The Omaha-based bakery cuts no corners in producing its highly regarded Danish and sweetgoods. Now, the company plans to expand its supermarket presence from private label products sold at in-store bakeries to branded bakery foods in the frozen food aisle.
If you live in Omaha, it is likely you are familiar with James Skinner Baking Co. While the bakery’s core business has been private-label Danish and co-packed sweetgoods, many local supermarkets create in-store signage touting their stock of Skinner products. Such bragging rights are well-deserved, as Skinner is the only national supplier of traditional, 108-layer Danish, and devotees insist they can taste the quality folded into every single layer.
The bakery was founded in 1983 by the Skinner family, and James Skinner is president of the still-private company. Early attempts at retail sales through food brokers were scrapped in 1985, when Skinner began to co-pack for a major bakery. Business grew, the Omaha plant was expanded and eventually the operation was moved to a new 95,000-sq.-ft. facility, also located in Omaha. During the past five years, four more expansions have been completed, bringing the current space to 125,800 sq. ft. under one roof. Currently, the bakery has a staff of 330 and annual sales of more than $45 million. The facility produces about 18,000 cases of baked products per day.
Expanding and branding
Thaw-and-serve strip Danish has been the company’s signature product from the beginning, though recent forays into crumb cakes, muffins and cinnamon rolls are proving successful. Skinner’s biggest seller is its cheese Danish, which outperforms other products by a 3 to 1 margin.
In addition to its co-packing business, Skinner Bakery products are sold nationwide in mainstream supermarket in-store bakeries. Less than a year from now, however, Skinner will begin branding its products for sale in supermarket freezer aisles.
“Our current customer base is split into two major groups,” says Douglas Dinnin, Skinner vice president, sales and marketing. “One is the co-pack part of our business and the other part
is the in-store bakeries, so we supply the Krogers of the world. We sell Skinner on the product itself. There’s very little branded product, though sometimes an in-store bakery will put our label as well as their own on Skinner products,” he adds.
“You can find our product coast to coast,” James Skinner says. “Now is the time for branding. There’s more profit margin, more intrinsic value, and it will give the company more credibility. When you’re co-packing, you have to stay under the radar, but its time to get our name out there,” he adds.
The advantage of versatility
“We are a flexible, niche business manufacturer,” says Audie Keaton, vice president of operations at Skinner. “We have one flagship product and 168 other products. We don’t produce the same product on the first shift as on the second shift. We have a pit crew who transform the plant in 90 minutes from beginning to end.”
Regardless of how they are being sold, Skinner products are made with top-quality ingredients, all of which must bear scrutiny under the company’s supplier certification program. “Most importantly, we have to make sure all of our ingredients are kosher, because we are a kosher bakery,” says Dianna Pond, Skinner’s regulatory manager. “We need to know every ingredient’s country of origin, whether the supplier has a continuing guarantee and if it is registered with the FDA Bioterrorism Act [of 2002],” she adds.
In addition, Pond says, Skinner policy dictates that she ascertain “at which specific plant the ingredient was made, so if there’s a flood in a certain place, we know there is a potential problem. Equally, if there’s a catastrophe, if they find bacteria, for instance, we have a heads up there,” she adds.
Pond often tours suppliers’ facilities “to make sure their quality regulations are up to our standards.” She also checks auditing agency information and recent scores. All Skinner labels are updated annually. As testimony to its vigilance, Skinner boasts superior AIB ratings for the last seven years.
To meet demand, Skinner has automated most processes on its two existing production lines, and its most recent expansion will soon house a third line. Recent equipment upgrades include new 36-in. laminating lines, 14-piston depositors, high-speed mixers, automated flour systems, and a new oven and overhead cooler with a combined length of 286 ft. By year’s end, the four packaging lines also will be automated.
“Over the past five years we’ve grown tremendously,” Keaton says. “We’ve put on four additions, a tempering room, an 800-pallet freezer, a new packaging area, and new offices and equipment storage. We went from a two-shift bakery to a four-shift bakery with two production lines and room for a third.”
