by Keith Seiz, editor
Company Profile Greyston Bakery
Headquarters: Yonkers, N.Y. Key
Kato Lewis, Richard Bolmer, Julius Walls and Rodney Johnson prepare for the day's baking schedule, which includes cakes and brownies.
After baking, Greyston Bakery's brownies are conveyed to the cooling rooms.
Baked brownies travel through two spiral conveyors located in two rooms.
Brownies are sliced and decrumbed before bulk packaging.
Greyston Bakery's new depositor allows the company to deposit 34% more batter than its old depositor.
Greyston Bakery's ingredient storage room holds sugar, cocoa and flour.
Greyston Bakery's brownies enter (above) a 40-ft. tunnel oven and exit (below) after a six minute bake.
Greyston Bakery's new plant was designed by Maya Lin, who is most famous for designing the Vietnam Memorial.
Greyston Bakery's new 23,000-sq.-ft. facility sits on the banks of the Hudson River.
Building a new facility is a scary prospect for all bakeries despite their size or experience. Besides the significant capital investment involved, coordinating equipment purchases and start-up deadlines can cause headaches for the most seasoned baker. Greyston Bakery, Yonkers, N.Y., endured these challenges and more when it decided to move its labor-intensive operations from an old manufacturing facility into a newly constructed automated bakery. From site selection to stocking its plant full of automated and versatile equipment, Greyston Bakery's expansion plan presented many obstacles, all of which were overcome.
Overcoming challenges is nothing new for Greyston Bakery or its parent company, Greyston Foundation. Similar to all bakeries, Greyston Bakery is focused on growing the bottom line and making money. However, the profits it generates do not go to shareholders or private owners. Instead, they go to the Greyston Foundation, a community development organization that develops housing and businesses. The organization also provides support services for the homeless and individuals living with HIV and AIDS.
"I don't see our situation any different than any privately held company giving a percentage of their profits to its ownership," Julius Walls, Greyston Bakery's president and chief executive officer, says. "The only difference is we're not giving it to an individual who's enriching their pockets. We're giving it to an organization that's investing in its community."
Ice cream inclusions
Investing in the Yonkers community is a priority for Greyston Bakery, but its main priority is baking brownies, cakes and sweet goods. The company was founded in 1982 by the Greyston Foundation and has been operating since then in a cramped manufacturing facility in downtown Yonkers. Brownie manufacturing represents about 85% of the company's business, and its biggest client is Ben & Jerry's. Greyston Bakery first started supplying Ben & Jerry's with brownies more than 15 years ago. Although the two socialminded companies enjoy a prosperous relationship now, the affiliation was nearly severed after Greyston Bakery shipped its first batch of product to the ice cream manufacturer.
According to Walls, Ben & Jerry's had originally intended to use Greyston Bakery's brownies for ice cream sandwiches. Unfortunately, the brownies stuck together during shipping and arrived in one big lump of product. Instead of discarding the lump of brownies, Ben & Jerry's chopped them up and used them as inclusions in its ice cream.
Today, Greyston Bakery's brownies can be found in three of Ben & Jerry's top ten selling ice creams. "Brownies in ice cream have moved from being a novelty to almost being a staple," Walls says. "It's one of their regular products."
And, Ben & Jerry's is not the only ice cream manufacturer to capitalize on brownie inclusions. Today, the company manufacturers various sizes and formulations of brownies for ice cream manufacturers throughout the country. The growing popularity of brownie inclusions has required Greyston Bakery to answer some important questions about its future. The first question was how to keep growing its top and bottom lines with capacity bursting at the seams at its labor-intensive facility. The answer: Build a new plant and stock it with the latest in automated technology.
Brownies on a brownfield
Before purchasing equipment or conducting test runs, Walls' first priority for building a new bakery was selecting the site. However, he limited his options by demanding that the site had to be located in downtown Yonkers, and had to be close enough to the old facility so it would not pose any significant transportation strains on the company's employees.
After looking at various existing buildings, Walls stumbled upon a piece of land only a few blocks away from its old facility. However, the plot of land was designated a brownfield by the Environmental Protection Agency. Brownfield sites have actual or perceived contamination. Building a food manufacturing facility on potentially hazardous land may not appear the smartest business decision, but it mirrors Greyston Bakery's dedication to the Yonkers community.
"We wanted to demonstrate that you could take a brownfield and turn it around, because most of the land around our old facility are brownfields," Walls says. Although the company did receive some financial support to reuse the land, it was not enough to cover the costs of the new facility. To prepare the site for baking, the company remediated the land and conducted a volunteer cleanup.
