When Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers Foods installs a new production line, the project offers an opportunity to make the production not only as efficient as possible but also as sustainable as possible. Flowers Baking Co. of Henderson features many mainstay green investments. All of the lighting was replaced with LED lighting to cut down on the electric bill. Variable frequency drive (VFD) air compressors keep energy costs down. Conveyors are sensor-controlled and only run if product is present. And the oven uses product tracking technology to turn down burners in zones where energy is not needed, which ultimately reduces fuel consumption. 

“We constantly push our vendors to bring us ideas of how they can do a better job of programming their equipment, the fuel consumption on the ovens, the electrical consumption on all the equipment,” said Robert Benton, executive vice president of network optimization, Flowers Foods. “That has to be a selling component for them.”

The main pain point from a sustainability perspective in Henderson is obviously water. 

“Henderson is in a water-stressed area, so we wanted to make sure that was part of the conversation when we thought about equipment and making sure that we were minimizing the water use,” said Margaret Ann Marsh, senior vice president, safety, environmental and sustainability, Flowers Foods.

Despite the area’s water issues, the bakery needed a tray washer from a food safety perspective, which by its nature uses a lot of water. The tray washer, however, filters and recycles water. 

“We worked with AMF Bakery Systems to make sure we had the equipment that was most water-efficient,” she said.

In another effort to address water challenges, Flowers is investing in an updated wastewater management system, moving from a paper filter system to a dissolved air flotation (DAF) system. The filtration system creates a lot of labor and waste that will be eliminated by the new system.

“It will also handle the addition of the new line too because it has increased the demand on the wastewater system, and the upgrade will help mitigate that,” Ms. Marsh explained. 

The tray washer also takes advantage of the bakery’s heat recovery system installed with the new oven. The heat recovery system in Henderson is the most robust yet in a Flowers Foods’ facility. For environmental compliance, a catalytic-oxidizer was installed on the oven to control emissions. The heat recovery system captures the heat coming off the oxidizer through a glycol loop. The glycol then enters the heat exchanger, and that heat can be used in other parts of the facility, eliminating the need for large natural gas boilers. The system in Henderson generates enough heat to create steam for the proofer and pre-heat water at the tray washer as well as heat the tote jackets on liquid ingredients like honey and molasses. 

The new refrigeration system from Smith’s Refrigeration, installed to handle the load from the new line, is also more energy efficient. 

“Our new refrigeration system supports the entire bakery and is the most environmentally friendly system available that also meets our requirements,” said Robert Ray, vice president, network optimization project management, Flowers Foods. 

Big investments make a big difference when it comes to sustainability initiatives, but small details also add up. For example, because of Henderson’s climate, a refrigerated cooling tower like Flowers uses in many of its bakeries wasn’t necessary. Bread can cool at ambient temperatures, which eliminates the need for refrigerated cooling spirals. In a water-stressed area, this is a big win; Henderson’s arid climate would require a significant amount of water to keep the refrigeration coils cool. 

“Being able to stay away from that is a big saver,” Ms. Marsh said. “That water would just be lost to the atmosphere. At this facility for the ambient cooler, we also pull the air from the sides of the building rather than the top because that’s where the coolest air is.”

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