Company Profile Prime Pastries
Headquarters: Concord, Ontario Key
Prime Pastries new laminated line represents the latest step in the company's plan to completely automate its plant.
Prime Pastries new line creates laminated dough in 15- and 20-lb. books. This dough is then fermented for 4 to 24 hours.
The key is in the fermentation. Everything else is nice, but without the fermentation, Prime Pastries line of Danish, puff pastries and croissants would not taste as good. And, this fact has not been lost on the bakery, which despite its continuing evolution into a fully-automated bakery, has not sacrificed its most important asset: quality.
Prime Pastries is located in Concord, Ontario, a mere 15 minute drive from downtown Toronto, Canada. Because of this location, many U.S. bakeries may not immediately recognize the name, but the company has been successfully infiltrating America through various border points with a complete line of sweet good products.
The bakery has been able to succeed on both sides of the Northern border because it takes great lengths to maintain the quality of its products. Central to this quality is the natural fermentation of its dough for 4 to 24 hours. "A lot of people negate natural fermentation because of the costs," Ray Williams, Prime Pastries' technical manager, says. "By allowing our products to naturally ferment, we get more natural malting of the flour, better bake characteristics and better flavor. You cannot replicate that."
By providing its consumers with a point of distinction, Prime Pastries has been able to invest in the automation of its plant to increase capacity and propel the bakery to the next level.
When the current executive team took control of Prime Pastries in May 1999, they inherited a plant with a lot of employees and very little equipment. "The process was mom and pop style," Williams says. "We divided the dough into pieces by hand, and fats were laminated by hand."
As soon as the current management team acquired the plant, it began examining the bakery's process and figuring out how to maximize the plant's potential with automated equipment. Although the plant was lacking automated production lines, it did have an infrastructure, such as a blast freezer and cooling equipment. "Within that infrastructure, we have placed pieces of automated equipment that fit in terms of the infrastructure and physical space," Ashley Berman, Prime Pastries' operations manager, says.
Instead of starting at the front of the line, the company's first foray into automation occurred in the processing and finishing of dough into final products. "Every step in the automation process was done in sequence. It wouldn't make sense to be able to produce mass quantities of laminated dough without the machines to process and finish it," Berman says.
To automate the back end of its line, Prime Pastries purchased three production lines from various suppliers, including Rademaker and Rondo Doge. These three automated lines accommodate all aspects of sweet good processing at the bakery, including depositing and forming.
Automating the front end
With the back end of the plant automated and running efficiently, Prime Pastries recently took the next step in automating its bakery. In February 2003, the company installed an automated laminated dough makeup line from Italian manufacturer Canol Pastry and Bakery Equipment. The company went with the Canol line after a thorough investigation of the available laminated dough makeup lines on the marketplace. "There are a lot of companies that produce this type of line, and each company has a different spin and different ways they can accomplish makeup," Berman says. "Based on seeing all the equipment available, we decided that this line was the best fit for us based on numerous factors, such as the stress on the dough and the physical dimensions of the plant."
Space was a major consideration for the bakery because its plant is only 25,000 sq. ft. However, it has maximized this space by installing equipment with small footprints, such as the Canol line, which has a footprint of 1,000 sq. ft.
Another consideration for the company was flexibility. "As a small producer, sometimes our runs are not long enough to justify making only one item a day," Steven Muchnik, Prime Pastries' sales manager, says. "At times, we need to be able to make four or more items in one day, and the new line allows us to do that."
Also assisting the line's flexibility is PLC controls, which according to Williams, are very basic and operator friendly. Besides the basic programmable formulas, the line's PLC controls also give each operator a certain level of flexibility to customize products for specific customers. Overall, the company has 20 basic formulas stored in the PLC, and several deviations under each of these programs.
For a line of this magnitude, the startup process was relatively pain free, according to Berman. Canol spent about 10 days installing the line and making sure the bakery's employees knew how to operate it. "The key to the successful startup was the staff, who embraced the line," Berman says. "Over the years, they have seen how the equipment has improved the plant and what the advantages of new equipment are."
The new line also has crystallized each employees' job description. Before the line was installed, employees worked various jobs in an assembly line-type work environment. Now, each employee has a designated specialty that they can master.
The u-shaped laminated dough line processes 4,000 lbs. of dough an hour. After mixing, dough is lifted into the line's hopper via a dough elevator. After being extruded into a sheet, the dough traverses through the first of many reducers that form the dough into a manageable size. After the first reducing stage, the dough sheet is divided into three sections and transferred to a three-lane conveying system that is responsible for folding the two outer lanes on top of the middle lane after a layer of fat is applied.
After this step, the dough is conveyed through two more reducing stages, one of which flattens the dough to about 0.5 ins. After this stage, dough is conveyed upward and makes a left turn to the first of two laminating units, which fold the dough into multiple layers.
