Specialty Bakery LLC, Something Truly Special
Specialty Bakery builds a one-of-a-kind bakery that it believes rivals the best in North America.

By Dan Malovany

Everything is brand new at Specialty Bakery LLC — the company, the building, the bakery, the employees and even the two, still-warm, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies that the FedEx delivery man took from a display case after dropping off packages in the visitors’ entrance.

Moments later, over in the new conference room, industry veterans Ahmad Hamade, CEO, and Jim Zakian, executive vice-president, supply chain, reflected on what they built in the Purdue Research Park just a hop, skip and a jump from the Indianapolis International Airport — and how quickly they did it.

“Just over a year ago, the bakery site was a grassy field,” Mr. Hamade pointed out.

Today, the 225,000-sq-ft ultra-modern bakery houses three high-speed production lines — each located in separate rooms to control quality — that currently turn out frozen cookie dough, frozen bread dough and fully baked flatbread for the foodservice industry, including one of the largest quick-service restaurant chains in North America.

And there’s plenty of room to grow, according to Mr. Hamade. The existing facility has a fourth enclosed production room that can be rapidly ramped up into operation after installing equipment as the business attracts more customers. Moreover, on the 27 acres of land where the bakery rests, Specialty Bakery can expand the plant by another 90,000 sq ft. That’s enough space to install up to four more high-speed production lines.

In all, the company invested $78 million — or about $24 million in building the plant and another $54 million in equipment, information technology and other support to start up the bakery — according to a filing with the Indianapolis Metropolitan & Economic Development Committee.

David D’Onofrio, senior vice-president of sales and marketing, noted the investment reflects the company’s dedication to quality, food safety and its current and future customers’ needs. “Our vision is simple,” he said. “We want to be the premier bakery in the foodservice, retail and in-store bakery channels. With this state-of-the-art, highly automated bakery, we are very flexible and very responsive. If we aren’t nimble, that doesn’t do us or our customers any good. Speed to market is critical to everyone. By the commitment that we made, we certainly can do things here that others can’t.”

Crossroads of America

Simultaneously starting up a company and a bakery from scratch requires a seasoned management team and a solid strategic plan. Along with Jim Little, vice-president of innovation and quality, Mr. Hamade, Mr. Zakian and Mr. D’Onofrio have more than 120 years of experience in the baking industry, working at such companies as Otis Spunkmeyer, Vie de France, J&J Snack Foods, ConAgra Foods and Ralcorp, Corner Bakery, and Puratos, just to name a few.

“There have been a lot of moving parts all at once,” Mr. Hamade said. “However, our experience has allowed us to fast-track this project. We were able to choose from the best of the best when it came to construction, equipment, our business processes and our people.”

It also requires a game plan. Working with equity partners from Dallas, Mr. Hamade and Mr. Zakian formed Specialty Bakery in 2013 and began searching for the ideal location that they could call home.

“Indianapolis is the crossroads of America,” Mr. Hamade explained. “In a one-day drive, you can be within 80% of the US population. For a start-up company, we couldn’t pick a more ideal location than Indianapolis. There is a strong pro-business environment here with state and local government. That had some influence on our thinking, particularly being on this site.”

In many ways, he added, it seemed like only yesterday that they were staring out of an office across the road from where the bakery now stands, watching the snow fall during a cold, blustery day in February 2014, making preparations and wondering when the weather would break so they could ramp up construction on their ambitious project. Eventually it did, on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Within nine months, Specialty Bakery began production on its frozen dough bread line in November, followed by the frozen cookie dough operation in December and the baked flatbread line in January 2015.

“It was all hands on deck,” Mr. Hamade said. “We had a very tightly integrated plan with our building and equipment vendors, and we had one integrated project timeline that we followed.”

Running down a dream

For Mr. Zakian, designing the bakery from scratch allowed him to leverage a lifetime of experience in the industry. During his career, he built two bakeries, expanded one other and renovated, modified or installed 12 more production lines across several bakeries. He borrowed best practices and intelligent concepts from bakeries he visited throughout the years in Europe, Japan, Canada and the US.

