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, SC — on the East Coast.  And yes, a western bakery is still in the picture.

“Spartanburg gives us the ability to continue to grow,” said Stu Rosen, vice-president, Highland Baking Co., Northbrook, IL. “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-sq-ft 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. Contained enough to be manageable,” he said.

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.”

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

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, according to Stu. The company specializes in making custom bread products.

The Spartanburg bakery outputs 17 different products: five pan breads, 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 sq ft under roof, the building currently uses 105,000 sq ft for processing, 30,000 sq ft for packaging and 75,000 sq ft for warehousing, of which 30,000 sq ft contains the freezer. Offices and ancillary services account for 20,000 sq ft. 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.

Why Spartanburg?

The site search for this facility was interesting, to say the least. “We knew we had to grow,” Stu said. “The plan still is to have three plants, the one in Northbrook and new ones in the West and East.”

Originally focused on the West Coast, the Rosens had difficulty finding what they wanted, even after a year of searching. “We got close to signing a long-term lease on one site, but we agreed we were making that choice only because it was the ‘best of available’ locations. But it wasn’t ‘home’ — a place that spoke to us.”

They went back to their search specialist, CBRE Food Facilities Group, a real estate company focused on the needs of the food industry. They asked for recommendations on the Top 5 sites nationwide, forgoing their earlier geographic limits. Right before Thanksgiving 2011, CBRE came in with a building formerly occupied by a succession of frozen food processors. It was recently bought by an independent ­investor. “Technically, the location was not on the market, but CBRE heard rumors that the owner ­wanted to sell and sell quickly,” Stu recalled.

“We came out, looked at the building, evaluated its features and price,” he continued. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why would this not work for us?’ and could not come up with negatives. It really fit our needs well.”

Jim observed, “Bakeries thrive in big, sturdy buildings.” That’s what Highland found first at Northbrook and now at Spartanburg.

Highland managers looked carefully at the physical site, built in stages between the 1950s and 2000s, and at the community. They found a business-friendly environment in South Carolina along with attractive state and federal incentives. “This is also a region of relatively high unemployment, and people here are looking for solid jobs,” Stu said.

All told, just 30 days separated first sight from final close. Things happened just that quickly.

“It had most of the infrastructure we needed already in place,” Jim said. Because it had been a food plant, it had drains, employee lockers and changing rooms, a freezer, and docks in place. “The only hindrance was that we had to pull out much of the existing equipment,” he added. Other than the freezer, Highland didn’t keep any of the old equipment.

“The West Coast is still a continuing project for us,” Stu noted, “but we have to find the right property offering the best value to us.”

Equipment decisions, start up

Highland managers wanted to get the new location up and running quickly, a need that dictated the equipment choices and production philosophy.

First, they decided what products would be made. “Then, based on what we knew about the equipment and what we already had at Northbrook, we made our choices of bakery equipment,” Stu explained. “For example, we put in the same ovens, mixers and dividers. Every equipment manufacturer that supplied Spartanburg has been with us on the two newest lines at Northbrook.

“We wanted to replicate what we have in Northbrook,” he continued. “We seek to be conservative but within an aggressive growth position.”

Jim added, “What we did with respect to equipment helped us to get up and running faster.”

Boris Golenson, the company’s head of engineering, served as coordinator of the project and managed the installation.

“We met the startup goals pretty well,” Jim observed. The plan was to be up and running in nine months, November 2012, and Highland achieved that stage early. The bakery started actual shipments in late October. This was done customer by customer. As each came in to approve the product, Spartanburg started shipping it. All approvals were done by the end of November.

The two bakeries differ a bit but not in major ways. “Northbrook has more experience built in,” Stu noted, “and Spartanburg has interesting experience from outside the organization.” Northbrook does nearly all the product development work, directed by Steve Barnhart, Spartanburg plant manager. With him now at the new facility, the Rosens expected more of those projects might be shared between the bakeries.

Flow-through process

With all of the building on one level, Mr. Golenson and Michael Galenson, director of operations, Highland Baking Co., Northbrook, IL, laid out the Spartanburg bakery according to flow-through principles. Raw materials flow in one direction as they are turned into finished goods.

The bakery now runs two lines, and operations fill 20 hours a day on a Monday-to-Friday schedule. Preventive maintenance takes place on a scheduled basis, some during running hours. “Sanitation is done the same way: around the clock,” Mr. Galenson added.

The Shick USA bulk flour system handles white flour stored in a 150,000-lb silo.

The bakery currently receives its variety flours in 50-lb bags on skids, and rack storage holds all dry ingredients until called for use. Flour passes through a Great Western Manufacturing sifter before it reaches the use hoppers above the mixers. Operators batch minor and micro ingredients in the staging area next to the mixer battery. Ingredient water is conditioned by an AJ Chemical water treatment system. The building also contains coolers for storing temperature-sensitive ingredients such as butter and eggs.

Highland’s attitude of stick-with-who-you-know applies to ingredient suppliers, too. Spartanburg uses the same flour miller that supplies Northbrook.

Prepared in 1,600- and 2,000-lb horizontal mixers from Shaffer Manufacturing, a Bundy Baking Solution, doughs transfer to the makeup lines. The mixers feature glycol cooling jackets with coolant supplied by an Engineered Cold Systems glycol system, the same one that cools the freezer.

