Ancient bard and fabulist Aesop once quipped, “whatever you do, do with all your might.” J.S.B. Industries, Inc. is doing just that with a creative new focus on healthy, fortified baked goods forchildren that leaves school foodservice programs wanting more.
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away (Boston to be exact), lived a father and his sons. Together they formed a bakery known as J.S.B. Industries, Inc. — purveyor of branded Muffin Town products along with Aesop’s Bagels. The story unfolds as this family-run company works to make a place for itself in the baking industry. J.S.B.’s 80,000-sq.-ft. facility produces more than 700 products, and sales are booming. Much like the tortoise in Aesop’s famed fable, the company strives to take a slow and steady step forward every day, never looking back.
The Father and His Sons
J.S.B. is a kingdom of sorts, with Jack Anderson, president, reigning as the King of Muffin Town.
“When I first got out of the Army, I opened a fast-food operation in downtown Boston — a coffee shop called Sandwich World. We had a very good lunch business. One morning I made some muffins, and the next thing you know, we were selling 600 cups of coffee and lots of muffins. We had to open another store and another store. Then we opened a commissary to make the muffins for all of those stores.”
And so the kingdom grew. Anderson named the new company J.S.B., with each initial representing the names of his sons — John, Scott and Brian. Family ties run deep at J.S.B., thus lending a sense of community to the company. Each son has varied strengths and talents, and Anderson has found a place for each of them.
Scott Anderson, vice president of operations and the youngest son, laughs as he remembers how he started at the company.
“I never really wanted to come into the business,” he says. “My whole life I hated working at the bakery. I didn’t like the long hours and the crazy days. Then, one day in college I decided I wanted to come back to the business. I liked the idea of being around my family and my brothers.”
Scott took a six-month residence course at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan. After completing the course, he fell in love with J.S.B. and realized that the learning process had only begun.
“I learned more in my first year working with my father than I ever did in college,” he says.
Scott manages 140 employees and oversees production. He enjoys his job, noting how different the brothers’ personalities are.
“I like working hands-on, being out on the floor and managing people. John is more of the logistics guy and does things from the outside, and Brian’s more administrative and very smart with computers,” Scott says.
John, the oldest son, confesses he wanted to play professional basketball before joining the company. As the vice president and general manager for purchasing and logistics, he has watched the company grow since its creation in 1978.
“To see how it’s gone from scooping one muffin at a time to making millions of muffins a week is amazing,” he says. “I’ve seen it grow from a retail level to a wholesale level and go from a no-name product to a product that has weight in the marketplace.”
Brian, vice president and the middle son, agrees that the balance his father has achieved has made the difference. Brian heads management information systems (MIS) for the company.
“Technology has helped our company grow in size and in profit,” he explains. The company is in the process of implementing a full scale ERP software program called Microsoft Navision with Process-800 from VerticalSoft. This software will allow the company to integrate all aspects of information, including production, inventory, purchasing, quality control and accounting. Brian is planning for the company-wide system to go live by the end of this year.
The Premium Value Bakery
Clients know J.S.B. as a premium value bakery. Developing personal relationships with customers and vendors is important for business, an ideal the company takes very seriously.
“We pay a lot of attention to quality, and while we’re not a flawless company, if we have complaints we address them,” Jack Anderson says. “We don’t put them on the back burner. We address problems immediately with the customer and our quality control department. It’s something that has helped us grow and hopefully will continue to help us grow.”
Ann Luther, director of product development and quality control, notes, “That’s one of the things that Muffin Town is good at — I don’t know if that’s so common in a manufacturer. … Customers know they can come to us, and we’ll work with them to customize [product]. The whole team goes to work. Many manufacturers just make what they make. We have dozens of varieties or flavors, which came about because somebody wanted us to try something.”
For a company that produces and ships 100,000 cases of product a month, establishing a personal relationship with clients is no small feat. A lot of emphasis is placed on freshness even though the majority of the product is flash frozen. J.S.B.’s products even promote built-in convenience and flexibility with customers of thaw-and-serve products.
