French Gourmet produces a variety of laminated dough products, including croissants and Danish, at its Honolulu plant.
French Gourmet's automated production line allows the company to produce a variety of products. The line contains many attachments that change the shape and size of laminated dough pieces.
French Gourmet's employees hand curl croissants and place them on a patterned conveyor.
French Gourmet packages its frozen products in boxes. These boxes are sent via ship to the continental United States, Asia and Pacific Rim. From these points, products are shipped to distribution centers, and finally, to the end user.
Quality Control Checkpoint ¯ Ingredient Scaling: All Ingredients shall be weighed on the digital scale only. All formulations and methods shall be followed exactly, including any changes required from time to time.
Quality control checkpoints are serious business at French Gourmet Inc. This Honolulu-based pastry manufacturer relies on its product quality to overcome shipping and receiving issues that would make most bakers pull out their hair.
The company overcomes these challenges by constantly stressing quality throughout its operations. In the production room, quality control checkpoints are located everywhere, from the mixer to the laminated dough line. The company highlights these checkpoints with signs that give employees expectations for particular processing steps. These detailed checkpoints litter the production line and appear every time the dough moves, either by manual labor or automated equipment.
"We know that every moment of the production process has a quality standard," Mickey Coffman, French Gourmet's president, says. "At this point the product should be at this level of quality, and at this point in the process, the operator should be doing this."
The company's focus on quality allows it to produce and distribute its products from a place many consider paradise. Patrick Novak, French Gourmet's founder and chief executive officer, started the company in 1984 on the basis of quality in ingredients, formulations, processing, and most importantly, finished products.
As a former pastry chef at high-end restaurants throughout the world, Novak saw firsthand the need for high-quality pastry products. He also witnessed the lack of labor in many foodservice operations, a deficiency that spurred Novak to create French Gourmet.
Since the company's founding, Novak has guided the bakery's quest to develop frozen pre-proofed artisan dough. Central to this quest is taking products to their optimum proofing level, then blast freezing them. This process allows the company's customers to move products from the freezer to the oven with no proofing and minimum thawing.
The company manufactures an extensive line of pastry products, including croissants, mini Danish, large Danish, puff pastries and muffins. These products are distributed to five-star hotels, high-end restaurants, country clubs and other retail and foodservice outlets that focus on quality.
The last 10 years have been particularly good for French Gourmet. In 1997, the company moved into a new plant and began automating its process. More recently, the company created an integrated computer program that connects every process at the bakery, from sanitation and maintenance to shipping and receiving to processing and freezing. These moves allow the company to operate a profitable business despite that most of its customers are thousands of miles from its bakery.
"Some people get the impression that you don't work in Hawaii," Coffman says. "But, I've worked harder in Hawaii than I have ever worked because there are so many more demands when you are running a business out of Hawaii."
Quality Control Checkpoint ¯ Product Weight: Correct product weight shall be deposited in each and every box. The net total weight shall always match (or exceed) the net product weight printed on the box. Refer to the product weight and shape specification chart.
Running a bakery from an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is not the ideal operational situation, especially for the shipping and receiving departments. French Gourmet ships its products to the Hawaiian islands, continental United States, Pacific Rim and many Asian countries. It accomplishes this with a combination of ships, trucks and distribution centers located on multiple continents. The company's products leave the bakery in refrigerated trucks and are delivered to shipping vessels in Honolulu. These ships contain frozen containers that store products until arriving in Asia or California. From there, products are taken to distribution centers and stored until delivery to customers. The company manages its vast distribution area with strict quality controls. "When product leaves the bakery, our job is not done," Coffman says. "We monitor the shipment all the way to our distribution centers and onto the final customer."
The company uses temperature recording devices in its shipments to ensure that its products remain "as cold as ice cream," Coffman says. The company also uses temperature data supplied by its shipping company. In addition, the company conducts periodic spot checks to ensure that all of its collected data is accurate. These spot checks involve a temperature probe in a box of finished product. This probe records the temperature throughout distribution. After the end user opens the box, they send the probe back to French Gourmet. The bakery analyzes this data and compares it with data from its temperature recording devices and data from the shipping company.
These measures may appear excessive, but the bakery says they are mandatory to ensure product quality. "A lot of people can't believe that we ship products from Hawaii, but that's a testament to quality," Coffman says. "We have no problem going anywhere in the world to tout our products."
Besides comprehensive quality controls, the company takes a team approach to shipping. Every week, department representatives from senior management, shipping, production and sales meet to develop an inventory plan. This group tracks sales and analyzes the distribution pipeline to determine what products are needed and where they are needed.
Receiving incoming ingredients is no simple task because the company's lead times for ordering ingredients range from two weeks to eight weeks. "For a Hawaiian company, the purchasing manager is the most important position because almost all of our ingredients come from outside of Hawaii," Coffman says.
To manage purchasing, the company developed its own ordering system that ties into its inventory program. The system analyzes existing inventory, lead times and usage levels to determine when ingredients should be ordered.
This system represents only one aspect of purchasing. French Gourmet also establishes strong relationships with its ingredient suppliers. The cornerstone of these relationships is education. If its ingredient suppliers understand the demands of French Gourmet's business, then the likelihood of running out of ingredients diminishes, Coffman says.
Formulating for quality
Quality Control Checkpoint ¯ Fat Rationing Scaling: At the beginning of every run, the fat must be weighed on the digital scale, and the fat ration must be verified. Adjust the fat ration according to required specifications.