To plan the physical building, the company enlisted the services of an architect and world-renowned designer Maya Lin, who is famous for designing the Vietnam Memorial. The company brought Lin onto the building team to give the manufacturing facility a more aesthetic appearance. This design is evident in the amount of natural and artificial light that beams throughout the facility. "We just didn't want to put four walls up and go with it," Walls says. "There's a sense of what the organization is about here, and how we deal with our employees. Our employees not only like that, but they give us a return on that."
Although skylights and windows provide a nice touch to the manufacturing facility, the building's main purpose is to efficiently bake brownies and cakes. Working from a blank slate, Walls and his architectural and production team came up with a comprehensive facility design focused on production flow.
At 23,000 sq. ft., Greyston Bakery's facility is by no means large. However, what it lacks in size it makes up for in efficiencies. From incoming ingredients to outgoing finished products, the company's automated production line continuously flows in a circle originating and ending at the bakery's loading docks.
After creating a production flow blueprint, the company's next goal was to purchase production equipment that automated the baking process but still maintained enough flexibility for the company to produce both brownies and cakes on the same manufacturing line. These requirements made equipment selection an intensive process that included the bakery's executive team making multiple trips to both national and international suppliers.
Greyston bakery receives its bulk ingredients through a combination of a pneumatically controlled ingredient handling system and a loading dock that receives pallets of ingredients. Because sugar represents its most used ingredient, the company stores it in a 65,000-lb. silo located in the ingredient handling and storage room. Also located in this room are three dumping stations that can hold 5,000 lbs. of ingredients. The company stores two types of flour and its cocoa in the three dumping stations. These bulk ingredients are pneumatically conveyed to the mixer when called for by the mixer operator.
The company stores its other ingredients in either a dry ingredient storage room or a walk-in refrigerator. The bakery's pre-batching room prepares these minor ingredients for inclusion into the mixer.
The company purchased an enclosed vertical mixer from San Cassiano to limit the amount of dust in the plant and on the floor. To conform to the company's strict HAACP program, the company modified the mixer bowl by drilling a hole into the bottom of bowl to allow for easier cleaning. Instead of cleaning the bowl by repeatedly filling it up and dumping it out, the modified bowl allows the company to drain the water straight out of the bottom while washing it down.
After the brownie batter has been mixed, it's pumped directly from the mixer bowl into a hopper that feeds a Colborne high-speed batter depositor. This depositor represents one of the most significant advances in equipment from the company's old facility to its new one. At its old facility, Greyston Bakery used a standard center depositor that got the job done, but not at the desired speeds and capacity of the growing bakery.
To ramp up speeds and maintain strict customer specifications, the company's new facility uses a specialized depositor that contains a depositor head that drops inside the lip of the baking tray when it deposits brownie batter. This action allows the company to deposit more brownie batter on a pan, which increases production capacity. According to Joseph Mancini, Greyston Bakery's plant engineer, the new depositor allows the company to deposit 2.35 lbs. of brownie batter on each tray, compared to the old depositor, which could deposit 1.75 lbs. per tray. Besides depositing 34% more brownie batter per tray, the new depositor also consistently maintains a height level within one millimeter of specifications.
The company deposits its brownie batters on heavy-duty, 18-in. by 25-in. baking trays. The company uses heavy-duty trays to prohibit any potential warping of the tray from repeated trips through the oven. Any warping of the tray, regardless of how small, could cause deviations from the brownies' required specifications of being within one millimeter of a desired height.
Instead of depositing directly onto trays, the company uses Teflon-coated baking mats that rest on top of the baking pans. According to Walls, the dairy industry conducts stringent checks for even the smallest specks of metal, and the use of baking mats is necessary to prevent any potential metal contamination from the pans.
After depositing, a Capway oven loader automatically gathers baking trays into groups of six and loads them into a 40-ft. tunnel oven. According to Walls, this oven serves as the centerpiece of the new bakery.
At its old facility, Greyston Bakery baked its products in a series of rack ovens. Although these ovens accomplished their goal, bake time and quality would vary from oven to oven. To alleviate these inconsistencies and speed up the products' baking time, the company decided to install a tunnel oven. The investment in a tunnel oven usually pays off with long runs of the same product. However, the nature of Greyston Bakery's product line called for flexibility.
