Lantmännen Unibake USA boosts capacity, enhances food safety and automates artisan baking in St. Petersburg, Fla.


By Dan Malovany

When one company buys another, all too often it’s “my way or the highway.” If that happens, the acquired company can lose touch with loyal customers. Often, that’s because its new parent company forces changes that are just not relevant to the local market.

With shifting product trends, pending government regulations and advances in automation, however, companies need to constantly react to change and cannot afford to have every rule written in stone. Deciding what’s black and white doesn’t cut it in a market that’s a sea of gray.

That’s why Lantmännen Unibake USA didn’t transform specialty bread producer Euro-Bake, St. Petersburg, Fla., into a clone of other Lantmännen sister companies. Rather, the new parent took the road less traveled.  It adapted Euro-Bake’s process of producing distinctive breads and rolls – and simply added Unibake’s approach to production and quality control standards.

“Having Lantmännen as our parent company helped us with the acquisition, but the benefit of Lantmännen is that they do have – more or less – a hands-off approach to running the operation. That is certainly true from a sales and marketing standpoint,” says Scott Kolinski, president of Lantmännen Unibake USA, based in Lisle, Ill.

“Lantmännen’s expertise is operational, and one of the things that we’re benefitting from is that we can contact some of our colleagues in Europe and find out what the best practice is on some process or get answers on various operational issues that we might have,” he adds. “I think that’s a strong benefit of having Lantmännen as our parent.”

Today, the former Euro-Bake operation creates products like it did prior to being purchased by relying on all-natural starters, no preservatives and long fermentation and proofing times to create its signature, high-moisture products that have a delicate crispy crust, says Mike Gerhard, whose father, Harty, started Euro-Bake in 1993 and sold it to Lantmännen Unibake in 2008.

Instead of adjusting key processes that compromise on Euro-Bake’s reputation for product quality, Lantmännen Unibake allowed its St. Petersburg bakery to tap into its vast corporate resources to enhance production processes in a way that would increase capacity, improve quality control and better serve its U.S. customers.

To assist in purchasing, for instance, the Swedish conglomerate can provide valuable insights into the global outlook for flour for the next six months, Kolinski says. To enhance operating efficiencies, Lantmännen Unibake has strict standards on handling allergens and finding ways to reduce waste using key performance indicators based on historical data from its sister bakeries.

“These guidelines are set by corporate, and they give us something to shoot for that maybe we didn’t think about before,” he notes.

Interesting, too, the St. Petersburg facility is in the process of being certified according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) food safety standard.

“We’re hoping there are resources at corporate to help us implement BRC faster because we don’t have to use outside consultants,” Gerhard says. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel by starting from zero. You have resources throughout the corporation not only at corporate headquarters. We can call up our friends at a large bakery in the [United Kingdom] and ask them about the implementation of these standards.”

Gerhard said he travels to Europe about every four months for an operations meeting where directors from Lantmännen Unibake’s 25 bakeries meet for three days to exchange advice, tips and other information.

In the area of sanitation, Lantmännen Unibake’s standards reflect more of a U.S. Department of Agriculture approach where employees must follow more detailed rules and regulations down to the uniforms they wear. On the other hand, Gerhard says, the corporate office showed the St. Petersburg bakery how to boost the throughput by 15 percent on its main ciabatta line by adapting best practices at its facility.

Overall, the St. Petersburg bakery has 45,000 square feet of production space and 10,000 square feet. of warehousing and houses three production lines that can produce everything from classic Italian and French bread and rolls to hand-crafted artisan breads with two to three hours of proof time.

“We are more artisan than what other industrial bakers are,” Kolinski says. “It allows us to have the flexibility to do all types of products. If we only had a fully automated bread line, we would be stuck.”

The bakery’s unique formulas allow it to produce breads with a delicate, crisp crust and a moist interior and differentiate its line of products from its competitors.

“We actually use more water than most operations do, which creates some challenges from a production standpoint,” Kolinski notes. “The machinery doesn’t like a really wet product, but in the end, it gives you a product that is much moister inside and doesn’t stick to the roof of our mouth. It is delicious.”

About 150 to 180 people work three shifts, five days a week producing about 250 stock-keeping units (SKUs), although many of them are the same basic product except in multiple weights and shapes or with different toppings.

“We naturally do a lot of different doughs,” Gerhard notes. “We can do up to 10 products on one dough. Overall, we have about 50 live recipes that we can choose from at this time.”

Moreover, the flexible operation allows Lantmännen Unibake to pursue new business that it hadn’t been able to do in the past, says Ralph Hoffmann, director of sales.

“Because of the synergies and the capability of the equipment to make certain new products, we’re now more diversified and able to react more quickly to changes in the market,” he says.

In the end, the bakery is able to improve its operations efficiency while still creating products in respect with “Old World” tradition.

This article was excerpted from Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s March 2010 issue. The article was written by Editor Dan Malovany.

At a glance:
Company: Lantmännen Unibake USA
Food plant(s) honored: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Selection criteria: Process/packaging automation, productivity
Employees: 220 (180 in production)
Facility size: 55,000 square feet
Products: Frozen fully baked and par-baked bread, rolls, baguettes and ciabatta