“It’s not too often that you get a blank piece of paper and you’re asked to design a bakery,” he said. “I took the best of the best when designing this bakery.” His best practices included the sanitary design of equipment and the separate production rooms. From his experience, Mr. Zakian recognized that sanitation would be the pinnacle for success of its food safety program.

Mr. Zakian initiated the thoughtful 6-month design process by sizing out the flatbread room, the largest of the bakery production areas. “With a lot of production systems, you can put bends in the process, but with the nature of the flatbread process, from the time you sheet it out, you need to keep it in one straight line,” he explained. “I used the length of that line to design the size of the production room and built out the rest of the facility from there.”

Looking at the blueprint of the plant, Mr. Zakian described how the four individual production rooms make up the core or heart of the bakery and how support services surround them, being set along the perimeter of the building. Where possible, Specialty Bakery compartmentalized departments and centralized functions along the perimeter to ensure quality, enhance food safety and streamline operations. Each production room has its own QA test bake lab staffed with highly skilled test bakers. This gives operations the advantage of real-time product performance and analytical data. Specialty Bakery is using statistical process controls to drive process capability delivering superior quality products.

In addition to departments for maintenance, engineering, sanitation and warehousing, Mr. Zakian placed all of the silos in one room to better control the temperature of the flour and sugar. He then consolidated sifting into the room next door to simplify preventive maintenance and allow the bakery to check the tailing buckets for any foreign matter after each shift.

All traffic runs in what can be best described as an oblong roadway, or corridor, that encircles the central production rooms and separates them from the perimeter support areas. “We don’t have any forklift or foot traffic going through the production rooms,” Mr. Zakian explained.

To gain access into the production areas, bakers need a key fob. “The only bakers who are in these rooms are those who actually belong there,” he added. “For food safety, you really want to minimize access to the product.”

Flowing in a straight line

Overall, production runs in a straight line. “In a classic flow-through, you receive your ingredients at one end of the building, you store them, you process them, and you package them. Packaged goods flow through the storage freezer and out the opposite end,” Mr. Zakian said. “Being able to start from scratch, I could lay it out so that we had an efficient flow of raw materials and packaging through the plant.

“By creating individual production rooms for food safety, it also put us in the mindset about producing quality products,” he continued. “Each of the rooms is brightly lit, well laid out with a lot of space — it’s not congested. Congestion and quality, to me, just don’t go hand in hand.”

The key, Mr. Hamade said, involved optimizing space by getting as much equipment as possible per square foot and maximizing throughput. Specialty Bakery also took advantage of interstitial space by placing utilities in a large mezzanine room between the ceiling and the roof of the building. In addition to reducing downtime for sanitation and maintenance by keeping the production area uncluttered, locating utilities above the production area sped up the initial construction of the building. Mr. Zakian noted it allowed contractors to install utilities while they laid the concrete floor in larger sections.

Throughout Baking & Snack’s tour, Mr. Hamade and Mr. Zakian pointed out the thorough attention to detail that went into building the bakery — and the business — from scratch. The company uses a cloud-based information system and state-of-the-art Apple computers. It also invested in ERP up front instead of adding it at a later date. “By doing so from the start, we’ve been earning efficiencies from day one,” Mr. Hamade said. “You may pay more in the beginning, but you have a lot less downtime in the long run. You don’t have to worry about viruses with Apple, and training is a lot easier by having ERP installed from the startup of the bakery.” (See “Training in the Center of Excellence” on Page 43.)

Specialty Bakery enlisted the expertise of several highly regarded food safety specialists to review the sanitary design of the facility to optimize food safety in all facets of the design, including traffic, air, ingredient and product flow. For food security, the company built a secure waiting room next to the receiving department where delivery drivers hang out while the bakery unloads incoming raw materials and files the necessary paperwork. “This way, we ensure there is no unauthorized access into the bakery,” Mr. Hamade noted.

