Can you do that? Yes we can.

“Behind every successful company is a good food factory.”

Isn’t that how the saying goes?

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ 2011-12 “Food Plants of the Year” feature demonstrates just how invaluable food plants are to their parent companies. New plants and practices are helping cold food processors assure their customers of regional and national supply, new capabilities and optimum food safety.  Likewise, many new facilities are contributing internal benefits. They’re cutting costs, saving energy or using fewer environmental resources.

Read on for category-by-category profiles of:

Entrées: Request Foods now offers frozen bagged entrées – as well greater single- and multi-serve meal capacity – thanks to its new frozen entrée plant in Holland, Mich.

MEAT & POULTRY: Food safety, hands-free automation distinguish OSI Group’s new plant in West Jordan, Utah.

DAIRY: Dairy Farmers of America earns SQF “Manufacturer of the Year” honors for food safety at its Fort Morgan, Colo., milk plant.

BAKERY: A new Phoenix plant makes it a piece of cake for Café Valley Bakery to meet growth demands.

VEGETABLES / SIDE DISHES: Sabra Dipping Company’s new Virginia plant earns accolades, powers product growth and distribution.

And the award goes to…

To choose “Food Plant of Year” honorees, Refrigerated & Frozen Foods solicited nominations from industry experts and observers, industry suppliers and the editors of sister publications such as Food Engineering, The National Provisioner, Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery and Dairy Foods.

R&FF evaluated plant performance – and considered new facilities – against one or more of the following criteria:

  • Worker Safety

  • Community Involvement

  • Food Safety

  • Environmental Initiatives

  • Process / Packaging Innovation

  • Productivity

R&FF then selected one plant from each refrigerated and frozen food processing sectors (regardless of sales channel).

Want to be featured in 2013?

Industry suppliers and food processors may submit nominations to R&FF Editor Marina Mayer at (847) 405-4008 or, by e-mail, at

New plant makes it a piece of cake (easy) for Café Valley Bakery to meet growth demands.

Here’s proof that a baker’s success with water and flour ... can lead to bricks and mortar.

A supplier to fast-food operators, club stores, convenience stores and in-store bakeries, Café Valley Bakery pushed product development efforts from 2005 to 2010. When annual sales tripled during that time, officials knew it was time to act.

With suitable land just two miles away, the 28-year-old company drew up plans to leave its former leased operations and build a $40 million bakery and distribution center.

“We wanted to streamline operations and improve efficiencies. And we recognized that our previous facility would not accommodate us,” says Ron Ogan, president and CEO. “The new location provides us with the ability to serve national and international channels, attract new customers and improve performance to existing customers.”

For the record, Café Valley produces approximately 100 varieties of thaw-and-sell croissants, cakes, pastries, muffins and cinnamon rolls. Ogan has said the company will use its new location to develop additional (undisclosed) new product lines and expand its East Coast reach.

“When it comes to bakeries, we’re the biggest of the small and the smallest of the big,” he told the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. “Because we have six different product lines, our customers can order smaller quantities of many items and still come up with a full truckload – thereby taking advantage of economy of scale on freight.”

Opened January 2011, Café Valley’s new 285,950-square-foot bakery houses 10 product lines (including five entirely new ones) to more than double its size and capacity. The new site also includes 46,000 square feet of freezer storage and outbound distribution space.

“We were able to transfer our entire production facility, operate flawlessly and deliver higher quality without missing one customer order,” notes Ogan. “To say it was a team effort is an understatement. It was sheer determination executed with the precision of troop movements and a single focus.”

And talk about the troops. Ogan says Café Valley kept every one of its former 350 employees during the move. Since then, it has hired and trained as many more, adding 50 new associates to the team. Still more will be hired to fill capacity.

Meanwhile, he says the new bakery incorporates many state-of-the-art features. These include …

… process technologies. Ogan cannot share many proprietary process automation details. However, he notes the new bakery incorporates many pieces of custom equipment. He says an advanced tunnel oven reduces bake times by an average of 25 percent.

