By Keith Seiz
Traditional Baking's facility contains two spiral coolers that accommodate the company's high-moisture cookies.
Traditional Baking's three production lines process wire-cut, rotary and deposited cookies.
Traditional Baking bakes its cookies in three tunnel ovens that are separated from the rest of the plant by walls.
After years of increased sales as one of America's favorite snacking options, cookies have hit a bump in the road. Cookie dollar sales declined 3.7% and unit sales fell 5.1% for the 52-week period ended March 20, statistics from Information Resources Inc report.
These unimpressive numbers are attributed to many things: trans-fatty acid awareness, America's recent obsession with health and a lack of innovation from the category's branded leaders. Excess capacity represents another culprit. "It's no secret that the cookie category isn't growing leaps and bounds," Kathy Voortman, Traditional Baking's president, says. "There are too many ovens."
However, Traditional Baking, Bloomington, Calif., has maintained constant growth during the cookie category's downturn. In fact, the company recently installed a new production line and expanded its facility by 18,000 sq. ft.
Kathy Voortman attributes this growth to the company's complete coverage of the cookie category, from commercial aisles to dollar stores to in-store bakeries to private label and contract-manufacturing accounts. This broad reach allows the company to grow even if a certain segment of the cookie category experiences declining interest.
Kathy Voortman and her brother John founded Traditional Baking in 1988 when they established a West Coast base for the family business, Voortman Cookies. This Canadabased cookie manufacturer has a long history, beginning in the village of Hellendoorn, Holland, and expanding to the Toronto suburb of Burlington.
As Kathy and John Voortman's father immigrated to Canada from Holland to expand the cookie business, Kathy and John immigrated to Bloomington to expand the market for Voortman Cookies. Instead of establishing another Voortman Cookies plant, Kathy and John moved out on their own and formed Traditional Baking. The company purchased the distribution license for the Voortman brand in California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, and built a distribution and manufacturing facility.
"Once we were in California, we realized that it was a lot tougher market than we anticipated," Kathy Voortman says. "It was a brand new market for the Voortman name."
As a result, the company expanded its reach beyond the Southwest by establishing two nationwide brands, Traditional Baking and Baker's Batch, and pursuing private label and contract manufacturing accounts.
"We created the Traditional Baking brand because we wanted a national label," Kathy Voortman says. "We had the Voortman's license, but we were limited to our license territory."
The Traditional Baking brand is distributed nationwide to commercial, instore, foodservice and institutional channels. The brand's main product varieties include Tea Rings, Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Delight, Almonette, Shortbread, Windmill, Gingerkids and Iced Lemon. In addition, the company produces seasonal varieties for in-store bakeries.
The company also distributes products nationwide through its Baker's Batch brand. This brand represents the company's value-oriented line of cookies, and is mainly sold in dollar stores in flexible film rollpack packages. The brand's varieties include Almonette, Oatmeal, Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Chip and Peanut Krunch.
These two brands as well as its Voortman license in the Southwest enable Traditional Baking to cover the entire cookie category. The company further increased its coverage of the cookie market with the installation of a third production line, which expands the company's contract manufacturing and private label account capabilities.
Traditional Baking's plant is spectacularly unspectacular. The plant and its production lines are designed the way cookie lines are supposed to be built: long and straight. Ingredients enter from one side of the plant and finished products are packaged at the opposite side.
Traditional Baking takes pride in efficiency and sanitation. Its three production lines nearly are identical, and each baking function (makeup, baking, cooling and packaging) is separated by walls. The plant operates two shifts and uses its third shift for sanitation.
The company built its facility for efficiency due to the extensive range of cookies the company produces. The company produces more than 40 stock keeping units, and has abilities to produce various styles of cookies with sugar, icing or jam toppings.
In June, Traditional Baking expanded its facility by 18,000 sq. ft. and installed a new production line to better serve its nationwide accounts. The expansion mainly consists of a warehouse that stores finished goods and four loading docks.
Production at Traditional Baking begins with the company's two 30-ft. outdoor silos that hold 120,000 lbs. of flour and 130,000 lbs. of sugar. Minor ingredients, such as baking powders, are prescaled and manually added to the mixers. The company operates three horizontal mixers that each produce 1,800-lb. batches. After mixing, dough deposits into a trough, which a crane lifts and deposits in the makeup lines' hoppers.
When Traditional Baking built the facility in 1990, the company installed only one line but designed the plant to accommodate three lines. The second line was installed in 1994 and the new line was put in last month. The company's three production lines produce a variety of cookies, including wire-cut, rotary and deposit. The first two lines were manufactured by APV Baker, and Bakery Machinery & Fabrication supplied the new line. Line No. 1 only produces deposited cookies and has a 39-in. band, and the other two lines accommodate all styles of production and have 49-in. bands.
Baking, cooling, packaging
After makeup, cookies are transported to the oven room, which houses three 180-ft. tunnel ovens. Each oven has three zones and bakes products for eight to 10 minutes at temperatures that average about 400°F.
From the oven, products are conveyed to a cooling room. Lines No. 1 and No. 3 each feed 120-ft. spiral conveyors that cool products for about 20 minutes. The company bakes its high moisture products on these lines. Line No. 2 cools products for 10 minutes on a straight conveyor that passes under two fans.
After cooling, products are conveyed into a packaging room that is designed for efficiency and flexibility. The company's broad customer list and cookie portfolio require multiple packaging options, including bulk, individual, vertical, horizontal and custom packaging configurations.
The company packages these products on a variety of movable packaging lines. These lines all sit on wheels and are used when production dictates. These lines include three high-speed horizontal wrappers and a variety of other packaging systems.
After packaging, products pass through a metal detector/check weigher. This online system weighs each package of cookies to ensure that it conforms to specifications. If it does not, a blast of air kicks the package off the production line. After passing this inspection, products are manually packed into boxes and palletized.
As Traditional Baking grows its national accounts business, the new line and expansion will prepare the company for the increased volume that these accounts require. "The goal is to get the facility up to full production," Kathy Voortman says. "Right now, we're at 70% and we have production time and a third shift available if we need it."
The company also is broadening its business by bringing its strong seasonal in-store bakery business to the commercial aisle. The company launched a new line of retail seasonal cookies with innovative new packaging that consists of a cardboard package holding a circular plastic tray. The tray's cookie contents are visible from a window in the package, and the package's graphics colorfully depict certain holidays. "We do most of our seasonal cookie business in in-store bakeries, and we're hoping to take these seasonal cookies and offer them to mass merchandisers," Kathy Voortman says.
This move expands Traditional Baking's customer list and market reach, and further allows the company to succeed in the cookie category despite a current downturn that is impacting many cookie bakeries.
Headquarters: Bloomington, Calif.