Producing high-quality Danish, automation notwithstanding, is a complex and time-consuming process. Flour is stored in two, 105,000-lb. silos, and high fructose syrup and salad oil, which are used in all of the bakery’s dough and batter products, are each stored in 60,000-lb.-capacity silos. Major ingredients, such as the butter used in the Danish dough, are brought into the bakery’s new tempering room, which is kept at a constant 60°F. Minor ingredients are scaled one room over.
Mixed dough is loaded into troughs, which are hoisted and unloaded into hoppers. The dough is dropped onto the laminating line, a layer of butter is added and then another dough layer. After the dough is kneaded down, the sheeting and folding process begins.
Initially, the dough is folded into six layers. Two more foldings and sheetings later it emerges from the line as a true 108-layer Danish dough. After the laminating is complete, the Danish dough is moved to a proof box where it is retarded for 18-24 hours at 33°F.
“Most manufacturers go right to the oven at this point,” Keaton says. “Retarding, or aging the dough allows it to ferment and lets the butter flavor permeate the dough.”
A cool temperature is key to the aging process, Keaton adds. It allows the flavors to meld and the dough develops a crusty exterior that is crucial to producing a true Danish, he adds.
Once it has been aged, the dough is put through another 36-in. laminating line. Next, it is panned and proofed for 55-70 minutes before toppings are added. It bakes for 18 minutes at 400°F and then cools, either in the overhead cooler or a detached spiral cooler, for 45 minutes to bring the core temperature down from 204°F to 110°F.
The baked Danish are depanned, glazed, drizzle-iced, and moved to a blast freezer. After 22-35 minutes in the freezer, which is set at -35°F, the Danish are ready for packaging.
Products are boxed manually, shrink-wrapped and shipped directly from Skinner’s 880-pallet freezer or moved to a nearby holding facility operated by U.S. Cold Storage for pickup and disbribution.
In addition to Danish
While Skinner may be known for its Danish, the company has been developing other bakery foods. Among the most notable are its cinnamon rolls. Formulated with the same 108-layer dough used for its Danish, Skinner has rolled out a line of cinnamon rolls that contain 30-40 percent cinnamon. In addition, the product incorporates a cinnamon crumb smear. Using its batter capability, cinnamon cakes are baked, crumbled and incorporated into the cinnamon roll filling.
For its muffins and crumb cakes, Skinner has developed batter formulas designed to replicate the “quality and flavor of homemade,” Keaton says. The sweet roll business is Skinner’s most recent endeavor. “We’re trying to diversify our product line so we can operate as a one-stop shop. We’ve never really strayed from Danish, the batter products are secondary. We entered the market slowly and now those products are starting to take off for us,” he adds.
Moving the product
Distribution is handled through common carriers, which ship Skinner products to every state in the U.S., using dedicated trucks. Many local buyers pick up products directly from the Skinner facility’s four docks.
Dinnin is responsible for keeping the orders coming in, which is a formidable task for a product with virtually no branding. Happily, the Skinner name remains synonymous with quality products sold at a fair price. “Buyers around the country know who Skinner is, they know Skinner products, even if the end user doesn’t necessarily know it’s Skinner,” Dinnin says.
The people factor
“When people think of Skinner in the marketplace, they think of quality of product, but also quality of people,” Dinnin says. “The success of this company starts with the people who work here. If it weren’t for them, this company wouldn’t be what it is today,” he says.
“This really is a family-run organization,” Keaton says. “We treat our employees as if they are family and we treat their families as if they are family. When you can help an employee on a personal level it develops loyalty, and it’s a two-way street.”
“You have to surround yourself with good people if you want to be successful and we have some of the best people in this business,” Dinnin adds. “Once people know that you’re there for them, you establish trust, and everything flows downhill from there. You can’t have a good product unless you have good people making it.”