Masada Bakery is rolling in seeds and flaked grains to launch a new organic line under its own brand. The full-flavored artisan loaves and buns fulfill the often-voiced “kneads” of foodservice customers and consumers in the Southeast and nationwide. This introduction also shows renewed commitment to specialty breads as the Norcross, GA, bakery enters its next life as part of The Bakery Companies (formerly Tennessee Bun Co., TBC), Nashville, TN.

“About the new organic line,” said Ezekiel (Hezi) Stein, Masada’s founder, “we were a pioneer in natural bread, especially here in the South, when we started Masada in the 1980s. It may be a small market now, statistically speaking, but people young and old are asking for more fresh, healthful ways to eat. That’s the biggest trend in America today.”

Jacob (Koby) Stein, Masada’s president, affirmed, “This is where Masada Bakery fits. We can serve our customers nutritious, fresh and healthy breads daily.”

New alliance, old values

Organic products carry forward the bakery’s promise, expressed in the company’s motto, “Fulfilling Your Basic Kneads.” Yet it was another basic need that prompted its new role within TBC.

“Our customers and our team wanted us to learn artisan baking,” said Cordia Harrington, TBC’s founder and CEO. “They kept asking us for such products.”

Marshall Maddox, TBC’s president, explained, “We hear our customers wanting to differentiate offerings to their consumers. They are looking for something to set themselves apart, and handmade artisan products can do that.”

But this style of production wasn’t feasible at the company’s existing Tennessee facilities. For three years, executives mulled building or buying. “We did look at building, but we learned that artisan products are about much more than the machines,” Ms. Harrington said. “It’s the people, the recipes and the artisan bakers that really matter. Talented bakers learn over years and years. It is an art and a science.”

Then a mutual supplier introduced her to Hezi and Koby Stein. The brothers built Masada Bakery on artisan products, appealing formulations and family business values. “This combination was compelling,” she said.

The Steins had been approached several times by potential buyers and partners, but the offer they accepted was from TBC. “Once we met Cordia, Tom Harrington, Joe Waters and the team, we were convinced this would be an excellent fit where both bakeries will complement each other as far as experience, products and markets,” Koby Stein said. “Our goal was always to continue growing the business while providing a great workplace for our employees and an excellent partner for our customers.”

In 2014, Masada Bakery became part of TBC, a $100 million company whose products can be found in quick-service restaurants, foodservice providers and grocery stores east of the Rockies. Its family of businesses includes Tennessee Bun Co., Dickson, TN, and Nashville Bun Co., CornerStone Frozen Bakery Products and Cold Storage of Nashville, all located in Nashville, TN.

“Few regional bakers can offer their customers a comprehensive product mix ranging from artisan to high-speed to frozen dough to English muffins and biscuits,” Ms. Harrington said. “Add to that a direct-store-delivery (DSD) network that serves seven states in the southeastern US and frozen distribution that stretches nationwide — joining TBC with Masada Bakery made all this possible.”

The benefits run both ways. “Masada Bakery gets easy access to a high-quality supply of hamburger buns, English muffins, biscuits and frozen doughs for their DSD routes and customers,” Ms. Harrington explained. “And our Tennessee operations now have a great lineup of artisan breads, buns, bagels and sweet goods to offer. These items complement the current mix and expand sales opportunities with our TBC customer base.”

For Hezi and Koby Stein, it was the right decision. “In some aspects, the business did not change; it just expanded,” Koby Stein said. “We retained almost all of our employees, existing customers and vendors. We continue to produce the same great products and service our market with our wide distribution network.”

Bread production starts in the mixer where bulk flour joins up with temperature-controlled water and other ingredients.

The right team

Masada’s new affiliation with TBC is working well, according to the local managers. “The two organizations meshed nicely,” said Jackie Bouysou, Masada’s human resources manager. “There were a lot of expectations and some worries, but we have come a long way.” The new owners raised wages and upgraded company-paid benefits. In turn, it established systematic evaluation and promotion procedures.

