CLIFTON, N.J. — When automating, it’s not always about return on investment for the short term. International Delights focuses on eliminating manual, labor-intensive or even boring jobs and training operators on how to create quality products that provide untold benefits in the long run.

“Lifting or moving things — those are not the jobs we want to create,” said Spiro Sayegh, co-managing director. “We believe a lot of work involving repetition or heavy lifting should not be done by people. That’s where we have focused our automation.”

That has meant installing an ingredient handling system with bag and tote dumping stations that feed its minor systems without lifting. The company also purchased a robotic pick-and-place system to gather and align sweet goods to feed its high-speed form/fill/packaging machines without labor. It installed a rail system to provide ambient cooling for 30 minutes by slowly moving racks from the semi-automated production department to the packaging area.

Moreover, its custom-designed tunnel ovens don’t release heat into the building, and this provides better ventilation and more comfortable conditions, especially in the summer.

Ensuring a higher quality of life for its workforce is one of the keys of success for International Delights, which operates a 180,000-square-foot bakery in Clifton, N.J.

Overall, 260 people from 29 countries work at the SQF Level 2 bakery. During a holiday party, it celebrated its workforce by recognizing its diversity by putting up flags for each nationality.

“We’re the United Nations of baking,” Spiro Sayegh said. “That’s why we’re called International Delights. Diversity epitomizes what we’re all about.”

Currently, the bakery houses five production and five packaging lines. Outside, the building features a façade of a layered croissant in the front. Inside, the facility contains 100,000 square feet of processing space; 40,000 square feet for packaging; 20,000 square feet of warehousing and 20,000 square feet of offices and ancillary space. During the morning, the operation primarily produces individually wrapped items before transitioning to production of fresh ones for food service and other accounts. Distributors start picking up fresh products at 7 p.m., and the bakery’s direct deliveries typically run from 2 to 7 a.m.

An AZO ingredient handling system feeds the lines with high-gluten flour from two 80,000-lb outdoor silos and cake flour from an indoor one. A bag dump and separate tote station feed minor ingredients into an AZO automated dispensing system with silos ranging from 600 to 3,000 lbs to eliminate lifting and provide front-end process controls. Totes ranged from 600 to 3,000 lbs. An operator scales micro ingredients from bags stored in individually labeled bins.

In one room, the proprietary sourdough system comes with one 600-L operation for the mother sour and two 2,800-L holding tanks for the levain. Spiro Sayegh noted many sours receive 24 to 40 hours of fermentation.

The mixing room is centrally located at the front end of production, so it can serve both the semi- and highly automated operations on each side. This temperature-controlled department relies on four VMI spiral mixers with 250- to 300-lb bowls for dough products as well as a Sancassiano 600-lb paddle mixer, a Diosna paddle mixer and a third older model for batters.

“When we select equipment, we try to select the best for what we’re producing today and possibly in the future,” Spiro Sayegh observed.

Doughs rest in the 60-trough fermentation room at 50˚F for 1 to 12 hours, depending on the product. On the high-speed Rheon line, the troughs are automatically elevated to a belt conveyor that continuously feeds the stress-free V4 system in the room set at 65˚F for maintaining croissant production.

After heading through the first “stretcher” or cross roller, the dough receives butter from a spreader before entering a sheet folder and roll-in conveyor to seal in the butter. After flour dusting and sliding under another “stretcher” or reduction station, the sheet receives four to six layers of overlap folding. Here, a third stretcher reduces the sheet from 35 mm to 12 mm in thickness.

The sheet rides up a belt conveyor to an overhead retarder where 2,000 lbs of dough slowly zigzags down for about 45 minutes at 50˚F before exiting the bottom and conveying down to a second laminating station. Spiro Sayegh pointed out the entire lamination process creates between 16 and 32 layers of fat, depending on the croissant’s variety.

After passing through other stretchers, a circular cutter slices the sheet into five strips, after which a rotary cutter slices the dough into triangle pieces that enter a croissant rounder. The pieces are then manually bent and crimped into the classic French croissant shape.

