Automating traditional bakery operations requires the right mindset and plenty of hands-on control, which is how family-owned-and-operated Orlando Baking Co. is successfully taking its business into the future. A major expansion in 2007 brought in two highly automated lines and substantially increased the company’s ability to supply its signature authentic Old World-style products to food service and grocery store customers. The plant extension boosted production capacity, supporting the Cleveland, OH-based company’s trend of moving into more national distribution of frozen fully baked items.

Things actually started to change in 1970. “A key moment for the company came in 1970 when John C. Sr., Nick Sr., and I took over running the bakery from our fathers and uncles,” recalled Chet (Sonny) Orlando, co-c.e.o. “At that time, we were a traditional, small local bakery with fewer than 20 employees serving the Cleveland metro area.” True to the family’s characteristic ambition, the three fourth-generation successors began thinking “outside the box,” according to Sonny Orlando. And good things quickly started to happen.

Today, Sonny Orlando and John C. Orlando Sr. serve as co-c.e.o.s. Nearly 25 Orlando family members work throughout the organization, several of whom make up the core management team, including Nick Orlando Jr., vice-president of sales; John Anthony Orlando, vice-president of operations; Daniel Holan, vice-president of administration; Chris Orlando, transportation and logistics manager; and John C. Orlando Jr., general counsel/operations manager.

Orlando Baking was founded in 1904, but the family’s experience in this field includes a prior 32 years operating a bakery in Italy — experience it tapped in creating its product line and inspiring current new product development efforts. The company, once just a corner bakery, now encompasses approximately 200,000 sq ft and nets sales of more than $60 million annually. Until the mid-1980s, operations were all fresh, according to John Anthony Orlando, executive vice-president of operations. “We are now close to 50:50 fresh and frozen,” he said.

Nick Orlando Jr., vice-president of sales and marketing, noted that frozen products are sold nationwide mainly through food service outlets and distributors. “This is really where the growth is these days. Local fresh is good but stagnant. The market is saturated,” he said. The company runs 64 routes in the region including seven each out of Columbus and Youngstown, OH.


The fourth (Sonny and John C. Jr.) and fifth (Nick Jr., John Anthony, Daniel, Chris and John Jr.) generations of management is credited with many firsts for Orlando Baking. “As far as I know, we were the first to have displays in deli departments, first to use end-of-aisle displays and locally offer buy-one-get-one-free, one of first to run an automated kaiser roll line and the first to introduce ciabatta to the US,” Sonny Orlando stated. The company even trademarked the name Ciabatta in 1987, and collected royalties until the name and product became so popular, it was not worth the effort to pursue trademark violators.

The company offers more than 250 varieties and 1,000 SKUs ranging from ciabatta, kaiser, dinner and hoagie rolls to various lengths of baguettes and breadsticks to hearth-baked Italian, French, rye and wheat breads, and hamburger buns. Sweet and dessert breads such as anise or vanilla pizzelles are specialties of the company as well.

Orlando is one of only a handful of bakeries producing topped and coated bread items such as prepared garlic loaves as well as coated slices for Texas Toast and several other garlic and cheese topped breads and rolls. “Texas toast is also a growing market, running product five days per week on first shift. We do some of this as branded product, but most of the production is private label,” John C. Jr. said. The company started toying with the idea of coated items in the late 1990s, and most of the topping equipment was designed and fabricated in house. Production really took off in the late 1990s and has increased even more the past year or two as they have introduced new varieties. Toppings include seasoned butter spreads prepared in-house, garlic, cheese and others.

The company’s newest product, set for introduction this summer will be Pane Nicola. “It’s a single twisted ciabatta-type loaf that is fermented 48 hours to maximize flavor and texture,” John Anthony said. “In test markets, Pane Nicola’s crispy crust and moist interior bread have produced excellent results.”
“We have tried a lot of things such as bagels, scones and crumpets,” Sonny Orlando noted. “We were ahead of the pack on many of these and will be again with our new multigrain seeded breads that will contain probiotics and other new healthy additives when they enter the market next month.”


While the plant has plenty of capacity in production line time, it will be looking at two key areas to focus on this year — more freezer space and more automation. “We currently run two 10-hour shifts, and we could add additional shifts when necessary,” John Anthony said. “We have eight production lines and six ovens. Some are at capacity such as the bread line running 21 hours per day, and one of the bun lines and the ciabatta line are nearing capacity.”

Another line, which can produce breadsticks, dinner rolls and buns, currently runs one shift, but it could go to two shifts within the next month, according to John Anthony. “As our food service and frozen business began to grow in the late 1990s, we added more freezer capacity,” he continued.

With 70% food service business, Orlando Baking was affected by the recession as much as its customers were. “With local fresh items, our customer numbers have increased, but orders have dipped so volume is about static,” John Anthony explained. “We try to create niches — toppings, Pane Nicola, in-store bakery marketing, smaller dinner rolls, grain-rich breads — and that has helped maintain volume.” Also, the company will soon introduce a line of probiotic-enhanced wheat and multigrain breads.