The company's two main product lines, brownies and cakes, require very different baking needs. For example, brownies require an extremely short bake while cakes demand a much longer bake. To accomplish these two types of bakes, the company needed a tunnel oven that could change temperatures quickly and have a wide range of speeds.
To find an oven that would be flexible enough to handle its unique production requirements, the company thoroughly investigated oven technology and even traveled to Europe to test a combination oven and cooler that was direct fired. During these tests, Greyston Bakery realized that a directfired tunnel oven would not accommodate its need for varying bake times and temperatures.
To accommodate its unique production demands, the company purchasedan air impingement oven from C.H. Babb Co. An impingement oven differs from other tunnel ovens because it has the ability to operate as an impingement oven and as a conventional oven. This dual functionality allows the company to bake both cakes and brownies efficiently in the same oven.
During brownie production, the tunnel oven serves as an impingement oven, which blows hot air from all directions during baking. "With our brownies, because they are so thin, we need to bake the product very fast, and the top and bottom heat accomplish that," Mancini says. The company's new oven bakes brownies in six minutes, a 14-minute decrease compared to its old facility's rack ovens, which baked the brownies in about 20 minutes.
For cake production, the company has to slow the oven's variable speed drive to allow for a 30-minute bake. The company also applies only bottom heat for cake baking because the product does not require a quick bake.
After baking, brownies traverse through a cooling system that contains two spiral conveyors located in two rooms. In the first room, brownies traverse up the spiral conveyor in a room that is kept between 70°F and 80°F. After reaching the top of the spiral conveyor, pans travel to another room where they are cooled in a room that "is very close to a refrigerator's temperature," Richard Bolmer, Greyston Bakery's director of operations, says.
As products exit the cooling room, Greyston Bakery employees manually pull brownies from the baking trays and place them on a conveyor belt. An initial cutter slices the brownie into two pieces and sends each piece to a separate conveyor feeding an Urschel mechanical cutter, which dices up the brownies into various square sizes ranging from a quarter inch to an inch.
New sales focus
Greyston Bakery has entered a new phase in its company's history with the addition of the new plant. As a result, the company also is refocusing its sales efforts. In the past, the company's brownie sales were primarily centered on Ben & Jerry's, and the company's cakes were sold to upscale restaurants in the New York City metropolitan area by literally pounding the pavement. With the new plant and increased capacity, the company is focusing its efforts on adding distributors and brokers to sell its products throughout the country.
The new plant also has allowed the company to produce an array of products on an automated line. "The heart of our system, which is our oven, can bake just about anything," Walls says. "All we have to do is fill in the equipment before and after the oven."
With this flexibility, the company plans on introducing various new products, including cookies and food bars, in the coming year. According to Walls, the company plans to grow its business by 50% in three years. Although a lofty goal, Walls is confident that the company's new plant will provide it with the necessary tools to achieve this goal and morph Greyston Bakery from a labor-intensive bakery to a state-of-the-art facility.
Baking for a purpose
Besides giving a portion of its profits to the Greyston Foundation, Greyston Bakery also serves the Yonkers community by hiring the hard to hire. "We don't hire people so that we can make brownies, we make brownies so that we can hire people," Julius Walls, Greyston Bakery's president and chief executive officer, says.
As part of its community-oriented ideals, Greyston Bakery staffs its facility with individuals with little or no desirable work experience. According to Walls, this practice gives countless individuals a new lease on life.
To hire its employees, the company uses a first come, first serve policy. "We interview them only to get some background on where they've been and where they're going, but that doesn't impact the decision process for them to be hired," Walls says.
After an employee has been hired, he or she enters an apprenticeship program designed to teach individuals how to work, not how to bake. This 12-to 16-week program teaches such tenets as punctuality, attendance and productivity. If an employee succeeds in passing the apprenticeship program, he or she is hired and given major medical benefits and vacation time. "Our mission is to be able to provide people an opportunity for employment," Walls says. "However, they have to work to keep that opportunity."
Of the company's more than 50 employees, only five people have not been hired through this process.
Besides hiring the hard to hire, the company also invests in the future of its employees by providing them with training from the American Institute of Baking (AIB). For example, Rodney Johnson, Greyston Bakery's production manager, came to Greyston Bakery in 1995 after a stint in jail. After years of hard work and double and triple shifts, Greyston Bakery invested in his future by sending him to an AIB course on warehouse and production sanitation. Soon thereafter, Johnson took the career path at AIB and recently became a certified baker.