Baking a better bite
Introduced in 2014, organic and vegan products now represent about 30% of the company’s overall annual sales, which Mr. Mendes anticipated will double over the next 24 to 36 months. “Just Desserts is supporting long-term growth in a scalable platform through investments not only in its modern facility but also in the brand franchise and product innovation,” he said.
To ensure sustainable growth, Mr. Mendes talked about continued strategic investments to meet consumer expectations. “Our biggest risk is execution,” he said. “We are growing rapidly and must maintain our quality and service levels. If we find ourselves with bottlenecks that can risk or compromise our current quality levels, we slow down.”
Mr. Mendes assembled a management team consisting of food and retail industry professionals who were seeking a more adventurous stage in their careers. “We assembled a group of entrepreneurially minded individuals,” he said. “In a smaller, more focused operation, we need people who are hands on and will embrace the grittiness. We’re sort of like a Silicon Valley startup company, except we’re in the food business.”
In addition to Mr. Mendes, Mr. Tokusato and Ms. Chan, the team includes Leighton Mue, CFO; John Wohlgemuth, vice-president of operations; Amresh Raj, plant manager and director of quality assurance; Ana Speros, customer service manager and marketing coordinator; and Tom Margulis, human resources manager.
Overall, the Fairfield facility has 33,000 sq ft for processing, 20,000 sq ft for packaging, 12,000 sq ft for warehousing and 10,000 sq ft for offices. Sales, marketing, R&D and administrative offices remain in San Francisco.
More than 100 people — including transfers from the Oakland bakery and a swath of new and seasonal employees — work at the company. Typically, the bakery runs 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on one packaging and two staggered production shifts five days a week. “Training is an ongoing program with so many new people joining the company since the bakery started up,” Mr. Wohlgemuth said.
Training is especially critical because of the rigid standards at this organic operation, as well as the operations’ HACCP and other food safety protocols. “We felt the CCOF organic standard certification was a more exacting standard and elected to work with this certifying body to demonstrate our commitment to consumers who are concerned about food safety and the ecosystem,” Mr. Mendes said. “When you promise organic, you need to deliver organic. When we built this facility, we built it in mind with a dedicated organic footprint so we can make super-premium organic products but do it more cost efficiently.”
The facility has segregated storage rooms — and different colored labels — for organic and allergen ingredients. Organic products run during the first part of the shift followed by other sweet goods. Vegan cakes are produced on a separate day after the line is thoroughly cleaned and tested to ensure there’s no dairy or egg residue, according to Mr. Raj, who spent 16 years in QA at a major ingredient supplier. Likewise, he added, the bakery employs special sanitation procedures for organic, even using Perasan A, a certified-organic sanitizer for cleaning. Preventive maintenance and sanitation are conducted nightly.
During Baking & Snack’s visit, Just Desserts was cranking out about 250,000 brownie bites on its new production line that day. In the mixing room, 2,500-lb totes supply whole eggs and other liquid ingredients while flour and sugar come in bags. Because all Just Desserts products are made from scratch — no prepared mixes — the bakery uses a Groen block butter melting system and a Savage Bros. system for melting chocolate.
The new Tonelli planetary mixer significantly boosted capacity, allowing the bakery to create 1,200- to 1,300-lb batches instead of the 250-lb ones created by six Hobart mixers brought over from the former Oakland facility. The mixer relies on PLC controls that automatically add ingredients or prompt operators to dump them during various stages of the process, according to Mr. Wohlgemuth, a 25-year veteran of the food industry. These controls play an integral role in recordkeeping for the bakery’s lot-tracking system.
The mixing bowls are rolled over to two Hinds-Bock depositors that can handle eight 48-piece pans per minute. This year Just Desserts will install two more Hinds-Bock depositors that will double capacity and improve the application of streusel that adds another layer of texture and crunch to its coffee-cake bites and other sweet goods.
After depositing, the pans travel along a CBF Bakery Systems conveyor and oven loading system to the Babbco 55-ft, two-zone impingement oven, which Mr. Mendes called “the heart of the operation.”
Working remotely with Babbco engineers, the company adjusted temperatures and accelerated air flow to maximize bake speeds while maintaining quality on existing products. Mr. Wohlgemuth noted the companies also collaborate in real time for maintenance while the PLC controls gather data that allow QA and R&D personnel to compare the results of multiple test runs during new product development. Each day, QA technicians evaluate products made at the bakery as part of the bakery’s sensory program.
Read on to continue the tour.