From its inception, FullBloom Baking Co. has placed great emphasis on finding customers that share its commitment to being socially conscious and ecologically responsible. The newly relocated Newark, Calif.-based company also believes in supporting agriculturally sustainable business practices. Its range of offerings include 100 percent organic, all-natural, low fat, nonfat and no-sugar added products, made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, whenever possible, that do not contain any artificial additives. Although primarily a fresh bakery, FullBloom recently added blast freezing capabilities, giving it the ability to expand its geographic network.
FullBloom moved to its new location in June, having peaked at about 120 percent capacity in its former 58,000-sq.-ft. facility in Menlo Park, where it had been for 12 years. Even though the bakery's new facility is equipped with two continuous processing lines, its production methodology combines automation and hand crafting. Its artisan products include a variety of muffins, cookies, scones, laminated products, multi-layer bars and granola.
One of the most distinctive aspects of FullBloom is its culture — one that is led by one of the few female entrepreneurs in the baking industry. Karen Trilevsky, founder and C.E.O., operates the 200-plus employee bakery as if it's a family-run business, and it shows. Employee satisfaction is evident throughout the bakery, as each person contributes to its success.
A budding business model
While some companies operate on the basis of core competencies, FullBloom places great emphasis on its core values and beliefs, which are reflected throughout the organization. “We're seeking customers who appreciate our vision and value all-natural and organic; customers who see the value in premium product,” says David Caraska, vice president, sales, who considers himself responsible for making things happen. “We bring enormous value to each other through great custom recipes and only the finest ingredients that may cost us more to produce.”
The company prides itself on its product development capabilities. R&D operates its lab seven days a week so it can meet its customers' demands in a rapid and flexible timetable, while capitalizing on the latest industry trends.
The bakery's versatile R&D staff, which includes professional pastry chefs and technicians, work on multiple projects simultaneously because “we're in a growth mode,” says Frankie Whitman, vice president, marketing. FullBloom will soon add a food scientist to its R&D staff.
“Our approach to product development makes it a bit challenging for a traditional food scientist. There are ‘solutions’ in their toolkit they may want to use, but are not acceptable here,” Trilevsky says. “We want somebody that has a natural bent, who understands how to utilize natural ingredients instead of easy chemical fixes.”
FullBloom considers its employees and their families part of its business. “The level of commitment and engagement of our people is something we want to preserve, grow and expand,” says Laverne Matias, vice president, human resources. A learning and development specialist was recently hired to reinforce employees' career growth. Supporting employees' skills development is a key component of the HR function. Employees are offered English and Spanish classes, management development and tuition reimbursement. Employees' self care and well being is a priority for FullBloom's Wellness Program, which offers yoga, physical fitness courses and health fairs, among other activities.
Since many employees are native Spanish speakers, the plant has developed a bilingual culture. As such, plant operations are fully conducted in Spanish, a language in which Trilevsky and many of her managers are fluent. “People in this country don't realize the value of speaking two languages,” Trilevsky says, as she greets all production employees by name and converses with them in their native language.
Buying directly from growers is a company philosophy, further aided by its northern California location. “Over the years, we've established partnerships with different suppliers; the greatest supply, in terms of volume, is wheat;” Trilevsky explains. “We work with a co-op of 11 family farmers in eastern Washington called Shepherds Grain, who practice no-till farming as an ecological strategy. We have a pretty close relationship with them. During the off season, the farmers will come here because they like to see how their wheat is used. We send employees to their farms to understand the growing process, too. It's a nice connection, and it's a good business model as well.”
The bakery also does business with local fruit and nut growers, including raisins, blueberries, pecans and walnuts. This instills confidence and provides transparency in how the crops are grown and the resulting quality of the products.
Automation with a twist
Scott Reed, senior vice president, operations, was involved in the construction of the building that now houses the bakery. The building was built as a food manufacturing plant for quiche production. Eventually, Trilevsky purchased the building and acquired Reed along with it.
“I was hired to make the transition from the Menlo Park facility to this facility,” Reed says. “We basically moved from a batch mode of operation to continuous flow. This facility had all the infrastructure, which was valuable. It has a large refrigeration system, great frozen capabilities, a waste treatment system, water system and great power service. We basically gutted the building and refinished it for our needs.”
“That was Scott's baptism by fire,” Trilevsky adds. The plant has a 75,000-lb. flour silo, a 7,000-gal. oil silo, a separate mixing room with 400-liter high-capacity mixers, a high-capacity, automated depositing line, a sheeting line, a finishing room, a separate laminating room, a retarding room, high-efficiency tunnel ovens with impingement technology, twin spiral coolers, a spiral blast freezer and multiple packaging areas.
FullBloom begins baking its fresh array of products at midnight every night. It has more than 30 products it bakes fresh seven days a week, 365 days a year, “which is operationally a challenge,” Trilevsky says. “You can imagine this line…four muffins, four scones, five cookies, six brownies and so on. After that shift is finished, we move into the more continuous production where we'll do one product on one line and one product on another.”
“We have very industrial capabilities with continuous lines that are very large, efficient and have high throughput,” Reed says, “and yet we produce very artisan, high quality products, with hand finishing. We're very flexible.”
