Dreyer's Bakersfield, Calif., Operations Center's production capabilities and safety programs are matched only by its massive size.

Approximately 300 SKUs -- including three-quarters of all Drumstick sundae cones sold in the U.S. -- are produced at Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Bakersfield Operations Center.
Photo by Vito Palmisano

Mark McLenithan, plant manager of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream’s Bakersfield Operations Center, encourages line employees to taste the products they make. That’s because McLenithan likes to keep things in perspective. “We remind people we’re the biggest producer in the system,” he says. “But at the end of the day, we make ice cream. We’re making people happy.”

The folks in Bakersfield, Calif., are making a lot of people happy, seeing as how the plant - since a $100 million expansion completed in 2005 - is one of the largest ice cream manufacturing facilities in the world (a Dreyer’s plant in Laurel, Md., vies for the top spot as well).

To grasp the sheer size of the place, take the massive mix room, for example. The mix room’s 81-tank, continuous-batching system creates the bases for every product made in the plant with a capacity totaling just under 500,000 gallons. Mixes are HTST pasteurized before they’re piped out among the facility’s 28 production lines.

Two of those lines, in particular, are unique to Dreyer’s and feature carefully-guarded proprietary technology. Slow Churned and Dibs products, both of which were introduced within the past few years, continue to experience wild success.

Slow Churned is a specialized processing technique that stretches ice cream’s butterfat molecules, resulting in a lower-fat product with a taste and texture nearly identical to regular ice cream. Bite-size Dibs snacks are made with a sort of extrusion process that results in tiny frozen pieces of ice cream that are enrobed in chocolate coatings and packed in cups and tubs.

Other products prepared here include Push-Ups, Nestle Crunch ice cream bars, popsicles, Drumsticks, Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches and more. But Dreyer’s flagship is the Grand line of 1.75-quart round containers. Every 30 minutes, a carton is plucked from the line for a random cutting. The sample is tested for taste, appearance and consistency of inclusion distribution, McLenithan explains.

“Every carton should be the same - every scoop should be the same,” he says.

Food safety also is a high priority at the Bakersfield plant. Every entry point has an automatic hand-washing station at which hands are placed into rotating cylinders for thorough cleansing and drying cycles.

McLenithan makes it clear that Dreyer’s spares no expense in setting standards for safety and quality that are well beyond mandated minimums. The 360-degree camera on the Dibs line is one example; another is a complex cluster of mix-proof valves that helps navigate the flow of mixes to each production line. Leak-proof technology eliminates the possibility of cross-contamination within the $250,000 valve cluster.

“Processing is about how to apply technology to make a safer and better product for the consumer,” McLenithan says.

That attention to detail also is exemplified by the plant’s equipment cleaning room, built with stainless-steel walls to ensure sanitary conditions.

Efforts to ensure employee safety obviously are paying off as well; all Dreyer’s plants (there are six nationwide) routinely win safety awards from the International Dairy Foods Association. McLenithan describes the Dreyer’s safety program as a “bottom up” philosophy designed to encourage employees to take an active role. Line employees sport patches on their sleeves designating their earned responsibilities and achievements, including Safety Employee of the Year.

The Bakersfield plant has grown significantly during its nearly 20-year history. Beginning with 73 employees in 1988, the work force now climbs to 1,100 during peak production times. In 2003, the plant manufactured 80 SKUs, now it’s 300. Annual volume had increased 250 percent to 100 million gallon dozens.

“All this change at one time, it doesn’t happen without some growing pains,” McLenithan says. “But it wouldn’t have occurred without great people. At the end of the day, your people make or break you.”

These people have helped incorporate all sorts of new processing technology in the facility.

Much of the inspiration for change comes from the Dreyer’s R&D facility next door, which has its own 69,000-square-foot pilot plant - as large as many ice cream processors’ plants.

Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from one by James Dudlicek that appeared in the November 2007 issue ofDairy Field, a sister publication toRefrigerated & Frozen Foods.Please note that whileDairy Fieldno longer is published as an independent magazine it now appears inDairy Foods magazine as Dairy Field Reports.

Just the facts

Company:Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream
Food plant(s) honored:Bakersfield, Calif.
Selection criteria:Process/Packaging Innovation, Productivity, Worker Safety, Food Safety
Employees:1,100 at peak operation
Facility size:600,000 square feet
Products:Ice cream, frozen yogurt, novelties, frozen snacks

Executive Insights

Refrigerated & Frozen Foodstalks with Plant Manager Mark McLenithan about the Bakersfield Operations Center of Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream in Bakersfield, Calif.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods:Looking back on 2007, what are you most proud of?

Mark McLenithan:I'm most proud of the professional growth of the people working here. For 50 percent of the employees at the factory, 2007 was only their second year of making ice cream. The fact that we have come so far so fast says a lot about the folks we brought into our organization during start-up, as well as for those who were here originally.

R&FF:What were the greatest challenges of the last year?

McLenithan:  Dairy cost was a huge challenge. The rising commodity cost of butter fat and non-fat solids poses a risk to the entire industry. Fortunately Dreyer's manufactures products that run the full breadth of the freezercases, including fruit bars, sorbets and frozen yogurt. This allows choices for the consumer and also relief from commodity pressures.

R&FF:Talk about a few of your operations' strengths in relation to the "Food Plants of the Year" criteria. How did you develop these strengths?

McLenithan:  Second to the quality of our people, a strength would have to be our appropriate use of technology to make better products for our consumers. This includes items that are not required by the industry, but we use them because they make better products for our consumers.

Outside of technology, we use our continuous improvement process, from safety incident measures that are one-ninth the industry average, to leaving a smaller foot print on the planet through the implementation of ISO 14001. It all happens by engaging everyone in the plant population.

R&FF:What industry issues most trouble you in plant operations? What steps are you taking to address these concerns?

McLenithan:  The rising cost of energy and the impact that has on our cost structure - both in manufacturing and in distribution - is very troubling. Locally we have implemented a Resource Conservation team, targeted to reduce our utility usage. This not only improves our cost structure, but also minimizes our impact on the environment.

R&FF:What are some of your key operational and other goals as you move forward through 2008?

McLenithan:  We need to continue to engage our organization to realize the opportunities of the site. Excellence doesn't happen by accident, and will only come if you continually look forward. We continue to improve the safety record of our site and strive for a zero injury rate. We need to continue to work on exceeding the expectations of our consumers by improving the quality of our products and working toward zero defect perfection. The ice cream category is rich with innovation and we need to continue to be a leader in that process.