Next, dough passes through two more reducers before traversing upward, making a left turn and entering the second laminating unit. After the final lamination, dough is conveyed through two more reducers. The final step in the line is the cutting of the dough sheet into 15- or 20-lb. books.
"We spent more money to improve the process and alter the dough at the laminating stage and rolling stage," Muchnik says. "Now, our all-butter croissants rival anybody in North America."
By installing the new laminated dough makeup line, Prime Pastries has tripled its capacity. More importantly, the company's production yields have skyrocketed without sacrificing the quality of its products. "The finished quality is every bit as good as when we did it by hand, only we have more control now," Muchnik says.
From day one, quality has been an integral part of the company's success. When the current management team took control of the bakery in 1999, they inherited doughs that were good, but not as good as what the market demanded, Muchnik says. To increase the quality of the doughs, the bakery began increasing its roll-in levels. "We can increase the quality by increasing our roll-in and sugar content," Muchnik says. "To improve our products, we've added 100% more fat and sugar in some cases."
According to Muchnik, this increase in quality has allowed Prime Pastries to compete in the highly-competitive U.S. marketplace. "It's easier for us to compete against somebody with a better product, because it will force us to make a better product," Muchnik says. For example, the company formulated a line of all-butter croissants to market in the United States. "They were good, but they weren't good enough," Muchnik says. Instead of trying to sell the lower quality products, the bakery went back to the research and development lab and reformulated the product. "We spent more money to improve the process and alter the dough at the laminating stage and rolling stage," Muchnik says. "Now, our all-butter croissants rival anybody in North America."
One of the cornerstones of Prime Pastries quality initiatives is its implementation of natural fermentation. After the company's dough has developed in the mixer and been formed into 20-lb. books, it rests in one of three holding rooms that are maintained at temperatures of 35°F. "At that point, the yeast is held. It's not allowing the sugar to be consumed, and you're not getting any expansion of the dough," Williams says.
To ensure a quality product makes its way to the bakery's customers, the bakery collects a sample of every batch after it is fermented. The dough is tested for yeast and sugar performance, and released for production if everything checks out. The company also tests both online samples and finished products to ensure customer complaints are kept to an absolute minimum.
Although creating a quality dough is in the hands of Prime Pastries, complementing it with a quality filling has sometimes led the company to abandon filling suppliers and to create its own fillings and smears. For example, initially the company purchased a standard cinnamon bun smear from a supplier. However, when a new customer demanded a top-of-the-line product, the bakery created its own "Ooey Gooey Smear."
The company also created a highquality chocolate smear after customers requested an upgraded product. "We went to the drawing board and increased the percentage of chocolate used," Muchnik says. "Now, we're using more chocolate than ever in our smear."
This do-it-your-self attitude could only function in an environment with open communication and a common goal of producing quality products. To operate Prime Pastries at peak performance, Williams, Muchnik and Berman take a three-pronged approach to research and development. This approach involves each person taking a look at a potential new product from three angles: the quality of the product, how the product can be produced, and how the product will fit in the marketplace. "It's a team effort that goes in a circle," Muchnik says. "Nothing enters the building without going through Ashley (Berman), and nothing leaves this building without going through me. And in the middle, Ray (Williams) has to put his stamp on it."
Prime Pastries' management structure coupled with the flexible equipment it has installed has put the bakery in position to supply large quantities of products and still retain the flexibility to meet every customer's needs. "We're still a small company, but we operate in an efficient manner like a big company," Muchnik says. "But, our smallness has created a lot of flexibility, and that has come full circle with the new laminated makeup line."
Because the majority of Prime Pastries' business comes from in-store bakeries and food-service outlets, it frequently gets last minute requests for new products and product modifications. When Prime Pastries was a manual-labor bakery, meeting lastminute demands was simple. Now, as an automated operation, the bakery has found a way to retain its flexibility by installing automated equipment that promotes flexibility. "In terms of meeting customer needs, if we have a request for a product that has a higher amount of roll in, but maybe less layering to create a certain effect, we have the ability to respond to it," Muchnik says. "Our mentality of always meeting the customer's needs is now matched with the new line, which is allowing us to continue meeting demands."
The next step
As part of its evolution into a fullyautomated bakery, Prime Pastries already has its next move planned. Shortly before the publishing of this article, the company took a big step to turn Prime Pastries into a dominate player in the sweet good category. Although the company currently produces bake-and-freeze products, its lion share of business is conducted through frozen sweet goods. To boost its bake-and-freeze potential, the company is expanding its facility by an additional 25,000 sq. ft., and is making plans to stock the space with fullyautomated equipment. "What we have developed in the raw frozen side of the business, we are planning to develop in the baking side in thawand-serve products," Muchnik says.
Meanwhile, the company is continuing to automate its existing lines. "The plan is to upgrade section by section, and we've continually done that," Muchnik says. "The ultimate goal is to automate as much as possible while still controlling consistency and quality."