Flowers Baking Co. of Henderson, Nev., is a lesson in what is possible when a baker has plenty of room to grow. With half of its 360,000 square feet of processing space empty, Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., considered a number of possibilities.

“I have designed and drawn so many different lines for this plant because we had this great big area with a good plant and a good team,” said Robert Benton, recently retired executive vice president of network optimization for Flowers. “We looked at putting in a cake line — a lot of different kinds of lines — before we landed on Dave’s Killer Bread (DKB).” 

Being only 275 miles away from Los Angeles — a major market for the DKB brand — it was clear the open production space in Henderson provided an opportunity for Flowers Foods’ most powerful brand. 

Until the investment in Henderson, the West Coast’s DKB business was filled by the original DKB facility in Milwaukie, Ore., and another in Mesa, Ariz., both more manual operations than the newer lines in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Lynchburg, Va.

“The entire concept for this line was to drive as much automation as we possibly could,” Mr. Benton explained. “We wanted to create a product that we could bring to market with much less cost.” 

With the space available to fulfill that dream, the new DKB production line was all about ironing out the details to make the operation as streamlined as today’s technology would allow. 

Flowers Foods acquired the Henderson bakery in 2012 from Interstate Bakeries Corp. (IBC) when the company filed for bankruptcy. The former cake, bread and bun plant was converted to produce Nature’s Own bread and buns and reopened in 2013, with some of the existing staff continuing with Flowers. 

When Flowers decided to add a production line for DKB, the building needed upgrades to support the new capacity. Offices in receiving and raw material storage were removed to make way for new ingredients and packaging that would need to be stored there. The refrigeration, electrical, bulk handling and automatic scaling systems all needed to be upgraded to handle the additional capacity. 

Many of these changes also accommodated the need for segregated systems for organic certification, such as the organic flour system to prevent cross-contamination between conventional and organic flours. 

“This was the first time we have built an organic DKB line within a bakery that was already running a conventional bread/bun line,” said Robert Ray, vice president, network optimization project management for Flowers Foods. “Just like our other DKB bakeries with a dedicated building, this line is USDA-certified organic, Non-GMO Project verified and kosher-certified. Each of these certifications are strictly regulated with ongoing monitoring, on-site inspections and annual recertification. To accomplish this, our conventional and organic production are kept separate by two independent sections and production systems. Proper planning and design were critical to ensuring that everything from ingredients to shop tools is isolated within the appropriate section.”

Not only was the new production line designed to support that segregation, but the team onsite had to be trained to adapt to the needs of organic production to remain in compliance with the many certifications of the DKB brand.

“During inspections we had to conduct mock recalls to ensure that we do have that segregation and we’re not using conventional ingredients on the organic line,” said Megan Farrar, receiving superintendent at Flowers Baking Co. of Henderson. “We have to maintain that certification and the credibility since we’re claiming that it’s organic.”  

The team learned from other bakeries that had taken on the organic certification and the DKB process. While DKB loaves and buns are the same basic process as conventional — mix, divide, mould, proof, bake, cool, slice and package — the formulation and organic certification require considerations at every step. 

“It’s hard to pinpoint any specific difference; DKB is just a different animal, and it’s the organic piece of it that makes it so different,” said Jesse Bonner, production manager at Flowers Baking Co. of Henderson.

From mixer to wrapper, the entire process takes about 3.5 hours, an hour longer than the Nature’s Own loaves on the other side of the plant. Much of that is dedicated to cooling, as DKB’s dense, seedy nature holds onto heat longer than a typical loaf.

 “Everything from bake times to the way we process, the way we do in-line moulding and panning, it’s all a little bit different,” Mr. Benton said.

In addition to the organic certifications, two more puzzle pieces had to be sorted as well: installation was occurring in an operating bakery and during the pandemic. This required all parties involved to be nimble. 

“A project like this, in normal conditions, has a fairly linear process flow and can be completed in roughly 9 to 12 months; instead, installing the DKB line in Henderson took 18 months,” Mr. Ray explained. “Supply chain delays resulted in numerous starts and stops as we waited on equipment and other supplies. Our project team had to be extremely nimble, moving people around to various areas of the project as supplies became available.”

Mr. Ray credited equipment suppliers and the bakery team for not only getting the project done during such difficult times but also within an operating bakery. 

“We essentially had to build a new bakery within the existing bakery, which was further complicated by the fact that we were undertaking a major construction project while the other half of the plant was still operating,” he said. “In the end, this project’s success is the result of supplier partners who were willing and able to collaborate with us and each other, and tremendous support from the outstanding bakery team at Henderson.”

This article is an excerpt from the July 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Flowers Foods/DKB, click here.