“We strive to find people who want a career,” Ms. Bouysou continued. The bakery’s workforce is quite diverse, and nine languages plus English can be heard in the plant. “Our production manager, Abbas Merzah, speaks four,” she said.

Ms. Harrington observed, “It’s the people. They have a can-do attitude.”

Hezi Stein added, “The people who work here have a feeling of ownership. You can see it in how they back up and help their colleagues. The soul of the business is who we are, and the soul of Masada is seen in its people, in their love and their pride in what they are doing.”

It helps that the nature of the bakery as a family-owned business has stayed the same. “In the past decade, while the business has grown, it has kept the family aspects,” said Mike Scalera, controller, Masada. “TBC brings the same family environment and pride of workmanship to the business. It’s a matter of putting artisan pride and service in the forefront.”

Managers emphasize flexibility as important to continuing the business’ success. “This is a team that embraces change,” Mr. Maddox said. “We’re learning as much about baking from Masada as they are learning from TBC.”

Masada Bakery General Manager Larry Murray confirmed the need for flexibility in the artisan workplace, which can have a great deal of complexity. “Making artisan product — and making a lot of it — is not easy,” he said. “Success in artisan production boils down to the type of equipment and, more importantly, the talented bakers directing use of that equipment to produce outstanding quality.”

Flexibility and discipline have improved and impacted the bakery’s business side. “The effect has been to build a better foundation for creating and serving accounts,” said Kristi Bryson, customer service manager, Masada. “Production scheduling has been streamlined, and we’re better able to serve our customers. There have been leaps and bounds of positive change.”

Masada Business Manager Alan Fishman described growth in managing the supply chain and information systems. “There is a strong focus on the metrics of the business,” he observed. “And there’s an open-door ­policy. Everyone is welcome to bring up ideas and improvements. The focus is on customers and making the company stronger every day.”

TBC recently embarked on another initiative to fortify its business: putting in an enterprise resource planning system. Hunter Wilkinson heads up this project. “We plan, plan, plan before we execute,” said CFO Tom Harrington. “The senior leadership and IT teams in all the bakeries, plus our plant managers and process experts, are involved.”

Two automated lines output the bulk of Masada Bakery’s buns.

Progress in production

“There have been many changes in production, too,” Mr. Merzah said. The past decade saw Masada nearly double in physical size; its production floor now covers 82,000 sq ft. Output capacity more than doubled and continues to grow. The bakery operates six days a week and supports a staff of 250 employees.

The bakery’s output fills two tunnel ovens, one AMF and the other Alit, which can be used interchangeably, plus nine Revent rack ovens for shorter-run items. Shipping takes place a few miles away in a separate 50,000-sq-ft distribution facility equipped with a sophisticated, ­paperless, pick-to-light order management system from ToolBox.

Six production lines fill the bakery. The latest, a Gemini/KB Systems high-speed, automatic bun makeup system, doubled Masada’s capacity for hoagies and sandwich rolls.

A decade of change has seen the bakery add mixers, upgrade and rebuild makeup and packaging equipment and install in-line pan cleaners. It built a new scaling room to improve accuracy and added a new catalytic oxidizer unit to manage VOC emissions.

“Energy consumption is a key component that we consider as part of all our projects,” Koby Stein said. One example is Masada’s new tray washer that can use cold-water wash temperatures to eliminate the need for heating large amounts of water.

Masada has upgraded its computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to manage maintenance. “TBC brought in processing disciplines and implemented measured performance,” Mr. Murray said. For example, a key part of CMMS is readily visible to all: Every machine is labeled in English and Spanish and given a unique number. This aids in preventive maintenance (PM) and lock-out, tag-out procedures. Maintenance Manager Oscar Morales described the program’s results, noting it assists his staff to do their work in a professional way.

The bakery operates at SQF Level No. 3, the highest standard currently available. “The vast majority of our customers demand GFSI certification, and we have been meeting those needs for many years,” said Peggy Golden, quality manager. “The team here is sharp and dedicated to the highest quality standards.”

