biggest supporters. “It’s truly satisfying to see the progress of this plant in such a short time and the influence it has on all of Missions’ plants and at corporate,” Mr. Blanco stated. With potential to double its current output using existing equipment and double the number of production lines, Mission Foods surely has another flagship plant in the mix.

Comment on this Article
We welcome your thoughtful comments. Please comply with our Community rules.








The views expressed in the comments section of Baking Business News do not reflect those of Baking Business News or its parent company, Sosland Publishing Co., Kansas City, Mo. Concern regarding a specific comment may be registered with the Editor by clicking the Report Abuse link.