OAK BROOK, ILL. — For more than two decades, a bakery in western Kentucky has stood strong, weathering storms of food fads and consumer trends and donning names such as Bremner, Ralcorp, ConAgra Foods and, most recently, Oak Brook-based TreeHouse Foods.
The bakery actually started in Louisville but relocated to Princeton after expansion of the nearby airport forced it out. Over the years, it has produced a variety of items, including wirecut cookies, extruded sweet products, crackers and cereal.
Today, this private label producer stands as an example for TreeHouse 2020, the company’s recently launched initiative for streamlined operations throughout its more than 50 food production facilities.
“This bakery has transformed over the past 10 years into a state-of-the-art facility that uses automation to service the largest retailers in the country,” said Terry Melton, director of operations.
Since 2009, significant improvements have been made to this 985,000-square-foot facility to make product types ranging from rotary die, rotary moulded, seasoned, glazed, and sweet and savory cookies and crackers. All told, more than $100 million have been invested in capital expenditures to increase throughput and flexibility on multiple production lines. Today the bakery, which runs 24/7 and employs nearly 600 people, cranks out an average of 575,000 lbs of product that ship out on about 45 to 50 semis every day.
When Reading Bakery Systems (RBS) designed the most recent cracker line, flexibility was at the heart. While many TreeHouse cracker products are laminated doughs, that’s not always the case.
“The newest line was built with a cut-sheet laminator, but it also has a bypass so we can run a non-laminated product, as well,” said Ken Allen, plant manager. On other lines, it’s one or the other, but this one provides the option to run both as needed.
In addition to typical sheeting, this line can run rotary moulded product as well.
“We can slide the conveyor out and a rotary moulder in,” Mr. Allen said. “The new line has a lot of flexibility — laminate, non-laminate, rotary mould, rotary cut — as well as different topping applications for savory or sweet.”
After the bake, flexibility is still a critical factor for production. For example, some products get a sweet sugar glaze post-bake from a GOE-Amherst system, while others, like oyster crackers that are offered in a variety of flavors, get attention further down the line in a Heat and Control tumble drum application.
It was designed — and installed downstream closer to packaging — to address the side effects that come with adding seasonings upstream. Much of the application falls off as it travels 300 to 400 feet on the conveyor, so operators would over-season to compensate for the loss. Then they’d have to clean the whole line during changeovers. Without seasonings all over the line, the new drum not only provides ingredient cost savings but also reduces changeover time.
“Now, we just have to clean the tumble drum,” Mr. Melton said.
The system can accommodate three different applications at once.
“With short runs, changeover is important, as is supplying customers with a lot of different things,” he said. “This now allows us to divide the product stream so we can create smaller runs that aren’t so painful.”