… food safety, quality and sanitation. Features range from specialized epoxy floor coverings throughout the plant to a unique, enclosed refrigerated shipping dock. “We created an ingenious shipping design that allows trucks to load and unload in a climate-controlled space,” says Ogan. “This keeps our baked goods temperatures constant and unchanged. It’s critical in Arizona when temperatures exceed 100ºF for numerous weeks. No other facility in the state has this capability.”

… energy savings. A comprehensive energy system monitors and controls all lighting and temperatures throughout the building (encompassing offices, production and storage areas). Interestingly, the facility has eliminated boilers. Instead, Ogan says Café Valley selected a more energy efficient thermal oil system to support pan washers, proofers, hot water and sanitation systems.

Asked about this year’s goals, Ogan says 2012 will be a year of fine tuning. He notes that Café Valley already has key performance indicators related to areas such as food safety, sales and operational planning, new product development, customer satisfaction, associate safety and continuous improvement.

“Café Valley’s goal was to build one of the United States’ premier bakery facilities. We want to utilize the most innovative technologies and processes to make and deliver outstanding baked goods for our customers,” says Ogan. “We are proud to have achieved that goal.

“Now we are focused on continuing operational efficiencies and innovation to deliver even more value to our customers,” he concludes. “… We plan for success and track our performance against these indicators. Our entire team is measured on this performance.”

At A Glance

Company: Café Valley Bakery
Food plant(s) honored: Phoenix
Selection criteria: Process automation, environmental
Employees: 350 to 400
Facility size: 285,950 square feet
Products: Frozen croissants, turnovers, muffins, cakes (Bundt, ring) and cinnamon sweet goods. Café Valley supplies U.S. club store, foodservice and in-store bakery channels.

World class caliber

Dairy Farmers of America earns top food safety, operations award in Fort Morgan, Colo.

Want to take your operation to the next level? It will require you to expand your thinking – in every way.

By 2009, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) Inc., Kansas City, knew it literally needed to expand its 11-year-old dairy ingredient plant in Fort Morgan, Colo. That led to a comprehensive $23 million investment to boost Fort Morgan’s capacity, improve facility and product security and increase sanitation and hygiene control measures.

In 2010, the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI) introduced a third-party, audited SQF program to certify food processors’ food safety and operations quality. The three-tiered program is the only one recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative.

DFA’s Global Dairy Products Group embraced SQF certification as a goal for each of its 27 plants involved in consumer brands or contract processing and/or dairy ingredient manufacturing. With Fort Morgan employees already considering so many new expansion-related processes and steps, SQF came along at just the right time.

For the record, this 40,000-square-foot site processes sweet cream, condensed milk and nonfat dry milk ingredients used by cheese, yogurt, candy and ice cream processors. Considering that Fort Morgan supplies such essential components – and that it supplies customers around the world – SQF certification made sense.

“We are operating in an environment with stronger scrutiny on food safety by both regulators and consumers than ever before,” says Plant Manager Tom Cotter. “We viewed the SQF initiative as an opportunity to challenge our current quality and food safety systems and make them even stronger.”

Cotter says he worked with Quality Assurance Manager Dave Davis and Quality Assurance Lead Maria Nunez to develop programs, identify improvements and define a world-class quality and food safety system. Cotter credits Fort Morgan line employees for integrating SQF-related tasks in day-to-day operations.

He notes that Fort Morgan trains all new hires about the SQF code and their responsibility for food safety and quality. Employees participate in bi-weekly SQF conference calls. Meanwhile, a plant-wide food safety team informs all employees of any code changes and updates.

Fort Morgan’s quick and passionate embrace of the program led it to achieve a Level 3 certification (the highest) within two years. When it hosted its 2011 Quality Achievement Awards, SQFI recognized the DFA-Fort Morgan plant as one of two “Manufacturer of the Year” honorees.

“DFA’s Fort Morgan facility is proof that no matter your size, significant improvements in food safety and quality are obtainable when you use a GFSI-benchmarked food safety assessment,” says Robert Garfield, SQF’s senior vice president. “This farmer-owned facility understands the importance and has every employee involved in some level of the SQF program.”

