Alot has happened in the world during the past two years. The biggest news, of course, is the economy and the toll it is taking on American families. Consumers have tended to gravitate toward simpler foods, convenience foods, comfort foods and value. However, there is still the desire by many to consume as many healthy and nutritious foods as possible and not just buy "belly stuffer" items. The snack industry has benefitted from these trends — some players more than others. Baptista’s Bakery, Franklin, WI, focuses on providing its contract manufacturing customers products that fit into these trends.

"Our niches are unique, tasty products with a healthy bias that fit into mainstream markets, processes that have a high barrier to entry and items that are sustainable for us and our customers," said Tom Howe, president. "Internally, our focus is centered on product development and manufacturing quality products, both of which are a function of people."

Although Baptista’s Bakery is well established, it really began to make a name for itself in 2002. At that time, the company had 49 SKUs. By 2007 that number was greater than 150, and today it surpasses 250. Its customer base has substantially expanded as has its capabilities. "We have added six major customers to our baked potato crisps product line in the past two years," Mr. Howe said.

To keep up with demand, the company extended the oven on its original sheeting line by adding an extra baking zone, increasing throughput by 25%. And new sheeting production line was installed in March that has twice the capacity of the expanded line.

Each line now also has capability to run ripple crisps. "Adding ripples provides a different appearance, slightly stiffer structure and new marketing opportunities, as the products are ideal for dips," said John Susko, vice-president of manufacturing.

"We’ve also added new technology in the blending and mixing area, so the scope of products we manufacture has expanded," said Mike Huber, director of product development and culinary science. "Specifically, it allows us to offer whole-grain and multigrain baked chips that have great taste, hold together and have a very unique healthy profile."

The base 6-grain chip, which will be test marketed in the coming months, has 18 g of whole grains and less than 2 g fat per serving. "The product is really a new category of snack," Mr. Howe noted. "It’s not really a chip but not a cracker either."

The technology also allows Baptista’s to produce a 5-grain S-shaped cracker with good particulate definition, rivaling similar offerings in the marketplace. Grains include oat, wheat, rice, corn and triticale and will be available in Sea Salt, Sweet Chili and White Cheddar varieties to start.

Last year, Baptista’s commissioned a third low-pressure extrusion line in the 140,000-sq-ft plant, adding 50% capacity to its pretzel crisp output and bringing the total number of production lines to six — four extrusion and two sheeting.

Packaging is another area that has seen substantial improvement and expansion in the past two years. Not only did the company add a new series of baggers but also an additional product handling and diverter system that provides the flexibility to run virtually any product on any packaging line — allowing pillow pouches; bag-in-box and auto case packing; gusseted pouches; reclosable zipper bags; bulk packaging; and new 4-wall-gusseted or quad-seal bags. "Overall, we have what we call ‘overpull’ capacity in packaging — more packaging capacity than baking capacity. That enables high levels of flexibility," Mr. Susko noted.

"There was no way to convert an existing vertical f/f/s bagger to quad-seal," Mr. Howe noted. "Although the bag still comes off a single roll stock of film as it feeds over a squared former, the four corners are pinched, and the fin seal is secured. This provides each bag structure as a stand-up pouch that has excellent merchandising capability."

Because of growth and increases in customers and SKUs, Baptista’s recently implemented a computerized bar-coded tracking system for raw material delivery, inventory, finished goods and all processes in between. "It provides traceability, continuous inventory control and process monitoring as far as yields and other critical quality controls," Mr. Susko noted.

With the internal expansion, the plant lost close to 80% of in-house storage for finished products and is now using an outside storage facility. "We can keep about a day and a half of product in-house, but just about everything is transported to the warehouse and shipped from there," Mr. Howe said.

Currently the plant is running at about 60% utilization, according to Mr. Howe, compared with last year when the plant was well over 90%. "We now have the ability to grow not only in volume but in the different types of products as well," he said. "Our estimate is that we will be back to 80% within a few years, and at that point we will make a decision about how or where to expand — we have space for one more processing line within the existing plant and/or adding oven zones to the three existing extrusion lines. One new zone to each line would add 33% more capacity per line thus equalling the output of an additional line without taking up any new space."

