Dollars and Sense

by Dan Malovany
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For Bud’s Best Cookies, sales of its bite-size cookies have taken off at dollar store chains across the nation. While other cookie manufacturers struggle with pennypinching consumers and deep discounting by retailers, the Hoover, AL, cookie producer is thriving in today’s highly competitive environment.

“The super stores are competing with the dollar stores and running a lot of product 10 for $10 or 5 for $5,” said Bud Cason, president and c.e.o. of Bud’s Best Cookies, which typically sells a 6-oz bag of bite-size cookies for $1.29 to $1.39. “We’re also seeing a lot of private label. Several customers are saying, ‘We’re buying your product, but we could do twice as much selling it as private label.’ When these products go private label from branded, it’s seems they put a much bigger push behind them. It’s just increasing our sales. It’s a good thing, but it’s not as simple as it used to be.”

Actually, production has gotten a lot more complicated at Bud’s Best Cookies, which will open its doors to the industry during the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers’ Association’s technical conference that runs from Oct. 17-20 in Birmingham, AL. During the past decade, the company doubled bite-size cookie production capacity as well as the size of its facility to 125,000 sq ft from 53,000 sq ft. To meet demand for its products, Bud’s Best Cookies extended one oven from 100 to 150 ft and another from 80 to 160 ft, and the company is planning to double the size of its third 80-ft oven in the near future.

The cookie manufacturer recently purchased three additional sandwiching machines that produce 1.75-in. standard-size cookies sold under the Uncle Al’s brand. The operation also added a slew of packaging machines. It bought four more form/ fill/seal baggers for a total of seven systems and added automatic tray loaders, two robotic case packing systems and automatic cartoning and automated its warehouse.

“We hadn’t been set up for a cartoning situation,” Mr. Cason said. “We only had bags, but a lot of the wholesalers that shift the product from warehouse to retail store said they needed a carton because the bags get beat up too badly.”

HEIGHTENED SANITATION. To meet the demands of its customers, Bud’s Best Cookies also became recently certified under the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Program under the broader Global Food Safety Initiatives (GFSI). The certification, which is administered by the SQF Institute, Arlington, VA, and cost the bakery around $200,000 to complete, involved revamping the mixing room to comply with the new sanitation requirements. The company will spend thousands of dollars on an ongoing basis to remain in compliance with the standard. Bud’s Best Cookies is finding itself not only with higher overhead but also with new low-price competition from international cookie companies that are now selling their lowerpriced cookies to US retailers.

“With all of the restrictions we have here, I just wonder how these plants from other countries are checked and how the product comes in from a sanitation or quality standpoint,” Mr. Cason said.

Internationally, sandwich cookies and savory crackers have emerged as the hot product in the biscuit category, said Matt Zielsdorf, vice-president of sales at The Peerless Group, Sidney, OH. The company sells cookie sandwiching equipment under the Peters brand and mixers for wire-cut doughs, energy bars and extruded products under the Peerless name.

“Meal solution and portability are global initiatives,” Mr. Zielsdorf said. “Areas of the world that didn’t have much of a middle class now do. In different parts of the world, they snack on cookies, while in the US, they are more grab and go.”

With sandwich cookies, the basecakes get baked and thus go through a kill step that eliminates many microbiological concerns, but in most cases, the cremes or other fillings are not baked. “If you have a sandwiching machine, you need to be cognizant of how it needs to be cleaned,” Mr. Zielsdorf said.

At the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), which will be held Sept. 26-29 in Las Vegas, The Peerless Group will roll out a redesigned sandwiching line in which the mechanical drives, sprockets and other key components have been moved away from the food zone to simplify sanitation, Mr. Zielsdorf added. Likewise, the new Peerless single- and double-sigma arm mixers feature a new, maintenance-free bowl seal.

At IBIE, Baker Perkins, Grand Rapids, MI, will introduce a wirecut, a rotary moulder and a rotary cutter under the TruClean name that reduce accumulation of unwanted materials, improve visibility and access for cleaning and simplify the removal and replacement of components, said Keith Graham, marketing manager. The company built these systems in accordance with the sanitary design principles being developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, he added.

Additionally at IBIE, Baker Perkins will launch a range of mixers for the cookie and cracker machines. The mixers’ blades feature a shaftless design with two arms and are made from one piece of steel casting. The geometric design combined with the absence of a shaft allows rapid dispersion of ingredients for quick mixing of soft delicate doughs with inclusions such as chocolate chips. The blade also provides shear properties for developing cracker dough, Mr. Graham said.

ELIMINATING ALLERGENS. Many cookie manufacturers face higher ingredient costs today because of industrywide efforts to remove trans fats in previous years and customers’ more recent requests to replace high-fructose corn syrup with more expensive sweeteners. Reducing sanitation costs, however, is a variable many companies think they can control. “If I could change one thing, I’ll give it to you in one word — allergens,” said Peggy Goulding, RD and founding family member at Oak State Products, Wenona, IL. “Nuts are a popular ingredient, but they require a lot of time between runs because of allergen issues. Anything that is easier to clean would be a boon in that respect.”