“DFA Fort Morgan exhibits an inherent understanding that its products end up on family tables all over the United States,” Garfield concludes. “The facility’s rating is more than a grade; it demonstrates a long-term dedication to food quality and safety.”

Cotter agrees.

“Our hope is that this recognition gives our customers an extra level of confidence,” he says. “We want them to know we are highly committed to doing the right thing when it comes to food safety and quality.”

Cotter says Fort Morgan also has excelled in other areas, including…

… employee safety. Cotter says Fort Morgan is tracking at more than eight years with no lost-time accidents.

… productivity. Fort Morgan processed a record 93 million pounds of milk in July 2011, says Cotter. The plant processed 899 million pounds for the year, which represents a 28 percent increase over 2010 and as much as a 151 percent increase since 2006.

… environmental achievements. Fort Morgan has reduced water use by 10 million gallons per year, says Cotter. The plant has begun re-using the water removed from milk (during a concentration process). It uses reclaimed water for cleaning. Fort Morgan also installed energy-efficient, motion-activated lighting in its finished goods warehouse to reduce energy use.

Cotter also is eyeing this year’s “to-do” list.

“Our facility is working toward ‘Star’ status within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program,” he notes. “Our plant leaders are committed to continuing to provide a safe work environment for employees, visitors and contractors.”

At A Glance

Company: Dairy Farmers of America
Food plant(s) honored: Fort Morgan, Colo.
Selection criteria: Food safety, quality
Employees: 54
Facility size: 40,000 square feet
Products: Sweet cream, condensed milk and nonfat dry milk ingredients used for cheese, yogurt, candy and ice cream.

It's in the bag

Request Foods’ new frozen meals plant delivers more capacity, new capabilities.

Co-packers want to sell capabilities to prospective customers. They want to end conversations and say, “Yes, we can do that. Consider it done. It’s in the bag.”

Last June saw Request Foods open its second plant in Holland, Mich. It’s a 230,000-square-foot operation and, interestingly enough, it’s dedicated to frozen bagged skillet meals as well as single- and multi-serve prepared entrées in trays.

It was a decision about capacities and capabilities. Request already produces as many as 400 different custom entrées, side dishes, appetizers, sauces and desserts for foodservice and retail customers (branded and private label). Even so, Request fills and packs most of those items in flat, horizontal pans, trays, bowls and/or pouches.

Officials knew it was time to build once the company’s main 370,000-square-foot plant reached 80 percent capacity (across eight lines). Moreover, they saw an opportunity to develop a new capability.

“Our entry into the skillet meal market has been very deliberate,” says Vice President Steve DeWitt. “We are dedicated to offering our customers the full range of culinary R&D, high quality sourcing and made-from-scratch production that we’re known for in frozen pan entrées and side dishes. We wanted to do it right and this facility showcases our commitment to quality.”

Request notes that Greenly Street is easily accessible from major highways and centrally located for U.S. distribution. Meanwhile, Request says it also is close to its raw material sources, many of the nation’s largest produce and protein producers.

During the next five years, Request expects Greenly to add 250 new jobs to the West Michigan economy where officials say “the workforce has long been an exceptional resource.”

“Being a key supplier for many leading national brands and retailers, we’re rigorously focused on sustainability and safety,” says Dewitt. “Our entry into skillet meals is a win/win situation for growers, employees and customers, and we’re grateful that Request Foods is able to play an important role in our industry and community.”

Jeff Gehres, Request’s director of sales and product development, says the Greenly Street operation already has two lines running and a third underway (of a possible five). All lines feed large spiral freezers and an enclosed 32,000-square-foot frozen finished goods warehouse.

“We already have new business in the [second] Greenly Street plant,” he notes. “And, because of its capabilities and food safety features, we’re adding another line for a major customer this April.”