Here, the line lays down a no-stick parchment paper that holds up to 10 pieces that are proofed and baked, proofed and frozen, or bypass the Tecnopool spiral proofer if they are frozen dough items. After receiving an egg wash, the pieces and parchment paper lay atop of a stainless-steel baking tray.

By collaborating with four Italian equipment manufacturers, International Delights designed a proprietary ­100-­foot oven with systems that capture the oven’s heat to keep the bakery cool in summer. The exhaust is redirected and recycled so that the heat isn’t felt as the croissants exit the servo-driven oven. The trays then enter and travel for 45 minutes into a vertical step cooler. They are then conveyed into a depanner system that separates the parchment paper from the croissants. The bakery has a Colussi tunnel washer where trays can be automatically directed to before storage.

After cooling, the fresh croissants enter a Schubert robotic system that picks and places them on a single line conveyor. Specifically, the robots are outfitted with end-of-arm tooling that gently picks up the curved, flaky products. A small vacuum apparatus lightly holds the croissants stable as the fingers lift and place them without damage. If the production volume exceeds 180 pieces a minute, the croissants head to an area where they are manually racked for packaging later. A vision system monitors and tracks production flow, guides the robots and rejects wrong-sized or misshapen items.

The large croissants then enter horizontal form/fill/seal wrappers by Formost Fuji, Bosch Doboy, Ulma or Ilapak. Spiro Sayegh noted the Fuji wrapper relies on sensors and a variable-speed belt to exactly align the croissants with the wrapper’s film.

Fresh items are shipped out of a warehouse managed by a ToolBox system. The department’s four larger docks serve bigger route trucks and common carriers while eight docks load smaller step vans for local deliveries.

With the start-up of an updated Comas muffin and cake line, International Delights added a second 100-foot tunnel oven that has been placed above the existing one. Spiro Sayegh noted this industrial feat saves valuable floorspace — a precious commodity in the New York metropolitan area — for future expansion. Muffins, cakes, croissants or pastries will be conveyed from a high-speed production line to maximize efficiency. Additionally, the bakery will add dual packaging equipment to handle the extra volume, improve packaging quality and provide redundancy to the operation’s existing packaging systems to increase uptime and yield. Moreover, a second vacuum cooking system will be installed to add half-ton batches of fillings to meet capacity.

“It’s all about new capabilities,” said Robyn Spritzer, director of marketing for the sweet goods producer, which manufactures croissants, Danish, muffins, scones, brioche, puff pastry and other fresh and frozen items. “It’s not all about doing an analysis on R.O.I. and how much money can we make, but, rather, what can we do for consumers? How can we bring a product that is unique to the marketplace? There’s a passion here; we’re not just looking for an R.O.I. It’s the right thing to do in the long term and brings something unique and different to the market.”

As an industrial engineer, Spiro Sayegh suggested the bakery’s next phase is part of a continuous process that involves further research through ongoing travel to baking and equipment trade shows. By the time the International Baking Industry Expo, also known as Baking Expo, comes to Las Vegas from Sept. 7 to 11, he expects several new projects — big and small — to be in the works. As he noted, “Bakeries get old very quickly.” They need constant upkeep and investment.

“I want to keep this bakery looking like it was built just two years ago,” he added.

Investing is just part of its mission, said Nicolas Sayegh, co-managing director who founded the company with his brother Spiro.

“We wanted to build a bakery that becomes a good, permanent model for the industry,” Nicolas Sayegh said. “It’s about creating the best products in the world and combining the science and art of baking. It’s amazing and inspiring that our mission from 30 years ago is still a driving force here.”

For Spiro Sayegh, that means traveling internationally and identifying products that will resonate with U.S. consumers. On the flipside, he’s seen how croissants and brioche that are fundamentally French and muffins that are quintessentially North American can now be found across the globe.

“We look for products from all around the world,” he said. “We want to bring the best delights in the world to the country we love.”

This article is an excerpt from the February 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on International Delights, click here.