In addition to sanitation, food quality and food safety rank among the most critical issues this year, although accuracy of portion control also remains paramount, added Bill Grutter, president of Food Process Automation (FPA), Grand Rapids, MI. “Eliminating giveaway is a simple way to fatten the bottom line,” he said. “If you can improve your accuracy by 2%, you can improve your profits by 2%, and that’s huge.”

At IBIE 2010, FPA will feature PLC recipe control of all variables and processes. To add more precision to the production process, the company offers variablefrequency drives and servo-controlled systems.

Together, he said, these technologies provide consistency and accuracy, which improve production rates and control costs over the long run. He added FPA has raised the bar in wire-cut products with more accurate machine tolerances in its component parts, resulting in better weight control with new frozen dough machines.

Additionally, FPA’s high-intensity cooling tunnel requires 75% of the floor space of conventional tunnels and reduces cooling times by 75%. Traditional cooling tunnels, Mr. Grutter said, provide gentle air applications because the crystalline structure of chocolate requires time, not intensity, to cool. Manufacturers can be much more aggressive in cooling products such as cookies, brownies, snack products, granola bars or other products with higher tolerances to rapid cooling.

“It allows producers to extend shelf life and package the products more quickly. Rapid cooling makes a more durable product because it stops the baking process,” he said. “In some cases, we take the products right to the freezing stage.”

BUILT-IN FLEXIBILITY. To produce a wide variety of products, Haas-Meincke’s V50 depositor can be delivered with one, two or three heads on eight different base types with the configuration depending on the customer’s needs, said Harald Bechmann, content manager and senior technical editor, marketing department, Franz Haas Waffel- und Keksanlagen-Industrie GmbH, Leobendorf, Austria.

“Because it is possible to switch between the three depositing heads or use them all at one time, production becomes highly flexible,” Mr. Bechmann said. “This makes it easy to adapt quickly to new market trends without having to invest in new machinery. New market trends can be met by the possibility of simultaneously depositing or extruding up to three kinds of masses and by combining them in novel ways.”

The V50 also is suitable for producing butter cookies, biscuits, cupcakes, extruded bar and encrusted products. In addition to versatility and accuracy, the V50 is easy to clean with nozzle plates, pump house and hoppers that can removed and reinstalled without tools during cleaning or changeovers, Mr. Bechmann said.

“The V50 heads are mounted on a base that has a servo-driven pacing mechanism together with a servo-driven up/down motion of the plastic conveyor belt,” he said. “This allows [companies] to make all kinds of deposits including swirls and one-shot products on the plastic conveyor.”

Reiser, Canton, MA, offers cookie dough depositing systems for making everything from tubs of bulk dough to individual pre-formed portions. The Vemag depositor features a positive-displacement, doublescrew pump that provides high levels of portioning accuracy. Additionally, the double-screw technology transports product extremely gently — even large inclusions don’t get damaged or crushed. Cookie producers can add the Reiser-engineered Waterwheel attachment that divides the product flow into multiple lanes with equal portions from each outlet for accurate high-volume production.

Moreover, the Vemag can be combined with a dripless valve attachment for filling cups, tubs and bulk containers with cookie dough with exact weight portions. For pre-formed cookie dough, Reiser’s guillotine cutoff attachment comes with an interchangeable die insert that allows manufacturers to quickly changeover to different product shapes and sizes with consistent accuracy.

According to Reading Bakery Systems, Robesonia, PA, the T.L. Green Rotary Molder produces high-definition, 3-dimensional shapes of biscuits and snacks by pressing dough into engraved cavities in a die roll. An extraction belt delivers the pieces to an oven mesh or transfer conveyor. The extraction conveyor is cantilevered away from the machine to minimize the number of transfer points between product extraction from the die roll and placement onto the oven band. Additionally, the conveyor nose is built to provide an adaptable transfer onto the downstream equipment. This allows the rotary moulder to be positioned into the production line without causing disruptive changes to the line.

Additionally, the T.L. Green Independence Series Wire-cut Machine provides product-weight accuracy through the use of a precisely machined filler block that funnels dough from the grooved forcing rolls into the die cups mounted above the wirecutting mechanism. According to the company, the low-pressure system does not overwork the dough, allowing consistent product shape. As the dough exits the die cups, it can be cut into individual shapes at up to 150 pieces per minute.

Meanwhile, the Macrowave RF from Radio Frequency Co. of Millis, MA., can drive throughput of conventional cookie ovens with its post-baking dryers. Specifically, the Macrowave RF can allow manufacturers to increase oven band speeds by 30% while providing control over moisture uniformity throughout the entire thickness of the product. The systems can remove the residual moisture trapped in the product’s center, and they come in bandwidths ranging from 30- to 96-in. wide, according to the company.
In these economic times, when it comes to cookie production, a penny saved is one that’s earned. •

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