To Gehres’ point, Maintenance / Facilities Manager Pete Sheffield says Request emphasized food safety in the new building’s design. It features a central sanitizing system, which delivers pre-diluted sanitizer (in two different concentrations to maintain consistency effectiveness) to sanitize equipment and surrounding areas.

Sheffield says the new site’s special tile flooring has smaller grout lines and is less porous than typical dairy brick in most food plants. The facility also is fitted throughout with all stainless steel utility piping, stainless insulated metal panels and stainless steel curbs.

“Food safety was our number one focus going in [to the building project] and I think we accomplished that,” says Sheffield.

Back to the subject of process technologies, Request notes that its Greenly Street operation also features some of the industry’s latest machinery and designs involving …

… facility and process management technologies. Sheffield says production make-up kitchens are process controlled and feature an Allen Bradley system to precisely control every aspect of sauce heating, cooling and product transfer prior to use on filling / production lines.

Officials say a facility management system will gather facility data – including readings about air pressure, cooler / freezer temps, ammonia system output and even building pressure – into a central processor. The networked system will collect, analyze and monitor all performance data. Request also can retrieve real-time data from the production lines.

… energy savings. Request chose pre-cast exterior walls for improved thermal insulation. Interestingly, those walls also feature windows to provide natural light. Inside, Request recovers heat from ammonia refrigeration equipment and uses it to pre-heat sanitation water. It also recovers heat from boilers and boiler blow-down equipment and uses it to heat boiler feed water. Ammonia refrigeration equipment has variable speed compressors to handle various load demands associated with as many as four refrigeration temp requirements. The plant also uses variable speed air compressors and a compressed air monitoring system.

… process / packaging flow and automation. Production travels south to north with a continuous flow – from raw ingredients handling to the finished goods storage freezer. Raw receiving areas are completely separated from processing zones. Greenly Street also features robotic packaging machinery and automated palletizing equipment.

After keeping their new facility under wraps for so long, Request Foods officials say they are anxious to invite retail and branded food customers inside.

“We are a co-packer, so having the new, state-of-the-art facility is a major marketing tool,” admits Gehres. “The new plant more than doubles our capacity to produce more single-serve frozen entrées, multi-serve meals and skillet bag meals. This new facility gives Request Foods’ sales and R&D teams a wide variety of new selling opportunities. We look forward to growing our business with current and new customers in 2012 and beyond.” 

At A Glance
Company: Request Foods
Food plant(s) honored: Holland, Mich. (Greenly Street)
Selection criteria: Food safety, process automation
Employees: 125, projected to grow to 250 in five years
Facility size: 230,000 square feet
Products: Frozen skillet meals, single- and multi-serve entrées.

Look Ma! No hands.

Food safety, hands-free automation distinguish new OSI plant in West Jordan, Utah.

How do you respond when opportunity knocks? You could say that the OSI Group not only opened the door, but it built an entirely new one … attached to a new plant.

Officials say a significant restaurant customer approached them about untapped dry sausage demand in the West. In turn, this Aurora, Ill.-based company decided to spend approximately $30 million and double the footprint of its West Jordan, Utah, operation.

It was in 1977 when OSI built its first West Jordan facility to process frozen beef patties, cooked meats and specialty hand-cut steak items. Last September saw the company officially open an entirely new 50,000-square-foot facility. The two plants share a wall and the raw-materials receiving dock while each operates independently.

Ron Bree is OSI’s senior vice president of foodservice sales and business development.

“We looked for opportunities across the industry where capacity was constrained,” he explains. “Dry sausage was one of those areas and a perfect fit for our customer’s specific needs in this case. If you look, dry-sausage manufacturing is very capital intensive, and it requires unique expertise. OSI is excited to now be a part of this growing business segment.”

Mike Yeager, vice president, engineering, adds that the West Jordan facility was built to accommodate plenty of future growth as well.

“When we built the facility, we had two phases of expansion in mind, and we made accommodations for that in the construction plans,” he says. “One, within the physical walls, and two, some of our infrastructure can afford a physical expansion of the building outside of the walls that you see today.”