Safety has been put into practice in all areas of operation. J.S.B. has taken another sage saying from Aesop into account: “Look before you leap.” J.S.B.’s safety committee meets to discuss safety procedures and any issues that may have arisen during the week. A record is kept of all policies and procedures, and employees are trained accordingly.
“My father has always taught me to train the trainer the best,” Scott Anderson notes. “The employees will follow the rest, since actions speak louder than words. We try to find and train the right people to do the job. If they’re not the right people, we put them in a different spot to see where they might fit the best.”
J.S.B.’s philosophy is that quality starts with ingredients and how they are handled. “We have a strong commitment to sanitation and cleanliness,” Jack Anderson says. “We believe in the ‘clean as you go’ ideal, and while we have to sacrifice a little production time to do it, it needs to get done.”
Safety also has come into play where product strategies are concerned. For example, the company has taken precautions when dealing with today’s diet trends.
“Something that we’ve tried to do is not jump on every fad, but be aware of it,” Luther says. “Low-carb was worth investigating, and we developed a product to address it.”
J.S.B. definitely wants to stay proactive toward the health-conscious consumer and is currently in the process of developing healthier, fortified products. In fact, most of J.S.B.’s products have no trans fats or hydrogenated oils, which speaks to today’s hottest health concerns.
“The public is much more educated, and they know when something tastes good and when it’s healthy,” Luther explains. “We’re trying to be sensitive to their health needs and make the products taste good.”
Aesop once said that zeal should not outrun discretion, and J.S.B. is following suit, with product development procedures that keep children in mind throughout the process. J.S.B. stays sensitive to their needs in terms of product size, nutritional value and more importantly, taste.
A core market for the company is schools, making up 40% of its business, and as we know, children are honest. They won’t eat anything they don’t like. These days, there is a lot of concern surrounding childhood obesity and diabetes and promoting better nutritional options for children. J.S.B. recognizes these concerns and has developed their products accordingly.
“Nutrition is a big thing now,” Jack Anderson notes. “Everybody’s starting to pay attention to it, and it’s about time. I think the more the adults pay attention to it, the more they pass it on to their children. It starts with diet and nutrition — we look at all of the ingredients and spend a lot of time examining them because we want to pass something on that’s very nutritious for children.”
In going to greater lengths, J.S.B. has turned its attention to fortified baked products bringing in an outside company to assist in the formulation of a special blend of vitamins and minerals that meet certain requirements of school foodservice programs for children. The blend is incorporated directly into J.S.B.’s batches, resulting in the development of a whole new program centered on fortified products.
“It’s working out very well,” Jack Anderson says. “A national school foodservice program was implemented just this year, so this is the first year for [fortified products]. We’ll have to take it further now.”
Jack Courtney, sales director and the presiding Mayor of Muffin Town, stresses the importance of J.S.B.’s new FinishLine Fortified Muffins created originally for children and school systems. The muffins are fortified with more than 10 vitamins and minerals and have no trans fats. Courtney says the muffins are produced for school foodservice programs throughout the United States and are fueling strong growth in existing accounts and new markets nationwide.
“It’s [about] paying attention to what’s going on in school systems,” says Courtney, who was elected “Mayor” by school foodservice directors at the 2004 National School Food Service show. “No one else has a fortified muffin line, and we believe that it is wise to create a product line that is both unique and more nutritious for schoolchildren.”
Courtney adds that J.S.B. will keep expanding its bakery program and work with reformulations to keep fat levels down and boost nutrition and flavor.
“Bottom line is that if the kids don’t like the [products], then it doesn’t matter — it’s not going to work in the market,” Courtney says. “Our fortified and our traditional products have to taste good, and they do.”
Courtney expects ongoing success for the company, which he foresees doubling its business within the next three to four years.
