FullBloom Baking Company pushes the envelope of bakery design. The bakery saw four years of effort pay off in 2010, attaining LEED certification as the only volume bakery in the U.S. with a platinum-level distinction. But the culture among the bakery’s brass isn’t to innovate for innovation’s sake–it’s to innovate because it’s the right thing to do.
In the ambiguous world of natural ingredients, there are a lot of food manufacturers who talk the talk. Baking Management’s 2010 Innovative Bakery of the Year is one of the few who actually walk the walk. This was evident in May 2008 when Baking Management first featured the bakery, with the paint still wet on the new facility’s walls, and was confirmed in April 2010.
FullBloom Baking Company, Newark, Calif., a volume manufacturer of premium natural and organic products, has been a standard bearer for natural and organic baked products since its inception. Along with a sincere commitment to its employees, FullBloom has always focused on green, sustainability, natural and organic as central values. Refusal to stray from those values limited growth to the speed at which consumers came to share them. But recently, consumers en masse started to seek out FullBloom’s clean-label type of product. The trend is one of the primary food themes of 2010, and it’s only gaining momentum.
“Since the bigger players are jumping into this, they help to lay the groundwork,” says Karen Trilevsky, owner. “The passionate few have always been there, but when larger companies get on board, they help to create a larger audience.”
She likens the phenomenon to Starbucks teaching Americans about good coffee, and how consumer demand for good coffee benefits large and small premium coffee chains alike. But growing consumer demand for natural, sustainable food products has its drawbacks.
“All-natural is a moving target,” says Karen Trilevsky, owner. “Until there’s some standardization, people will take advantage of the spirit of the natural trend.”
Also, FullBloom’s core value of sustainability can often be lost on consumers. “Greenwashing” is a term for green-themed marketing that promotes a misleading perception of a company’s policies or products being environmentally friendly. And in the glut of food producers clamoring to be perceived as green or natural, the truly green actors can get lost in the din.
But to be true to its core mission and core customer, FullBloom found a way to establish itself as a bonafide leader in green, sustainable practices. In doing so, it proved that it practices what it preaches, substantiating FullBloom’s status as a leader in organic and all-natural baked practices as well.
Taking the LEED
Trilevsky first got wind of LEED certification in 2006. She was early into the construction process, converting a former quiche production facility into a 95,000-sq.-ft. wholesale bakery, and the concept of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) immediately struck a chord with her.
“We had been making these types of decisions anyway–selecting products made from recyclable materials, choosing finishes and materials that were low VOC [volatile organic compound], sustainably sourced, and environmentally friendly–and we discovered that this was a way to authenticate what we were doing,” Trilevsky says. “We had already started down the path, so it made sense.”
In the certification process, overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council (GBCI), each sustainable design element earns a pre-ordained number of points. Upon completion, all the elements combine for a cumulative score. There are 69 possible points, and buildings can qualify for different levels of certification. The basic certification requires 26 to 32 points, silver requires 33 to 38 points, and gold requires 39 to 51 points. From the get-go, Trilevsky set her sights on 52 points and a platinum level of LEED certification.
Renovations are difficult enough without additional hoops to jump through, but becoming LEED certified wasn’t as arduous as Trilevsky initially thought. The paperwork associated with the process was the most taxing part. Auditors followed endless paper trails of receipts, ensuring that the correct paint was purchased, that a painter put the correct paint on the walls and that enough paint was bought and used to cover the space.
Also, when the plant was being renovated and the office spaces built, LEED was in its infancy–2010’s comparative preponderance of LEED-friendly building materials simply weren’t available. This was as much of a blessing as it was a curse. Though there wasn’t much choice, there wasn’t as much need to shop for the best price or most functionality; there was only so much available.
Continue on next page
After four years of audits, a ton of paperwork and a harrowing few days when glue securing the bamboo floors failed inspection for fume emissions, the GBCI awarded FullBloom Baking Company platinum-level LEED certification.
“It’s worth it because it gives us validation,” Trilevsky says. “This is especially important because there are a lot of people making these kinds of claims, and with greenwashing and the related scandals, the public is rightfully skeptical. But we have third-party validation that not only do we say that we are doing it, but here’s the proof.”
FullBloom’s commitment to sustainable practices is altruistic, but it can be practical as well. The company started a water initiative at the beginning of 2010 to reduce water usage by a factor of 10. Water isn’t a particularly expensive resource compared to electricity, but the cost of treating water is expensive. FullBloom operates a wastewater treatment facility that filters the processing wastewater, and the process is meticulous and uses costly chemicals and flocculents. Less water going through the treatment facility is a cost savings.
A 10-time reduction in water appeared to be an audacious goal for a food manufacturing plant, considering the amount of cleanup and sanitation that relies on water. The sanitation manager, Juana Martinez, was skeptical when she was asked to head the project, but the bakery managed to cut water use by a factor of 12.
Trilevsky credits employees with the reduction. Martinez engaged employees by setting up contests between the three shifts. She metered each spigot in the sanitation area so she was able to keep track of the water use. Then, she incentivized reduction with a pizza party for the shift with the tightest reins on water.