While the plant strives for automated efficiency, it does not cut any corners. All products are “scratch” formulations, even going as far as ripening bananas and hand peeling them for its daily banana bread production, Whitman notes. Examples of hand finishing include topping muffins and scones with blueberries, inserting large chocolate chips into chocolate croissants, hand tossing morning buns in a cinnamon-sugar mixture, and so on.
In spite of the manual labor involved, throughput has increased dramatically with the new lines. “By utilizing tunnel ovens in place of rack ovens, we are capable of producing the same product in one shift that previously took three,” Reed says.
Food security is an important aspect of the new plant. Each employee has a card scanner that limits access to certain areas of the plant, based on the person's job responsibilities.
FullBloom seems settled in its new facility, although a third phase has yet to be completed. The final phase involves completion of site work on the outside of the building and adding equipment to the on-site gym.
The building was designed with environmentally friendly principles in mind. There are skylights in the warehouse and high-efficiency lighting throughout the facility. The office space has bamboo flooring, expanded skylights and lower cubicles, so employees can see the windows, which now open. FullBloom is applying for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which is a lengthy process. “We were applying these energy efficient principles to the building design before we even knew about LEED certification,” Trilevsky says. The plant meets USDA requirements, which increases its production potential.
Establishing new roots
The nature of the company's customer base has changed over the years. While they used to deliver daily to more than 600 individual customers, now the company prefers partnering with larger accounts that purchase by the truckload. “Production in Menlo Park was about eight million lb. per year. The new plant is capable of producing more than three times this amount. We anticipate a steep growth curve in the near future,” Whitman adds. “We're moving at the speed of light.”
On May 1, the company celebrated 19 years of business. Now that FullBloom has room to grow, it looks forward to many years of prosperity as it capitalizes on the consumer trend toward all-natural, premium, artisan-baked products — a trend that aligns perfectly with the company's philosophy.
One smart cookie
Karen Trilevsky, founder and C.E.O. of FullBloom Baking Co. didn't follow the typical path of a company executive. Although this high school dropout now holds an MDE degree in entrepreneurial management from The Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, she worked her way to the top from a very meager beginning, and now stands as a shining example to women throughout the baking industry.
Trilevsky began her career in the mid-1980s as owner of a small café, or what she calls “an early espresso shop.” After being unable to obtain capital from the banks at that point for expansion, but realizing the significance of the espresso model, she found a way to participate in the growing trend indirectly.
“Espresso cafés were popping up, and no one seemed to be doing their own baking,” Trilevsky says. “This seemed like a viable opportunity and a way for me to participate in this growing trend. I came into the Bay area and rented a space in the back of a restaurant that served breakfast and lunch. I baked in the kitchen from 3 p.m. until 3 a.m. and then personally delivered to my customers. After six months, I was able to move into my own space, about 1,000 sq. ft. Demand grew by word-of-mouth. I never needed a sales team.”
Today, Trilevsky, who is the sole owner of FullBloom's 95,000-sq.-ft. bakery, has taken her experience of “hard knocks” and shared her inspiring story with others. She is currently on the board of directors for Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, a professional association that promotes the education and advancement of women in the restaurant industry. Trilevsky is frequently in demand as a motivational speaker for organizations that might benefit from her entrepreneurial experience.
After realizing that many of her own employees had reached a plateau in their careers, and valuing the power of higher education, Trilevsky founded the Smart Cookie Scholars Program. This scholarship program currently provides financial assistance for 24 individuals — some of whom are employees or children of employees, while others are from the local community. Trilevsky and her fellow Smart Cookie board members ensure that students stay on track academically and require students to participate in 20 hr. of community service per semester.
As a woman and an entrepreneur, Trilevsky truly represents a minority among business owners. Her vast experience and appreciation of her success is manifested in the way she operates her bakery. In a USA Today article entitled, “Women Business Founders are on the Rise, but not in ‘Fortune’ 1000,” April 23, 2008, the author Del Jones states that female entrepreneurs may be less driven by company size and instead driven by relative profitability, the impact their company makes on society, company culture, employee satisfaction and other values. No where is this more evident than at FullBloom Baking Co.
FullBloom Baking Co. at a glance
Headquarters: Newark, Calif.
Ownership: Karen Trilevsky
Web site: www.fullbloom.com
Management: Karen Trilevsky, founder and C.E.O.; Scott Reed, senior vice president, operations; David Caraska, vice president, sales; Frankie Whitman, vice president, marketing; Laverne Matias, vice president, human resources; Russell Gitzen, manager, R&D; Jose Carlos Santiago, plant manager.
Product line: Muffins; loaf cakes, including banana bread and zucchini bread; large and miniature scones; a variety of premium cookies; multi-layered bars; granola; and a whole line of laminated products, including croissants, chocolate croissants, Danish and morning buns.
Marketing territory: Primarily northern California. New frozen capabilities will allow company to expand its geographic area.
Plant size: About 95,000 sq. ft.
Production lines: Two continuous processing lines; one laminating line; a high-capacity, automated depositing line; a sheeting line; two high-efficiency tunnel ovens with impingement technology; automated depositing.
Plant throughput: Production in Menlo Park was about 8 million lb. per year. The new plant, which opened in June, is capable of producing more than three times that amount.
Packaging: Overwrapped and shrink-wrapped product using recycled packaging materials whenever possible.
Distribution: Product delivered to customers' distribution centers
Number of employees: About 220