French Gourmet's strict quality controls enable the company to ship its products cost effectively from Hawaii. However, without a quality product, end users would not be willing to purchase it. The company ensures that it consistently produces excellent products by sourcing only high-quality ingredients, especially flour, butter and water. The company sources flour from a U.S. miller that supplies a custom blended flour. This flour has been tailored for French Gourmet to provide the ideal gluten strength, protein content, processing tolerances, water absorption levels, color and composition. The company also ages flour in its bakery.
The company's requirements for butter are even more stringent. In 1989, Novak developed relationships with dairy farms to find the ideal set of circumstances-that would result in a cream with a high amount of milk fats and solids, and low levels of lactic acid.
Although out of its control, the company says that its water supply, which is naturally derived from volcanic ground filters, provides the ideal pH balance for a flavorful dough that is enriched with minerals.
French Gourmet makes its own fillings using fruits, nuts and spices imported from the United States, Philippines, Canada, Vietnam and Mexico. The company blends these primary ingredients with cane sugar and starches derived from plants and vegetables to create fillings.
Quality Control Checkpoint ¯ Dough Feeding: The dough shall be laid within the side bar no higher than 44 millimeters thick. It shall be smooth and flat continuously and consistently.
French Gourmet's quality ingredients and formulas thrive in the bakery's controlled-environment production space. "With retarded frozen dough, temperature is really critical because we're marrying the ingredients together at a much lower temperature than most bakeries," Coffman says.
As a result, the company's production room is kept at 65°F. The room also is stalked by employees armed with handheld temperature recorders. These employees measure the temperature of the dough at various stages of the production process, from pre-mixing and post-mixing to makeup and lamination.
Every time an employee records a temperature, it is downloaded and stored in a database. "Someone can give us a case number from a year ago and we can tell them exactly what happened on that day—what the temperature recordings were on every single piece of equipment in our production room," Coffman says.
French Gourmet further controls its environment by ensuring that unwanted contaminants never enter the production room. Before entering the production room, the company's employees pass through a clean room with three stages. At the first stage, employees wash their hands. The system features controls that force employees to wash their hands for a specified time before drying.
At stage two, employees clean their shoes by walking on a treadmill that scrubs the bottom and sides of shoes. The final stage forces employees to enter a small sealed chamber that blows air at the employees from various vents. This stage removes lint and other particles from clothing.
The company's production room contains two mixers, an automated laminated dough line, various coolers and chillers, and a blast freezer. The company mixes its doughs in spiral mixers, then retards the dough under chilled conditions. After retarding, the blocks of dough are fed into an automated lamination line. This U-shaped traditional lamination line sheets the dough, applies a layer of butter, then laminates the dough through a two-stage layering process.The line's hallmark is its flexibility. After dough is laminated and reduced to its proper thickness, the line's many attachments produce an array of products. The company even runs breads and rolls through the line.
Quality Control Checkpoint¯ Grouping: Products shall be transferred properly and grouped without touching each other. Product shall be placed a minimum of # ins. apart from each other.
French Gourmet's focus on quality was instilled when Novak founded the bakery, and this focus has not diminished in the last 20 years. In fact, this quality focus intensified in 2002 when the company began integrating operational aspects of the bakery.
Hiring Coffman was the first step of this process. After more than 25 years of working for major bakeries in California, Oregon and Hawaii, Coffman started a consulting business, and French Gourmet was one of his first clients. After working together, French Gourmet's board of directors hired Coffman as plant manager.
The combination of Novak's dedication to quality and Coffman's dedication to efficiency has created a dynamic working relationship that allowed the company to grow rapidly without sacrificing quality. "We went to great lengths to upgrade our operations in terms of capital improvements," Coffman says. "We've come a long way in the last few years in terms of streamlining the business and being proactive with operations and efficiencies."
The company's streamlining efforts focus on a homegrown software and database system that allows the company to operate paperless. This integrated system is based on databases that manage independent bakery operations, but are tied into one system. For example, the company's production database houses all of the information for a day's production schedule. The warehouse department has access to this database and supplies the production department with all of the ingredients it will need to satisfy the production schedule. This database not only eliminates paper orders, but also streamlines inventory management because production line employees do not have to go into the warehouse to get ingredients.
The company also operates engineering and sanitation databases. The engineering database allows any of the bakery's employees to log into a computer and report a manufacturing problem or potential trouble area. These reports generate a to-do list for the bakery's engineering department, and provide senior management with a simple way to manage completed and outstanding engineering jobs.
"The engineering database has paid tremendous results because we can monitor ongoing product activities," Coffman says. "We've seen the level for downtime go down and the level of productivity go up since installing the database."
The company's new database manages sanitation operations. This system allows any employee to log a sanitation issue into a database. Similar to the engineering database, the program creates a to-do list for the sanitation department. All of these databases are accessed and communicate information through a series of monitors located throughout the plant's floor and office.
Communication is key to French Gourmet's success. By integrating all aspects of its operations and creating a team attitude among its employees, the bakery has profited despite its location. "In order for us to be able to work in paradise, we have to have these controls because our customer base is so far away," Coffman says.
With continual improvements being made on its process and product quality, the forecast for French Gourmet, much like the Hawaiian climate, is sunny.
Company Profile French Gourmet Inc.