In today’s unpredictable business environment, the management team at JSB Industries is learning more lessons on how to operate more efficiently under new food safety guidelines and government regulations.

At the same time, Chelsea, Mass.-based company also understands the fundamental rules for success never change. Specifically, a bakery needs a combination of versatility and automation to serve customers with premium products at the lowest possible cost.

That’s why the management team likes the company’s position despite all the changes in the market following the outbreak of the pandemic. While its flexible Chelsea bakery specializes in short runs and signature products, the low-cost, automated Lawrence plant provides high-volume production to serve a wider array of customers at a competitive level.

“Most companies are not going to beat us in price,” said Roger Piffer, marketing director for the company. “They’re not going to beat us in quality. Our success is that customers come first. The products sell themselves, and we offer great packaging options.”

Specifically, JSB Industries, which also goes by the more popular name of Muffin Town, produces a wide variety of baked goods — including muffins, bars, cookies, bagels and its signature, crustless SunButter and Jelly sandwiches that are designed for students of any age.

To streamline its operation and position itself for growth, the company invested $2.5 million — including $1 million in new equipment — to build a 26,000-square-foot warehouse and dry mix facility next to its bakery in Lawrence.

The project featured a rail spur and a new Shick Esteve ingredient handling system to control ingredient costs.

[Related reading: Bulk ingredients often offer biggest ROI]

The spur holds three rail cars, each of which contains about 200,000 lbs of granulated sugar and whole wheat or cake flour. The Shick Esteve system can pump the flour into three new Contemar 110,000-lb silos in the warehouse or through insulated piping that runs over the warehouse, 20-feet high across the parking lot and into the bakery’s three existing Gemini/KB Systems’ 85,000-lb silos. Typically, the bakery empties a rail car in three to five working days.

“I can empty out two of the three railcars at one time,” said Scott Anderson, vice president of operations for the company. “I can pump sugar up and over to our production facility while I’m unloading cake flour in our warehouse.”

The warehouse also features a blending line to create custom-formulated, bagged mixes for its two bakeries. An older ribbon mixer rests atop a 20-foot mezzanine platform and feeds the automatic bagging system below. Scott Anderson noted the remaining space in the 28-foot-high multipurpose warehouse could be used for ingredient storage or the new cold-formed bar or another production line.

Overseeing the day-to-day operations are Scott Anderson and his brothers Brian and John, who serve as vice presidents of purchasing and sales, respectively. Their father, Jack Anderson, is president and chief executive officer of the company.

Moreover, Andre Andrade, director of operations, works with Ricardo Robadel, plant manager in Chelsea, and Joseph Delude, plant manager in Lawrence. Carlo Darbouze is chief engineer, and Laureen Dorgan heads up human resources. About 350 people work in the two bakeries on three shifts, five to six days a week.

The Lawrence plant houses three production lines and allocates 40,000 square feet to processing, 30,000 square feet for packaging, 35,000 square feet for warehousing and the remainder for offices.

"Our success is that customers come first. The products sell themselves, and we offer great packaging options.”

- Roger Piffer, JSB Industries

Scott Anderson pointed out the bakery recently upgraded its namesake muffin line, which features new pumps on the E.T. Oakes 2,000-lb slurry mixer, two Hinds-Bock depositors, a Mallet pan oiler and an Auto-Bake Serpentine system. Muffin Town improved the line’s efficiency and reduced bake times by replacing the Auto-Bake line’s chain and swapping out the thermal oil.

“I didn’t notice it, but we were losing oven time over the years because of the oil aging,” Scott Anderson observed. “After we changed out the thermal oil, it takes about a minute less to bake our muffins and cornbread loaves on the line, which is a big improvement.”

The bakery also reconfigured pan loading and unloading, which slashed changeovers from 90 to 120 minutes down to 15 to 30 minutes.

After baking, an ABB robotic depanner picks up two pans, or about 88 muffins at a time, and places them on a conveyor. Overall, the line holds about 525 pans at a time.

“I can have two to three people changing out pans on the front of the line while the rest of the line is pumping out different-sized muffins simultaneously,” Scott Anderson said.

[Related reading: How JSB Industries manages production flow]

After cooling, the muffins travel on a Capway conveyor to an Ilapak flowwrapper at rates of about 300 units a minute. Cornbread and other sweet goods are also hand-packed in clamshells and case-packed using ADCO technology and Mettler Toledo metal detection.

Muffin Town retooled its Raque crustless sandwich line with new crimper heads and a Goodway Industries steamer to clean the line more quickly. Currently the operation produces about 200 sandwiches a minute, up from 170 a few months ago.

“As you can imagine with SunButter and jelly being so sticky, if you have one or two misses, it becomes a nightmare,” Scott Anderson said. “Having that cleaning system certainly keeps things moving.”

To make SunWise sandwiches, the line uses several truckloads of whole wheat bread supplied each week by Gold Medal Bakery, Fall River, Mass. Two dispensers place four slices of bread across the belt followed by SunButter depositing, a jelly smear and more SunButter.

After two more sliced bread dispensers top the sandwiches, the crusts are removed by robotic stampers and crimpers, and the sandwiches are packaged via an Ilapak horizontal flowwrapper before case-packing and palletizing. The finished sandwiches are stored in the bakery’s holding freezer for two days before shipping.

Generally, about 20% of the bread is removed by this process. Scott Anderson noted some of that rework is put back into the formula. The bakery is also investing in a bread crumb system to reuse the trimmed bread in the future.

In the packaging department, the major learning experience has involved meal kit packaging — and making it more efficient. In many ways, the process resembles creating variety packs for club stores and mass merchandisers by taking four single-serve components and lining them up to fill a PFM horizontal flowwrapper at rates of about 100 kits a minute.

“Each component is taking up so much floor space, and you have four or five people filling up the feeder to the packaging machine trying not to have any jams,” Scott Anderson said. “It’s come a long way the last few months since we got up-and-running. It is a necessity going forward, especially with school foodservice. I don’t believe cafeterias will be opening this year or anytime soon. These breakfast and lunch kits are going to be the new norm.”

To boost efficiency, the bakery expanded the infeed to the flowwrapper to 16.5 feet from 11 feet to provide more room for operators to maneuver and add physical distancing. It also installed slotted, gravity-feed tables that allow forks and spoons, for instance, to slide down to facilitate the feeding of the meal kit packaging line. Overall, 72 kits are case-packed before palletizing.

“We made it a lot easier for people to grab and place them, and we are now moving at a much faster rate,” Scott Anderson said.

[Related reading: Breaking packaging bottlenecks wide open]

To better evaluate operating efficiency rates, the bakery added new Videojet inkjetters to apply code dates to packages and provide the lines’ downtime and throughput information to the plant management team. On the front end, the new Shick Esteve technology and updated scales with IP addresses on the Gemini/KB operation chart ingredient usage.

Moreover, new Titan Air systems maintain a positive air pressure in both bakeries, resulting in cooler operating conditions during the sweltering summer months and filtered air for food safety.

Certainly, the pandemic forced the operations to ratchet up worker protection. In addition to SQF food safety certification, the company created new sanitation teams to constantly clean “high touch” areas throughout the bakery.

Enhanced screening measures include the use of an app that takes an employee’s temperature and combines it with facial recognition technology.

“If someone’s temperature is high, the system won’t let this person into a building and emails supervisors that the employee cannot enter,” Scott Anderson said. “This system is definitely worth its weight in gold.”

In these unprecedented times, Muffin Town also understands that following today’s guidelines while making commitment to its employees and customers is worth its weight in gold.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature, click here.