Moreover, he said, all ingredients are placed on sanitized plastic pallets to prevent the unclean wooden ones from entering the production areas. Each pallet receives its own internally generated “license plate” for wireless lot tracking and traceability throughout the entire process and including shipping. Using the ERP system for lot tracking from front door to back has streamlined product trace capabilities.

Specialty Bakery is building a culture that empowers their bakers to be accountable for food safety and quality. “Exceptional customer satisfaction depends on comprehensive risk-based food safety and quality practices,” Mr. Hamade said.

Specialty Bakery is presently working on completing SQF Level 2 certification. The facility also houses an Innovation Center — a fully equipped lab where the company partners with customers to refine new product concepts and take them from the bench to production and eventually to the end consumer.

Interchangeable systems

For production, Mr. Hamade and Mr. Zakian turned to about a dozen key vendors they had worked with in the past. “We looked to find best in class when it comes to buying equipment,” Mr. Zakian noted.

When possible, the company invested in interchangeable equipment throughout the bakery. By using the same vendors, Specialty Bakery not only reduces its inventory of spare parts but also allows bakers to easily move from one production line to another. “We’ve cut down on the learning curve,” Mr. Zakian said. “Instead of learning how to operate three pieces of equipment, you just learn one that’s applicable to all three lines.”

Automating lines also reduces waste and ensures making consistent quality products. “You tend to take the human factor out of the occasion,” Mr. Hamade explained. “The more you put your hands into the production process, the more variability you add to it.”

Mr. Hamade and Mr. Zakian designed the facility working with its strategic vendors including Fritsch for sheeting lines, Shick USA for bulk handling and loss-in-weight feeder systems, Sancassiano for mixing, Baker Perkins for wirecut cookies, GEA for spiral freezers, Ishida for scales, Triangle for baggers, Blueprint Automation for casepackers, Heat and Control for metal detectors and checkweighers, Pearson Packaging Systems for case forming and sealing, and Ryson for spiral case conveyors.

Mr. Zakian designed bulk ingredient handling — all provided by Shick USA — for future expansion. In a ­temperature-controlled room, six 200,000-lb silos — five for flour and one for granulated sugar — currently supply the bakery. There’s room for three more. While the sugar sifter rests at the base of the silo, five Great Western flour sifters are located in an adjacent room.

Along with a 60,000-lb soybean oil tank, the bakery houses two 60,000-lb cream yeast systems and two 60,000-lb whole-egg tanks. “It’s one tank per truck because cream yeast and eggs are sensitive ingredients. You never want to mix lots,” he noted.

In the temperature-controlled frozen unbaked cookie room, set at 70°F, the process begins with a Sancassiano automatic batching system composed of three industrial-sized spiral bowl mixers — one for creaming sugar and butter in the first stage and the other two for incorporating additional ingredients into a batter during the second stage of the process. A Shick loss-in-weight feeder, with a 1,800-lb supersack resting upon a load cell, accurately dispenses inclusions such as chocolate chips, raisins and M&M’s into a bucket elevator that transports them up to a diverter to feed either of the two batch mixers.

A bowl elevator dumps the cookie batter into the hopper of a Baker Perkins wirecut depositor. Hundreds of individually cut pieces enter a GEA single-spiral freezer per minute. Mr. Zakian noted the ammonia-fueled freezer contains four individual coils — three of them freeze the product while one is constantly in defrost mode so the line can run continuously. The freezer comes with an automatic foaming system to aid in sanitation. “We wanted a spiral freezer that we didn’t have to stop every 20 hours to defrost,” he said.

The frozen pieces exit at the top of the freezer and travel to one of two Ishida scales before tumbling down into Triangle form/fill/seal baggers.

In the packaging department, set at 45°F, positive-pressure airflow prevents particulates from migrating to and from the production area. Here, the recently bagged unbaked cookies pass along SpanTech conveyors to a Heat and Control CEIA metal detection system, an Ishida checkweighter and casepacking. After sealing, the cases pass through a second checkweigher and an inkjet printer that adds the product description, lot code and use-by date. The whole case receives another round of metal detection before traveling up a Ryson space-saving spiral conveyor to the centralized palletizing room.

