Consumers’ desire for wholesome foods is leading to ­customer demand for product innovation from Hearthside. 

BOISE, IDAHO — Until it was acquired by Hearthside Food Solutions in 2015, VSI had developed thousands of formulas that never made it to market.By what could likely be considered a stroke of genius rather than a stroke of luck,
 Hearthside also purchased a shuttered PowerBar plant in Boise within days of VSI.

“The plant was in excellent condition,” said Rich Scalise, chairman and chief executive officer of Hearthside Food Solutions, Downers Grove, Ill., of the former Nestle facility that had eventually been sold to Post. “Both companies had kept it in great shape, so it was just a matter of streamlining operations in terms of the equipment and focus.”

Today, the Boise plant houses a pilot line to perform test runs on the seemingly countless formulations that have not yet come to fruition, and three R.&D. specialists work on product development for U.S. customers. These are among Hearthside’s top brass for product development, set to follow the innovation set forth by the 12 specialists at VSI.

From a trends perspective, Hearthside is nestled in the catbird seat. As American consumer demand mirrors what’s happening in Europe, VSI has the company poised to deliver.

“That was Rich’s ultimate strategy,” said Dwayne Hughes, senior vice-¬president of supply chain. “Boise was an empty plant, but it had the fundamentals to help us build the same capabilities that VSI has to get a footprint in the U.S.”

The company made significant investments to get the line where it needed to be, including Sollich and Hosokawa makeup lines, meant to replicate VSI. The Boise plant, which ¬originally produced protein-based bars, came equipped with a fully automated powder system, where silos automatically charge a storage hopper that dumps it directly into the mixer along with minors and liquids. It was the perfect base for the new line.

“It was the right kind of business we wanted to emulate from VSI,” Mr. Hughes said.

Chocolate enrobing is a big draw for both snack and functional bars. 

Since then, caramel-layering capabilities have been added, as well as Sollich tempering equipment for real chocolate, something that was historically unique to the European market (U.S. operations called for chocolate compounds). A ProPack bucket sheeter also was added for smearing thin layers of either chocolate or caramel.

“We also increased the flexibility in the second line and installed an extruder for customers who want an extruded product,” Mr. Hughes said, noting that the line can easily change from extruding to slab forming.

In accordance with Hearthside’s fast and flexible model, the company invested in a Campbell Wrapper row distribution system and Bosch flowwrappers.

Just a year into operation, business is already booming.

“We see all these projects coming, and we’re already talking about where we’ll put the next line,” Mr. Hughes observed.

The plant in Boise creates an opportunity that was out of reach for VSI before the acquisition: U.S. market penetration. Through this new partnership, it can potentially manufacture products that were going to nearly every market except the United States. And the Leerdham plants will do the same for Hearthside.

“This is our first international footprint,” Mr. Hughes pointed out.

Ultimately, the goal is to expand VSI’s offerings into other categories, perhaps baked bars or new products altogether, throughout Europe and potentially around the world. But for now, this is where the big opportunity is.

“Bars are expanding globally,” Mr. Scalise said. “It’s all the trends you hear about; people are still eating on the run, and they’re more particular about what they’re eating. They want bars with real attributes that fit their lifestyle. Consumers want nutrition; they want it clean, and they want to know what they’re eating. I think that transcends borders, and it’s why everyone is focused on it.”

Whether it’s protein-based cold-formed bars for fitness and nutrition sweeping Europe or the grain-based baked and cold-formed bars dominating American co-¬manufacturing, Hearthside is heading toward global leadership.

As the company stays the course toward world-class manufacturing and continues its current growth trajectory, Mr. Hughes pays heed to the company’s eighth guiding principle: celebrate results.

“We know we’re not yet world-class, but we’re going to set records,” he said. “We’ll have better safety results than yesterday; we’ll have better quality. We need our plant managers to celebrate these milestones and help our employees understand that we’re all taking this journey together.”