The bakery uses sponge-and-dough methods for preparation of pan breads on the Gemini/W&P pan bread line and for the Rondo stress-free sheeting line. Straight doughs are supplied to the Gemini 10-pocket round roll line and to an Adamatic variety makeup system. Sub rolls and hamburger buns were on the production schedule when Baking & Snack visited Spartanburg.

Baking pans, seven sets for buns along with strapped bread pans, are held in storage close to the makeup lines. Like the trough greasing system, Mallet & Co. supplied Highland with its bread pan greaser.

Kicked out of the final mixer into a stainless steel dough trough, doughs are raised by a Gemini/ABI hoist to be dumped into the roll line divider hopper. The company recently added a Gemini 8/10 pocket divider to handle hamburger buns on the same makeup line.

“We made the 8/10 conversion a few months ago and shifted to ‘space saver’ pans to produce 30 buns per pan instead of 24,” Mr. Barnhart explained.

Ronnie Williams, chief engineer at Spartanburg, noted that the divider head was swapped out and extra output lanes added. The new head has two pistons that can be selectively blocked to allow Highland to use it in either 8-across or 10-across configuration.

To the oven and beyond

After traveling through the line’s intermediate proofer, dough pieces drop into the moulding section and move out to be panned. A reciprocating conveyor, installed in a protective housing, lays pieces down row by row into waiting pans. Sub rolls are deposited onto peel boards lightly coated with corn meal by a Bettendorf applicator. Line operators manually insert the filled pans or peels into mobile racks and push them into one of the two Pfening 5-by-7 proof boxes.

“Hand-racking ensures that all cups are filled and out-of-spec rolls are removed,” Mr. Barnhart explained. Hamburger buns are handled similarly.

Emerging from the proofer, hamburger buns can be topped with seeds as they pass through a Burford seeding system. Operators put the filled pans onto the Alitech tunnel oven. This line also includes a Gemini/ABI pretzel dipping system for Highland’s signature pretzel rolls.

According to customer spec, buns can be sprayed with egg wash or bakery shine before baking using a Burford spraying system.

Proofed sub rolls and other goods that require crust scoring pass through a Perfect Score system. Unloaded from their racks, the filled peels enter an Gemini/ABI moving-wing hearth oven loader. The system’s low-tension mesh belt “picks up” the rolls off the peels and pulls them forward onto the wing-like loader as it moves away from the peels. On the return trip, the loader’s belt releases the rolls onto the hearth of the second Alitech tunnel oven.

After baking, hamburger buns leave the oven and pass through a Gemini depanner. The buns move along to cooling operations while bun pans return to the makeup line.

Sub rolls released from the oven hearth at the end of the oven travel to a separate cooler. The relatively low ceiling of the building limited the height of the GF spiral cooling towers, so the bakery uses three on the sub roll line and two on the hamburger bun line. All employ ambient conditions to bring products to the proper temperature for packaging.

Packaging preferences

Highland offers many packaging styles. “Pretty much every customer has their own case or package configuration, determined by how they run their operations,” Mr. Galenson explained.

For those preferring rolls in 6-count bags, a laned conveyor sorts the finished products into rows. The loading system for the Formost Fuji bagger creates two layers of three buns in each package. A Kwik Lok system applies clip closures. When running loaf bread, a gate located after the spiral towers diverts cooled loaves to a Bettendorf slicer ahead of the bagger.

Bulk-packed buns are routed to the LeMatic line with a horizontal slicer and a center-seal bulk packer. Each pack gets a lot code, and cases are loaded with two packs each, separated by a layer of cardboard.

Two Loma metal detectors monitor packaged goods before casing. North American box formers, case sealers and pallet wrappers finish the packaging job. Operators stack cases onto pallets, which are then stabilized with stretch wrap before they enter the freezer. The packaging line also has Atlantic poly-bag and case printers.

To better manage so many packaging styles, the company has ordered a new racking system for these materials.

While all Spartanburg products are made for foodservice clients and all sent to various distribution centers, some is transported by the bakery, but most goes out on the customer’s own trucks.

Ready for more

Spartanburg’s latest addition was Line No. 2, completed in July 2014 to double bun capacity. That’s when Highland Baking added a Rondo Doge line for ciabatta, folds and other stress-free products. The bakery now has the capacity to do egg wash and other pre- or post-bake wash treatments on both lines at the same time.

Stu revealed plans to expand the freezer and add a third oven in the next two or three years. “It’s already designed,” he said. “We’re waiting for the growth that will support it.”

Those plans involve floor space already available, but there’s still more to Spartanburg. Mr. Galenson pointed to a door in the wall next to the spiral cooling towers. “This building has another bay, 30 ft wide and the full length of the building, behind that wall,” he said.

Highland Baking takes pride in the fast pace it brings to foodservice product development, service and supply. “Our speed and reaction time is across everything — developing products, taking them to market, meeting customer requirements,” Stu said. “And to be quick and nimble, you have to combine a superior staff and flexible production. Like my father has said many times: With good people, we can make anything happen.

“So far, Spartanburg has answered what we’ve needed phenomenally,” he continued. “For us, it’s all about the customer. And the new bakery allows us to respond to customer needs in two major ways. First, it offers freight efficiency. Second, it gives us redundancy.

“It is doing exactly what we want it to, and we’re hearing a desire from customers now to make more products here,” Stu summarized.