Designed for uptime

In the frozen dough bread production room, set at 65°F, three Sancassiano industrial spiral bowl mixers feed a Fritsch Laminator 3000 industrial sheeting line, using Fritsch’s SoftProcessing technology. The sheeted dough travels through a series of reduction stations, flour dusters and a cross-stretcher to achieve a precise thickness. Cut into squares, dough pieces roll up as they travel through a curling chain.

The formed dough pieces head to another GEA spiral freezer. The frozen goods exit the spiral freezer and enter a Grandi counting and optical vision system. This system serves two purposes: It counts the pieces into the case, and it provides a quality check for width, length and shape — rejecting any out of specification.

The system also has redundancy built in. The frozen dough bread pieces are counted out into two feed hoppers. If one side of the counter is not working, the line will automatically switch 100% of the volume to the other feed hopper. “You never want to shut down the sheeting line,” Mr. Zakian said. “The dough is very much alive, so you have to ensure the dough is constantly flowing down the line.”

The pieces are placed automatically into cases with liner bags. Stokes Material Handling Systems designed the case handling equipment, which was supplied by Pearson.

In many ways, the cookie and bread production rooms operate as individual manufacturing facilities, replete with a quality assurance department where the frozen products are baked off and scored against the customer’s specifications.

In the QA labs set just a few feet from the production lines, technicians bake off samples. In the frozen bread room, lab personnel take samples off the line every seven minutes. Additionally, the department conducts shelf-life tests of the frozen products after 30, 60 and 90 days.

“It’s part of our effort to align QA with production,” Mr. Hamade said. “We want production and quality to work hand-in-hand. We don’t want them to have to walk to another part of the facility to conduct quality tests on our products.”

Robotics at work

In the flatbread room, set at 80°F, two Sancassiano spiral batch mixers supply a Fritsch laminating line that’s identical to the one on the frozen dough bread line. To provide production flexibility, the bakery purchased an ample number of mixing bowls so that the dough can rest for anywhere from six to 45 minutes.

Following sheeting and cutting, the rectangular dough pieces continue to travel along a Fritsch cascading conveyor that’s inside a Fred D. Pfening proofer for 60 seconds or up to 13 minutes, depending on the product. After baking in a Babbco direct-fired tunnel oven, the freshly baked flatbreads head to a GEA enclosed spiral cooler.

From there, the flatbreads travel along four conveyors to a JLS Automation stacker where a seamless series of ABB robots neatly pick and place them. The stacks then return along two conveyors and eventually enter a Formost Fuji bagger and Kwik Lok closing system before metal detection and casepacking.

In the 45°F palletizing department, cases roll down Ryson spiral conveyors to one of two Fanuc robotic systems to be palletized and then to a holding freezer for eventual distribution via third-party carriers. As production ramps up even further, the room has ample space to add a third robotic palletizer.

Plans for more bakeries

Mr. Hamade suggested the Indianapolis operation provides a strategic platform that can be “scaled up” as the business evolves. “That includes our goal to have multiple plants, acquiring new customers, entering new categories and looking for strategic acquisitions that will fuel our growth along the way,” he explained.

He added that the management team’s broad experience allows Specialty Bakery to adeptly provide a broad range of bakery solutions for the market. Moreover, as the new kid on the block, the company isn’t hampered by any legacy issues.

“This facility is mainly set up to be a frozen bakery, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t consider building a fresh bakery with the right opportunity,” Mr. Hamade suggested. “Our core business is foodservice, but we see in-store bakeries and even convenience stores as an extension of our eventual customer base. I wouldn’t even rule out the center aisle, but that’s just part of our evolution.”

The focus, he emphasized, is strictly on the baking industry. “We’re not going to do ice cream or potato chips because we want to leverage our core competency in bakery to drive value for our customers,” Mr. Hamade explained. “It really starts by establishing the right partnerships with our customers and helping them respond to opportunities and meet their long-term goals.”

That’s the foundation for creating something truly special.

Baking & Snack
August 2015

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