The company’s most recent expansion in 2007 included a fully automated combination production line featuring a complete Mecatherm system with makeup, proofer and oven. An adjacent Rheon V4 stress-free makeup line feeds into the Mecatherm proofer. Supplying both lines is a VMI 3-bowl carrousel mixing system. “We were producing baguettes and ciabatta on our other lines, but these lines totally automate the process and provide greater consistency and flexibility,” John Anthony said. “It enabled us to go beyond the minimal size specifications that we were only able to produce before, and it offers speed, throughput and quality.” The Rheon system exclusively forms Orlando ciabatta pieces of all sizes and can also be used to form a variety of breads, buns and rolls. Because of its advanced technology, it gives the plant flexibility to produce consistent, high-quality loaves, rolls and other products.


From Texas toast to French bread, Italian ciabatta to Tuscan rolls, there is a world of activity inside Orlando Baking Co. Walking through the bakery, it is not hard to see the organizational efforts and attention to detail that management and employees have accomplished. “Although we are a union plant, we treat all employees as family and get a lot of hard work and loyalty in return,” noted John C. Jr. “With so many SKUs, it takes a great team to implement all the activity.”

All major ingredient handling for production relies on a Fred D. Pfening system, which feeds flour and water to the various mixers. For large loaf breads, two Peerless mixers are able to feed dough to a Werner & Pfleiderer makeup system and a MCS final proofer. The bread is baked in a Thermatron 100-ft tunnel oven. Pan bread styles range from 1 to 3 lb depending on product.

Toppings are one of the unique product sets produced at the plant. Bread destined for “garlic toast” are the largest loaves. These breads are produced using a Peerless mixer and Winkler divider and rounder. The MCS proofer and 55-ft double-pass oven finish off the items, with a Burford seeder just prior to the oven.

After sheeting, proofing for about one hour, baking and cooling, loaves are sliced via UBE systems. Slices are separated and lay flat, four across. They then proceed through a GOE/Avins custom designed-and-fabricated top and bottom sprayer system of in-house prepared, heated seasoned butter spread. A quick trip through an I.J. White spiral freezer brings individual slices to packaging where they are stacked four high. Three stacks are combined and packaged using a Formost Fuji horizontal bagger, fitted with KwikLok clips, sent through a Thermo Goring Kerr metal detector and boxed by a Combi cartoner. Adjacent to these two lines are two Polin rack ovens used for specialty handcrafted fresh items such as round bread, boules, focaccia, onion loaf and batards.

Another line with a Winkler divider and Baker Perkins direct-fire oven produces Italian dinner rolls and breadsticks, which are coated with butter after cooling. The rolls and sticks are either bulk packed by weight or by count by an Ilapak bagger after freezing. Orlando’s conveyor systems allow many products, including the rolls and sticks to be packaged without butter or other toppings.

The plant also runs two roll lines, each with a dedicated Peerless mixer and a Winkler roll makeup system. Buns, hoagie and sub rolls come off either the 6- or 8-pocket dividers and, after an intermediate proof, are scored using Perfect Score systems and baked in either the 60- or 100-ft Thermatron ovens. Spiral ambient cooling relies on G&F and I.J. White systems. Capway and Perfect Score conveyors are used throughout production.


The combination Mecatherm/Rheon line is the bakery’s newest and most advanced production line. An automated VMI carrousel mixing system produces sponges, or bigas, for ciabatta breads, which are set off to the side for a 18- to 24-hour rest and fermentation. After a short remix with added flour and minor ingredients, the bowl is hoisted to the Rheon makeup system. For straight doughs, the mixing system allows the flexibility to deliver the dough directly to the mecatherm makeup divider.

“Weekly production usually requires two to three days for the Mecatherm line and six days on the Rheon,” John C. Jr. said. Products include baguettes, French loaves and other string-type items from the Mecatherm line, while various sizes and shapes of ciabatta bread come off the Rheon line. After makeup, portioned dough moves through proofing and the first 3-deck Mecatherm tunnel oven installed in the US. Mecatherm supplied the automated scoring and Perfect Score fabricated the docking station.

“The proofer is four zones, and for some products, we use the first three zones for proofing and the fourth zone for cooling,” he continued. After a 90-minute proof, products are autoloaded into one of the three intermittent-motion tunnels that have four zones each, which allows production to mimic a stone hearth oven.

Products cool on an I.J. White spiral conveyor. Orlando’s newest product, a split and topped ciabatta roll, diverts after cooling to a second in-house fabricated waterfall-type coating line where halved rolls, cut side up, are topped with seasoned butter spread, then sprinkled with cheese, and frozen. Two Ilapak overwrappers individually wrap the topped rolls before they are cartoned.


Most stales that come back to the plant from the fresh routes are depackaged, ground and quickly exposed to a blast furnace treatment to produce breadcrumbs or croutons, which are then seasoned and packaged.

The company recently installed a ToolBox warehouse management system that automated inventory, storage, order picking and route distribution. “We are now so much more efficient, and our accuracy of orders is near 100%,” John Anthony said. Right now product entry into the system is still manual, but the company is looking at automating this final function using barcode scanning.

“We’ve made a big push in the past two years to reduce waste and cost, like a lot of bakeries,” he continued. “We recycle most paper and cardboard as well as plastic packaging. We recently received a state grant to replace all lighting with energy-efficient lights and improve our air handing and boiler systems to become more efficient.”

Orlando Baking is a clear example of the exponential speed of change affecting many industries. With the day-to-day leadership in transition from Sonny and John C. Sr., to the fifth generation of Orlando’s, the company is bound for some exciting times ahead.