From a macro standpoint, the West Jordan dry-sausage plant stands as a shining example of OSI’s willingness to invest in a long-term opportunity. Inside, visitors can see that the plant bubbles with innovative technological advancements that take operations, quality and food safety to new industry levels.

Mark Chaplin, an assistant vice president with OSI’s Process Team, says OSI studied the dry-sausage process and assembled a team of veterans experienced in all facets of pepperoni manufacturing.

“You can talk to people in the industry and [mostly] they’re going to tell you what doesn’t work; what you can’t do, and what that does is puts up a lot of barriers to being a little more creative and stepping out a little further than what the rest of the industry has been doing,” he explains.

Chaplin says OSI stepped back and considered how to be innovative across a variety of processes – whether those steps involved formulating the product, grinding, stuffing, hanging, drying or moving that product around the facility. OSI then created state-of-the-art processes with efficiency and food safety in mind.

“What we came up with was a process that requires very little human touching of the product,” says Chaplin. “From the time we grind that product, the only person that touches that product is the person that touches the stick and places the loop on the automated hanging system. That is it. ... That product is never touched again until it is placed in the combo [bulk shipping container].”

Beyond the food-safety ramifications of this aspect of the system, Chaplin adds that it helps minimize any issues associated with workers’ ergonomics and / or product damage.

“In a traditional facility, there’s a lot of weight moved around by forklifts or handtrucks, or, in some cases, trees that you have to push,” he says. “So putting in an automated system that handles that for you saves ergonomics, saves efficiency and saves yields.”

The overall facility has plenty of room to expand, Chaplin reiterates, and based on the employee base and its loyalty to the company (little turnover, long tenured, explains Complex Manager Bryan Dedrickson), as long as there is long-term growth potential, people shouldn’t be surprised to see OSI increase its footprint there.

“The big thing about the future of this facility is, we’ve really laid the facility out and built it in such a manner that, if we decided to double the size of this facility, that easily could be accomplished,” Chaplin says.

Yeager adds that the way the dry- sausage plant is laid out offers OSI a variety of options if the company wants to expand into new segments as well.

“If you look at the front end of the plant, for example, where we grind, stuff and make logs, if you’re open-minded, there’s really not a reason that we couldn’t make logs of a lot of different components,” Yeager says. “We have the real estate here where we could actually use that front end to make different products that could go into a new, different room - today, [dry sausage] may go to the right, but in the future, if we wanted to, [a new product] could go to the left, and we could make a lot of different products and compete in some segments that this facility doesn’t compete in as it sits today.”

By Andy Hanacek, editor-in-chief of BNP Media’s National Provisioner. This article excerpted from NP’s November 2011 issue.

At A Glance

Company: OSI Group
Food plant(s) honored: West Jordan, Utah
Selection criteria: Process innovation, food safety
Employees: 20
Facility size: 50,000 square feet
Products: Dry sausage products including pepperoni, Genoa sausage.

Sabra’s new Virginia plant earns accolades, powers product growth and distribution.

Here’s an interesting twist on time and a contrast of old and new. Sabra Dipping Co. has a two-year-old factory in a town (Colonial Heights, Va.) that traces its history back to America’s revolutionary war. Now consider that the factory’s primary product (hummus) is a Mediterranean staple dating back to the 13th century B.C.

Sabra’s new $61 million plant is a sign of the times. Consumer interest in exotic and healthier foods has fueled strong, year-over-year sales gains in refrigerated hummus and other Mediterranean dips and spreads.

Those sales and consumer trends attracted Israel’s Strauss Group to look at the market. In 2005, it partnered with Yehuda Pearl, founder of Sabra Blue & White Foods, a Kosher hummus processor in Queens, N.Y. Continued growth then led PepsiCo and its Frito-Lay subsidiary to join Strauss in 2008 as equal 50-50 partners in Sabra.

Speaking of percentages, Sabra boasted a 10.4 percent dollar share of a an estimated $165 million refrigerated dipsmarket in 2005. Today, Sabra says it controls an even larger dollar share (53.2 percent) of a $419 million category that grew 11.2 percent from the previous year, according to SymphonyIRI data.