She described how TBC applied mentorship to bringing up quality levels. Todd Bruinsma, TBC’s vice-­president of quality, works with Ms. Golden and her team to make sure every associate understands quality is their responsibility. “We work hard to motivate and empower everyone,” she added.

Ms. Bouysou noted that the upgraded bakery orientation systems include extensive training in GMPs and HACCP, and personnel safety programs followed by ongoing refresher sessions.

“Safety is the highest priority here,” said Sheronda Terrell, safety manager, Masada Bakery.

Shiny, glazed 4-in. brioche buns emerge from the oven. Their popularity among regional restaurants has made them the “bun of the South,” according to Jill MacRae, TBC’s vice-president, sales and marketing.

Busy bakery lines

Two KB indoor flour silos, installed at the bakery, receive six truckloads of bulk flour weekly at 52,000 lb per truck. The KB system moves flour to a variety of mixers, from the three Hobart vertical systems for making pastry doughs to one Kemper removable-bowl spiral mixer and four Peerless and Shaffer horizontal mixers, ranging in capacity from 600 to 1,200 lb. A Pfening Wat-O-Meter provides temperature-controlled ingredient water to the mixers.

The horizontal mixers dump their doughs into mobile carts that are hoisted to load the hoppers of the bakery’s six processing lines. Throughout the bakery, Allen-Bradley PanelView terminals with touch-screen interfaces manage machine functions.

Bagels run through a Gemini dough chunker that feeds the rotary knife dough divider and horizontal bagel former to supply dough pieces to peel boards. These are racked and moved into the Southeast Cooler retarder for an overnight stay. This line operates during the night shift and produces nearly a dozen different varieties of bagels. In the morning, bagels bake in the rack ovens.

Another line handles organic bread styles. A Reiser Vemag dough divider accepts the thick, heavy doughs. It feeds dough pieces into an Adamatic/Glimek bread system comprising a rounder, intermediate proofer and sheeter/moulder. A Mallet pan oiler coats strapped baking pans. This line also produces the bakery’s signature “large loaves,” high-fiber breads, whole grain styles and marbled rye.

“The moulder for organic products is dedicated to that use,” Mr. Merzah explained. “But the bread divider, rounder and proofer are not, so they go through a complete washdown in advance of organic production.”

Long baguettes, ciabatta and similar styles are made on a Rheon system with V4 dough handling technology.

A Gemini/KB Systems gourmet round roll system produces formed rolls that are deposited onto pans or peel boards. It makes most of the bakery’s foodservice buns and contract rolls, such as the 4½-in. wheat and 4-in. brioche buns made during Baking & Snack’s visit. It also makes organic buns.

“The brioche bun is anything but mainstream,” Mr. Maddox said. “Yet it’s become the new ‘bun of the South’ because of its preference among foodservice customers.”

Masada has a new Gemini/KB Systems variety roll installation. Its Gemini/WP Tewimat 8-pocket divider/rounder feeds the proofer and moulder to handle round roll, hoagie and gourmet sandwich roll needs.

Formed dough pieces, now deposited on peels or pans, move from makeup lines onto racks and into three push-through, multi-door proofers. “The push-through system using racks for proofing is best for this bakery with its multiple product styles,” Mr. Murray said. “We need this flexibility. Artisan and short-run items bake in rack ovens, with long-run items in the tunnel ovens.”

All products come out of makeup on pans or peels that are removed from racks manually for loading onto oven in-feed conveyors. Pusher-bar assemblies load pans into both tunnel ovens, but the AMF system is also equipped with a Capway grabbler-style peel unloader. According to product needs, a Burford mandrel-style seeder can add toppings while operators at spray stations before the oven apply washes or glazes. After baking, a Capway depanner separates finished goods from their pans. Products move from the ovens to two Alit spiral cooling towers.

Neil Bailey, TBC vice-president, engineering, has worked closely with the Masada team to streamline all processes.

