The Princeton plant focuses on consistency and timing during production.

Creating consistent crackers

For a contract manufacturer of private label products, consistency is the lifeblood.

“A lot of people ask us to run unique formulas,” said Rich Holland, senior director of manufacturing. “It varies by location, but for bigger plants with large throughput like this one, we need to run the same formulas.”

For example, rather than running a number of formulas for one type of cracker, the bakery will crank out one formula each for different types of a product variety, such as a regular, unsalted and wheat saltine.

“At Princeton, consistency begins in the proofing room, which is about the size of a football field and houses more than 250 troughs of dough. It maintains constant temperature and humidity to accommodate the fermentation process, you need that consistency,” Mr. Holland said.

“There aren’t many people still doing it this way,” added Mr. Allen.

More than $1 million was invested to renovate the proof room ceiling, lowering it for optimal climate control to ensure dough consistency. With the room optimized, it’s all about timing.

“The critical time is between the sponge and dough-up phase,” Mr. Allen noted.

Proofing works on a strict first-in, first-out schedule, so production is only allotted a certain number of troughs for each product type. This prevents operators from speeding up their process on the Peerless or Shaffer, a Bundy Baking Solution, mixers — and ultimately throwing product out of spec — in an erroneous effort to increase throughput.

“Once you get a certain number of dough-ups done, that’s it,” Mr. Holland said. “You don’t mix any more until the next trough is available.”

On the RBS makeup lines, cracker consistency is also key. For example, after saltines go through a cut-sheet laminator, which stacks sheets of dough together before running the combined sheets through the first of up to four rollers, for that consistently smooth and light, airy texture that TreeHouse saltines are known for.

“The primary roller basically marries up the layers,” Mr. Melton explained. Then subsequent rollers create the ideal sheet thickness before going through the rotary mould or die cutters (depending on the line and product type) and into the RBS 300-foot stainless-steel tunnel ovens.

“The most important characteristic is the weight of the sheet on both sides as it goes through the die because it needs to be consistent,” he said.

Once cut, the sheet’s edges are trimmed to maintain a consistent bake and prevent scrap downstream.

“The further down the line scrap gets, the more it costs you,” Mr. Holland said. “Here, it’s just raw dough, so you want to cut the amount of scrap you get on the front end as much as possible.”

Consistency is top of mind even when the crackers with an Axis Automation salt topper.

“We run a salt board and take measurements to stay within spec,” Mr. Holland said. “We have to stay within spec on weight, too. If the sheet of dough is too heavy, there’s too much moisture, and it will get stale. If it’s too thin, it’s too dry and will break.”

In the five-zone ovens that use a hybrid of convection and direct-gas fire, time, temperature and turbulence rule.

“You have to be careful,” Mr. Holland explained. “If you blast too high up front, you create a ‘case’ on top, and the dough inside won’t release moisture, and you get doughy crackers. But if you don’t get enough air, it won’t bake out at the end. It’s a very fine line.”