Mr. Howe noted other possibilities such as physically expanding the building on two sides as the plant is situated on 26 acres, or it might look at acquiring a second facility somewhere else.

Although it is said the lifeblood of new business is product development, there are many forms, according to Mr. Huber. "I think we have seen an interesting shift in the past year," he said. "Last year, nearly two-thirds of projects were related to quality improvement or cost reduction. The other third was what we considered true product development. This year, almost all projects stem from line extensions or exploratory-type items, and many of them are healthy and nutritionally enhanced ideas. We have even been approached to look into adding prebiotic ingredients."

Overall trends, according to Mr. Huber, include more nutritionally based snack products whether that be whole- and multigrain; reduced sodium, trans fat or MSG free; or higher fiber and protein. And of course more intense, hardier flavors and unique taste profiles are on the rise.

"The majority of customers also are looking to make claims or somehow advertise products’ health benefits on packaging," Mr. Huber said. "And a small but growing number of customers are looking for cleaner labels, which in a way adds challenge, cost and complexity."

The ripple crisps are rather unique in many ways, according to Mr. Huber. "Not only is it new in the baked crisps market, but its flavor and texture characteristics give it a very close similarity to a fried product," he said. "Not only do the points and flats of the ripples bake differently because of their exposure and proximity to the heat source but also they are different thicknesses, adding to the textural difference in mouthfeel."

The company is currently working on a "fully loaded baked potato" flavor where the ripples will add to the overall experience. This and other new products may incorporate flavors into the dough to help balance profiles and prolong the flavor experience, according to Mr. Huber. "This is also true for breadsticks or thicker items where topical seasoning may dissipate quickly in the mouth," he said.

"We had quite the challenge going into last year running at nearly full capacity," Mr. Susko said. "However, we are finally through the whirlwind of activity of adding production lines and multiple packaging systems as well as all the ancillary tasks of startup, inventory relocation, computer software system and all, not to mention the people and training to run the lines. But we prepared ourselves appropriately and implemented systems that enabled us to succeed." In the past two years, the plant increased total employment by nearly 25% to a total of 127 employees.

To help control the process and product quality in tandem with the growth, Mr. Susko developed a continuous improvement program with the help of Mary Herman, director of human resources. "It was a culture where we wanted to implement while focusing on a practical lean manufacturing criterion," Mr. Susko said. "We identified leaders and provided them the right information at the right time; then taught them the technical and relationship skills to manage their tasks and their teams — that’s the base of the program pyramid. This then leads to team, or soft side, skills and an equality and openness along the production line and throughout the plant. Flexibility and a culture that is not resistant to change are critical as well."

Safety, quality, service and cost are the four broad benchmarks to success of the continuous program, according to Mr. Susko. "We have a scorecard system that breaks imperatives down to specific measurables and a continuous improvement reward performance (CIRP) system that are integral on the pyramid as well. These are measured, tracked, trended, posted and discussed at regular team meetings."

Gaps in processing systems and production bottlenecks of any kind, whether physical, mechanical or human, are identified. Root-cause analysis and solutions as well as individual engagement in the process are all part of the integrated plan. One example provided by Mr. Susko involved film and product waste on one of the packaging lines. "We brought together production workers, mechanics and even the film and equipment suppliers and worked through the root causes of the issues. By having input directly from line workers, several mechanical and engineering adjustments were made, and we ended up actually slowing the machine down just a bit. Results were a two-thirds reduction in waste, both film and product, and throughput on the line increased even though we slowed it down."

With this system, employees begin to take real ownership of not only their tasks but also are aware and concerned with the whole business, according to Mr. Susko. "They become partners in business and not just employees, and they know their efforts are recognized and rewarded. Growth would not have been possible without such a plan, and it is still evolving. It takes time and effort by many people, but it has really borne fruit."

"To implement these changes and ensure their success really takes quality employees with the right attitude," Ms. Herman said. "We set clear expectations and are very process minded, and we make an effort to marry maverick and broad-minded cultures without disturbing anyone’s core values. Sometimes it just takes a bit of structure and guidance."