Packaging operations use three UBE baggers, equipped with Kwik Lok closure systems. A Formost Fuji slicer handles organic breads. Mettler Toledo metal detectors monitor all packaged goods. Photos that depict the desired color and shape of the finished product are posted on large signs that hang above the packaging lines.

Operators load packaged products into cases or group them onto basket-style trays. Cases are palletized and stabilized with stretch film. The operator then applies a routing tag to each pallet and stack of filled trays. The tags are read by the ToolBox system at the distribution center to guide van and truck loading according to customer orders.

Frozen opportunities opened up to Masada when it added the distribution center. “We are about 75 to 80% fresh right now,” Hezi Stein said.

“DSD is always challenging, especially to grow,” Koby Stein noted. “Growth on frozen is only limited by capacity.”

Seeds enrobe the organic breads that are Masada Bakery’s latest venture.

The organic path

The big news, of course, is introduction of Masada Bakery brand organic bread and buns. The launch offers two varieties — Holy Grain, made with cracked wheat, and Heavenly Seed, featuring sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds — in sliced loaf and sandwich bun styles.

The bakery was already producing organic products for several customers, so adding the retail line was a natural extension. Masada invested a year to set up these products and to get the ingredients and process certified.

“This bakery is designed for artisan, fully enrobed products, which these new items are,” Ms. Harrington said. “For these, we are using old Stein family recipes, and the packaging evokes the Masada legacy. It carries a message about breaking bread together and is signed by Hezi and Koby.”

Much effort went into getting the products and process certified organic by Quality Assurance International (QAI), which is accredited by the USDA’s National Organic Program. “Organic certification is like kosher on steroids,” Mr. Maddox quipped. “There are a number of detailed inspections and reviews. It is a long process.

“QAI did a site review to examine the ingredients and how they are stored, how our process works and how we manage the equipment to maintain organic standards and controls in the bakery,” he explained. The certifying body also evaluated all ingredient suppliers and the farming practices for those ingredients.

Making the seed-enrobed organic breads is a complex process. Doughs are mixed and then portioned by the Reiser Vemag divider that handles the particulate-laden doughs without damaging them. Dough pieces go through an intermediate proof and are then sheeted and moulded. Line operators apply seeds to fully enrobe each loaf. “This confidential process gives the Masada organic line its soul,” Hezi Stein explained.

“Luxurious, moist and delicious” is how Layla Orgel, sales and marketing coordinator, described the new loaves and buns.

Masada’s new organic loaves emerge from rack ovens baked to optimum volume, color and texture.

Venturing into the new

While Masada’s new organic line builds on the bakery’s artisan heritage, it also moves the company into another category. “We are seeing in the market more things that would once have been considered very niche products but are growing today,” Koby Stein observed.

It’s these types of product opportunities that Masada sets up TBC to accomplish. In turn, the team approach brought in by TBC helped Masada better focus its product development activity. “Masada has always had a collaborative attitude toward its customers,” Ms. Orgel said. “With TBC, there’s been a professionalization of data and analysis that drives consistency.”

After the acquisition, the bakery looked at the hundreds of SKUs made on a daily basis and decided to cut down the list to improve efficiency and “to regain sanity,” Koby Stein remarked. “These days, we have a team in charge of evaluation and approval of any new SKU or line,” he noted. Team members include people from the production, sales, quality, financial and service departments.

“To succeed with the new product process, you need a great foundation,” Ms. Orgel said. “The genesis of ideas comes from the sales team, from listening to our customers.”

Masada has three new product initiatives in the works: organic bread and buns for the retail market, jalapeño cheese bread for one foodservice client and glazed buns for another. “We rolled out the jalapeño cheese bread in July after doing numerous cuttings with the customer,” Mr. Maddox said. “And the glazed bun is just amazing, and it’s backed by consumer preference.

He continued, “The flexibility of Masada translates into being quick to market. You can generally get new ideas turned around quickly, in a matter of weeks or days instead of months.” It’s a strength that benefits the future of both Masada and TBC.