Of course, it takes a big factory to supply a category that’s posting double-digit annual growth.

“When Sabra reached about $70 million in annual sales, consumer insights (officials) said we should prepare for continued growth,” says Meiky Tollman, Sabra’s chief of operations. “In 2008, all indicators suggested we build a factory that could serve a business that is four or five times larger and beyond.”

Tollman said it was that same spring (while joining PepsiCo) that Sabra drew up plans with the support of Dennis Group Engineering for a new plant to more than double the capacity of its Astoria, N.Y., site (now closed). The company broke ground in 2009 in Colonial Heights and opened the facility the following April.

For the record, Sabra says its new 115,000-square-foot facility is the world’s largest refrigerated hummus operation (including a 40,000-square-foot finished goods DC). Colonial Heights also is one of the few temperature-controlled food plants to earn LEED Silver certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The facility has eight production lines to process and pack approximately 100 SKUs of refrigerated hummus. It employs 380 people and ships to more than 40,000 U.S. and Canadian retail outlets.

Although Sabra’s headquarters remain in White Plains, N.Y., the company is building a separate 20,000-square-foot “Center of Excellence” in Colonial Heights, Va., to house company headquarters functions for operations, supply chain, R&D, a pilot plant and additional offices. Officials say they expect by 2013 to complete the adjacent facility.

While work continues outside, Tollman focuses his attention inside the plant walls. After all, this March still represents just 21 months of operation.

“In moving to Virginia, we left an older, manual operation for a modern, high-quality factory,” notes Tollman. “The challenge was to increase capacities and food safety measures while keeping our kitchen-fresh taste, flavor, texture and appearance.”

By all accounts, Sabra’s first full year in Colonial Heights was a success. Compared to Astoria, Tollman says the new facility gave Sabra as much as 200-percent capacity increase.

Officials know that employees – not high-priced equipment – will win the day. Pamela Allen, Sabra’s human resources manager, notes that Sabra transferred several Astoria supervisors and introduced a variety of programs to develop its new workforce. Programs include courses in good manufacturing practices, technical skills (from SAP to forklifts), HACCP and OSHA safety steps. Sabra also provides leadership and team-building skills, harassment training and continuous improvement forums.

“Our biggest success involves people,” says Allen. “We managed to hire a team that is dedicated and passionate about making great product. We created an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable and knows that it is our future that we are building here – together.”

Of course there aren’t many opportunities to start a new employee culture or food plant. When it came to operations, Brent Fowler, Sabra’s operations director, cannot disclose many details.

Nevertheless, he says Colonial Heights incorporates custom and /or state-of-the-art processing equipment, information technology as well as employee safety and energy efficiency features.

Meanwhile, Rob Mommsen, Sabra’s director of QA, emphasizes food safety.

“We have a clean-in-place (CIP) system that is robust enough to handle the most difficult food safety issues,” he says. “Our product is never exposed to the manufacturing environment, and human hands never touch finished products from the lines until they are in hermetically sealed packaging.”

Mommsen says the plant has a custom, four-cycle sanitation system from the chickpea cookers to the finished product filling equipment. Integrated CIP controls along every step of the process clean and sanitize. It also includes CIP of all tanks located on site.

How about another hands-free operation? Mommsen says one of several 2012 automation projects will involve packaging. Sabra will install and integrate more end-of-line machinery to eliminate manual product handling and case packing.

“Behind every strong brand is a strong plant,” concludes Tollman. “We plan to continue our growth in the marketplace and now have the plant to do so.”

At A Glance

Company: Sabra Dipping Co. LLC
Food plant(s) honored: Colonial Heights, Va.
Selection criteria: Food safety, process innovation, environmental (LEED Silver certification)
Employees: Approximately 260
Facility size: 115,000 square feet
Products: Refrigerated hummus, salsas, veggie dips, guacamole and vegetarian sides.