Whenever Hearthside Food Solutions makes an acquisition, the company conducts an engineering study of the building, builds a three-year infrastructure model and then executes from there.

“Floors, walls and ceilings are the first things you start with,” said Dwayne Hughes, senior vice-president, supply chain for the Downers Grove, IL-based company. “I don’t want to wrestle for funds to improve these plants. We want to get every plant up to Safe Quality Food Level 3 and improve from there.”

Sometimes infrastructure requires mundane things like replacing roofs, adding brighter lighting, improving ventilation — especially on hot summer days — and eliminating trench drains, which are impossible to clean and the bane of any bakery’s existence.

 “We don’t like trench drains, and our goal is to have zero in our company,” Mr. Hughes said. “I know exactly how many we have. We have eight. I know exactly where they are, and I know I want to get rid of them.”

Automating production, however, isn’t so straightforward in a business where product and packaging requirements change on a regular basis. When it comes to capital spending, Hearthside has to ask tough questions and sometimes peer into a crystal ball.

 “We have to be very selective on where we spend our money and where we automate,” Mr. Hughes said. “It’s a balancing act. I could easily automate a hand-pack product line for a customer. Should they decide to bring it in-house or discontinue it for some reason, then I have a piece of equipment sitting idle. We have to partner with our customers.”