Now that everyone is back to school — or some version of it — let’s go over a few guidelines for getting an education in a coronavirus (COVID-19) world. For students and their teachers, please always wear a mask, wash your hands frequently and maintain social distancing whenever possible.
For bakers like JSB Industries, also known as Muffin Town, it doesn’t take a Mensa IQ to realize that the No. 1 guiding principle today involves packaging everything that’s sold to school foodservice, which makes up more than half of the Chelsea, Mass.-based company’s business.
Overwrapping its homestyle baked goods is an online operation that the bakery has been expanding in recent years. During the past few months, however, the bakery began putting it on everything it promotes and for good reason, noted Roger Piffer, marketing director.
“With the pandemic, we are so busy — busier than we’ve ever been — because the requests for individually wrapped bakery items are going through the roof,” Mr. Piffer explained. “We’re now packaging all baked goods for quality and safety. Right now, you don’t want to touch anything, so why not buy individually wrapped products?”
With the heightened awareness for personal safety, Muffin Town is also providing meal kits for school foodservice programs, many of which have closed their cafeterias or shut down buffet-style service. Mr. Piffer said the kits include a shelf-stable option that includes cereal, crackers and other long shelf-life snacks.
More recently, it began offering a freeze-and-thaw alternative featuring one of the bakery’s top-selling muffins, bagels, mini-cornbread loaves or SunButter and Jelly sandwiches along with juice, fruit and other components that are horizontally flowwrapped together to create a well-balanced breakfast or lunch.
It’s the latest successful business venture spearheaded by Jack Anderson, president and chief executive officer, who’s been pursuing the latest trends since jumping on the once nascent gourmet muffin bandwagon shortly after founding the company back in 1978.
Today, the self-described “America’s premium value bakery” offers more than 350 SKUs of baked goods sold under the Muffin Town, SunWise, Aesop’s Bagels, Smart Choice, Snack ’N Loaves and Madeline’s Gourmet Cookies brands.
“Jack is so far ahead of the curve,” Mr. Piffer said. “He sees things before others do. He started us promoting individually wrapped bakery because it’s so important now.”
Overall, foodservice accounts for about 65% of sales, and about 75% of that comes from K-12 schools. Retail, however, has caught on fire with the surge for prepackaged baked goods as well as co-manufacturing for other brands.
Scott Anderson, vice president of operations and one of Jack’s three sons involved in the business, pointed out that the demand for some products, specifically its SunButter and Jelly sandwiches sold under the SunWise name, has been so strong that it’s adding a second production line later this year at its 100,000-square-foot high-volume bakery in Lawrence, Mass., located about 30 miles from its headquarters and second bakery in Chelsea outside of Boston. Both facilities are peanut- and tree nut-free operations.
The crustless, allergen-free sunflower butter and grape or strawberry jelly sandwiches provide a quick, convenient, grab-and-go meal replacement for students.
“A pre-made SunButter and jelly sandwich for schools is like a home run,” Scott Anderson said. “There’s a big void in companies that are doing non-peanut butter products. We couldn’t keep up with our own brand, and as you may expect, we have plenty of customers calling us about co-packing the sandwich, not to mention our school foodservice business on that line.”
The bakery’s other innovative products include Cornbread Bowls, which can be served with a ladle of soup or chili, and its Chocolate Cake Dessert Bowls with ice cream. Originally designed for school foodservice, the edible bowls are individually wrapped or found in two-, four- or 20-pack bags in retail.
Most recently, Muffin Town introduced its Totality Bar, a nutritionally balanced breakfast bar made with SunButter, cranberries, honey, rolled oats and rice crisps for texture.
Currently, the bars are produced on a Reiser makeup line in its versatile 100,000-square-foot Chelsea bakery, which operates five production lines and three packaging lines that specialize in short-run production.
Scott Anderson noted the company plans to invest in a high-volume, cold-forming bar line that it will install in its main production plant in Lawrence, where it has also made significant investments to reduce costs and boost capacity during the past two years.
This article is an excerpt from the September 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature, click here.