“They got competitive with it,” Trilevsky says. “It’s more difficult to create contests or set efficiency targets for sanitation than it is with the bakers or packers because use had been more difficult to quantify.”
Growth from within
Another recent FullBloom innovation has been the creation of a new position devoted to organizational development. Laverne Matias, general manager, first recognized the need for the position.
“We needed a dedicated resource for learning and development,” he says. “The purpose is to give each employee an individual development plan. They get to know what they are doing, then choose how to best use their skills to grow in the company. Sometimes this can mean a promotion, sometimes it can be an expansion of responsibility, it depends on what a person’s skills and interests are, and how we can match that with a job.”
FullBloom performs what it calls a talent inventory, recognizing individual skills and abilities in employees and marshaling them for growth. For example, Matias says there is someone now in customer service that will either go into inside sales, then outside sales, or will grow into supply chain logistics. So far this year, the bakery has made eight internal promotions. This is especially important in a technological age when people constantly have to adapt to a changing work environment. It’s no longer tenable for an employee to master one skill and replicate it for life–the job changes too much.
“This organizational development person’s role is to develop the internal team so people’s skill sets stay on pace with or ahead of the business,” Trilevsky says. “Then, as the business grows, employees grow with it.”
Reinvesting in employees
Peripheral to career development, FullBloom makes an investment in employee quality of life. The company recognizes that many of its employees are first- or second-generation immigrants, mostly Latin American, and tries to tailor programs to help engage immigrants who often experience isolation.
One program, for instance, provides financing for employees’ children to pursue extracurricular activities, such as tennis leagues or piano lessons. Such programs are wildly popular among employees. “It’s how we can encourage their children to be engaged in different activities from an early age, and our employees don’t have to worry about the expense,” Matias says.
Trilevsky is particularly proud of the Smart Cookie scholarship program, designed to assist college-aged first- or second-generation immigrants. The program is managed by the Women’s Foundation of California and is open to applicants throughout the region.
The Smart Cookie program isn’t a simple financial assistance package; it also includes a mentorship element and a resource for students frustrated by language or other cultural barriers to higher education. Sergio Ruiz was working as a baker when Trilevsky recognized his potential. He aspired to go to college, but it wasn’t within reach until he became involved with the Smart Cookie program. He started at nearby Cañada College, and recently graduated from the University of California–Santa Cruz with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
“In the summers, I would work as an intern for the engineers here at FullBloom,” Ruiz says. “That’s where I learned a lot about the engineering field, and it made me really want to go after it. I worked with the programs, worked on projects, did some industrial engineering projects–I did a little bit of everything and learned a lot.”
Trilevsky is a staunch believer in promoting wellness and factoring in the human element in workspace. This is evident in the facility’s overall aesthetic; the building is flush with outside light–from the offices to the warehouse–providing more natural working conditions while saving on lighting costs. Employees enjoy a fully outfitted foodservice kitchen in an Internet bakery café setting. They can go online using a bank of computers on one wall, or have a cup of coffee and a piece of organic fruit (as opposed to another cookie or cake) after a long shift. There is even an on-site weight room in the works. Each of these elements is designed to promote health and wellness.
Continue on next page
And when the swine flu epidemic was looming in 2008, FullBloom was proactive about prevention.
“We were talking about how to keep it out of here. You can post the symptoms, post signs to wash hands, but we all work so closely together that it would spread like wildfire if it got in here,” Trilevsky says. “One of our team members saw the monitoring devices they had in China, and I asked the staff, ‘How do we do that here?’”
After consulting with a physician and determining that a body temperature of over 100°F meant the person was unwell, they decided to add a quick forehead swipe with a $100 store-bought thermometer to act as an illness barrier at all building entrances. Legal chimed in to hammer out concerns with privacy (“this is California, after all,” Trilevsky says), until it was determined that any person, employee or otherwise, registering a temperature of more than 100°F would be deemed unwell and not allowed into the building. The threshold for entry makes no value judgments on which ailment, if any, a person has, or how they got it, only that they are unwell.
“Once the swine flu danger passed, it made sense to keep the policy implemented. First, we’re forcing an interaction at the point of entry, so it helps ensure that people coming in are supposed to be there,” Trilevsky says. “Also, we’re reinforcing the message that if a person isn’t well, they should go home, take care of themselves and avoid exposing co-workers. One person’s absence is easy to cover; 20 people at time is much harder–then you start to risk short or late shipping.”
The company provides paid sick hours, so illness (within reason) won’t result in lost pay for employees, and the program has had a positive impact with customers who see FullBloom taking a lot of care and diligence with its product.
FullBloom Baking Company is on the leading edge of volume baking. From authenticating LEED and organic certifications, to internal management and employee growth programs, innovation is a way of life at the facility. This commitment to innovation and progress allowed FullBloom to rise above the ambient noise of the green movement and differentiate itself as a leader in natural, organic, sustainable baking.