“It’s the right products at the right time,” he explains. “Just like the fact that our fortified muffins are a home run for schools, they are also proving to be very important in health care, where it is compelling to offer acceptable products like muffins that are packed with good nutrition. In this environment, the goal is to feed seniors and residents in nursing homes with limited appetites. The more nutrition that can be provided the better.”
The company’s aim is to create healthier products not only for schoolchildren and health care, but for adults and families too.
“We intend to be a player,” Courtney says. “We’d like to be one of the bakery companies creating and initiating healthy products and working directly with chains to provide what they want to market.”
The company is exploring these opportunities under its Muffin Town and Aesop’s Bagels brands, by developing private-label products and an expansion of co-packing with other companies.
The Muffins You Love to Munch
In 2001, J.S.B. invested heavily in a brand new semi-automated plant with a 9,000-sq.-ft. freezer and more than 40,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space. The plant has three muffin lines that are about 90% automated, with one main line that produces more than 100,000 lbs. of product per week. Muffins are produced 24 hours a day over three eight-hour shifts.
Batter goes into a 140-qt. mixer, where it is mixed for 5 to 10 minutes with temperature-controlled water. From there, the muffin batter is dropped into a 160-qt. depositor. The depositor portions out the batter into muffin pans, which hold about 24 muffins depending on their size. The pans travel by conveyor through an 80-ft. tunnel oven to bake for roughly 20 to 45 minutes depending on batch size. This line is also used for the company’s best-selling Cornbread and cake-type products such as Snack n’ Loaves and more.
Finished muffins travel on a conveyor through an impingement cooler that literally sucks the heat off the pans, leaving them cool to the touch. The muffins move along on a loader to a 750-ft. cooling conveyor that takes the product around the entire facility once, then directly to the packaging room, where the bagels also are packed. The cooling process takes anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes and muffins are packaged accordingly.
There are three packaging lines — two individual wrap lines that have the ability to bag 260 units per minute or 350 units when both are running simultaneously. The bulk line can pack 18 to 30 packages per minute.
After passing through the metal detector, products move to final inspection. Products are cased, sealed and labeled with tracking information. Cases are then palletized and flash frozen in the freezer where they are organized by order and prepared for distribution in climate-controlled trucks.
Once muffins are removed from the pans for packaging, empty pans are placed on another conveyor leading to the dishwasher and dryer to end up back at the beginning of the line.
Employees continuously run weight checks and inspect for quality and appearance. Imperfect products are thrown away or donated to local charities.
The World’s Most Fabled Bagel
Aesop’s Bagels struggled with the challenges of rapid growth from a manufacturing point of view. A key element of added value came once J.S.B.’s Muffin Town took over the Aesop’s operation about three years ago. In the words of Aesop, “It is wise to turn circumstances to good account.”
As Jim Taber, the director of bagel operations, says, “I think it’s a symbolic cornerstone of success in terms of this company’s growth. There was immediate product and brand synergy. But what Muffin Town brought was the manufacturing expertise in order to produce a high quality product efficiently, grow the business and meet the demands of growth.
“We began [Aesop’s] with really wanting to distinguish ourselves,” he adds. “Along those lines we created a brand identity that we thought would work especially well for children and young adults; and that would also have an educational component to it.”
Emphasis also was placed on taste and texture. J.S.B. produces a rustic-looking, old-world bagel product that’s crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside.
“We attempt to delight the customer with a large variety of innovative and unique flavors that would make them stand out and become something more than the donuts-and-coffee thing,” Taber explains.
Coming up with the name proved to be interesting. A construction worker who was part of the founding group brought his child along with him to a brainstorming meeting. While the adults took care of business, the child read books to stay entertained. One of these books was “Aesop’s Fables.” The group had found its name.
“It immediately resonated,” Taber notes, “because we had the concept we wanted to create and a brand that was fun and whimsical. To distinguish itself in the marketplace, the name just made sense. The idea was that we could incorporate the fables into our business as metaphors for life, the way that we run our business and how we sell product.”