The mission of Baptista’s HR department is to give employees the tools to achieve their human and personality destinies. "We don’t hand-hold but provide opportunity and support and help direct them to a result in a balanced advocacy of solutions and tools. This has been very successful," Ms. Herman added. "Employees are expected to have self-responsibility and drive results but in a process-minded way — to first step back from a situation and evaluate the big picture and determine root cause. And we emphasize that leadership doesn’t always have to come from managers."

Although new lines have been commissioned at the facility, no new silos were added. "We are fortunate our flour suppliers are just down the road, so we just increased daily deliveries," Mr. Howe said. The plant uses three indoor 135,000-lb capacity silos for flour as well as several 10,000-lb-capacity tanks for oil and malt syrup. Salt, sugar, potato flakes, whole-grain flours and other minors are loaded into storage bins of two AZO Componenters linked with the bulk dry ingredient handling system.

Flour is sifted through MAC Equipment and, together with dry minors, is metered and preblended in one of the two Componenters. It is then pneumatically conveyed to the holding tank above the premix chamber of the mixer, where yeast, water, oil, malt and other components are introduced.

Each line is equipped with a Reading Bakery Systems (RBS) ExACT Mixing system that continually and consistently feeds the makeup areas.

The capacity through each mixer is 4,000 lb per hour. Included in the mixing systems are not only the continuous mixers but also the platforms and metering systems. Each mixer has the ability to meter flour, a dry blend and sponge into the blending chamber as well as water and oil. The dry blend and sponge systems employ loss-in-weight metering while the liquid feeds are mass flow based.

The sheeting lines use T.L. Green sheeters and die cutters. Extra dough is separated from the cut crisps and returned to the mixer. After a short inline proof, "crisp" pieces feed the meshed oven band.

Two MAC Equipment towers were added during the expansion and installation of the existing and new sheeting lines. "These towers, which include premixing and preblending, were essential for the added capabilities of whole- and multigrain products," Mr. Susko said.

The plant’s newest sheeting line is similar to the other but encompasses enhancements that reduce breakage and minimize transitions. Each RBS oven uses radiant convection heating. The new line outputs up to 1,500 lb per hour — 63% more than the expanded original line. Bake time for crisps is about two minutes.

Because of the wider processing band on the new line, potato agglomerate from the mixer feeds the sheeter via an oscillating incline belt. Differential glycol-chilled rollers sheet the mass, which then feeds the ripple rollers or bypasses this feed and makes its way to the die cutter.

The low-pressure extruded lines for pretzel crisps also employ RBS mixing systems and ovens. After extrusion, pretzels run through a caustic bath to help impart the appropriate texture and color, and products bake in the 2-pass oven for about six minutes, after which products slide to a lower drying chamber and travel back the length of the oven to further reduce their moisture.

After baking, products cool while being incline conveyed to segregated mezzanines where seasoning is applied using Spray Dynamics continuous feed tumblers. These rooms are air-conditioned to enhance product flow. Plain or salted items bypass the seasoning tumblers and make their way to packaging.

Finished products come out of the seasoning rooms and, after passing through either Safeline or Fortress metal detectors, enter a Heat and Control FastBack conveyor system, complete with diverters and Revolution drop gates. Two trunk lines house FastBack systems situated side-by-side. The systems can direct product from any of the six lines to virtually any of the 19 Ishida weighscale systems. Eleven weighscales and baggers have been added in the past two years. Two Ilapak baggers for the quad-seal products will be added later this year.

In addition to numerous types of packaging machines such as Atlas v/f/f/s systems, Adco bag-in-box cartoner fed by a SpanTech conveyor or bulk packer, two horizontal f/f/s systems have been added for resealable bags and a Roberts bagger for filling premade club-store bags. Most shipping cases are now tuck-lock style to eliminate carton sealing tape.

In all, the company has invested more than $20 million in the past two years to ensure future capabilities and maintains a sense of urgency to all tasks and relationships.

"When we look at our business as a whole, in the past five years we’ve created what we are whether that be customers, products, employees, quality, service — the hard side and the soft side of the business," Mr. Howe said. "And the ideals we live by each day are the drive to create even more, our desire to improve and our receptiveness to change.



This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, June 1, 2009, starting on Page 37. Click
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