Aesop’s fables, such as “The Tortoise and the Hare,” are incorporated as metaphors for life as well as explanations of how J.S.B. does business and moves its product in the marketplace. And that explanation is simple, Taber says.
“Slow and steady but always ready — that’s how we make our bagels. We make them slowly, we give them personal attention and lots of love, but they’re always hot and ready and available to everyone,” he notes.
The bagels have met with great success in schools, colleges, universities and foodservice programs. With a wide assortment to choose from, ranging from chocolate chip, apple-cinnamon streusel, sun-dried tomato basil and even a donut bagel to the stand-by poppyseed, sesame and cinnamon raisin favorites, young people appreciate the sense of whimsy coupled with educational elements. And that was a segue into the foodservice segment of the business.
The company uses a module program, aimed at smaller retailers. According to Taber, small bagel retailers used to rely on commissaries to manufacture their bagels. The marketplace has evolved in such a way that retailers find it exceedingly difficult to also be manufacturers. J.S.B. has filled a niche in that area, producing high-quality raw bagel dough for these small bagel retailers to bake in their own stores, eliminating the worries surrounding labor and self-manufacturing costs.
Bagel production starts with dough going into three 300-qt. mixers that knead 300 to 350 lbs. of dough. In order to make the dough, flour is pumped from a silo directly into the mixers and water is added in metered quantities. The dough is mixed at 75°F for about 18 minutes at varied speeds.
Finished dough is then dropped into a chute and then into a chunker. It goes from the chunker to the divider and from there to a former, where the dough is formed into the familiar bagel rings. The line produces 10,000 bagels per hour in 2.5-oz., 4-oz. and 4.5-oz. sizes.
During SF&WB’s visit, highly popular French toast bagels were in full production.
From the former, the dough is lightly sprayed with water then passes through a waterfall dispenser where it gets a cornmeal shower. Toppings, for an “Everything” bagel for example, are delivered through a separate waterfall dispenser.
The bagels are then indexed, 15 units to a tray, 30 to 36 trays to a rack. Racks of bagels are wheeled into a proofer, where they stay from 20 to 40 minutes at a temperature of 100°F. The proofer is kept at 80% humidity, to keep the product pliable.
After proofing, the bagels are moved to the retarder. Scott Anderson says that the longer the bagels stay in the retarder the better, because the longer the yeast ferments, the better the finished bagels taste. Bagels typically remain in the retarder for six to 18 hours.
From there, it’s back to the proofer, where the bagels are brought back to room temperature. Afterward, they are steamed for 20 seconds for shine. Bagels are rolled into rack ovens that bake them for 14 minutes at 500°F. When finished, the bagels are cooled for 45 to 60 minutes.
Bulk bagels are flash frozen and packaged whole. Sliced or bagged bagels are moved to the packaging area where they are packed in six-pack sleeves and frozen in cases. Case counts vary depending on bagel size. Cases pass through metal detection systems, are labeled, then palletized. From there, they are moved to a holding freezer, where they will await their ship date and time.
The bagel process currently is about 50% automated. Scott Anderson explained that the bagel line will be 70-100% automated in the next five years, due to a new 8,000-sq.-ft. addition to the facility, complete with a new bagel bagger and other equipment.
A new filling room will be part of the addition. As J.S.B. looks to develop new products such as filled bagels, producing various cream cheese, pizza and fruit fillings is a practice the company would like to continue.
“We make a lot of our own fillings right here that we use for our own bakery needs,” Jack Anderson explains. “That filling business is something we might take into the wholesale end of it. A lot of bakeries buy fillings from companies, and we have a brand name called Bakin’s Cupboard. It’s all bakery related items — fillings, icings, streusels — all products we use.”
The new filling room will accommodate a number of large kettles and other equipment necessary for producing Bakin’s Cupboard fillings in greater volume.
Overall, the addition will be two stories with floor-to-ceiling rack storage and a full-scale bagel production area including a conveyor traveling to the packaging room. The need for storage is intense, since the company is growing at such a pace that it’s running out of room.
Fillings will be produced in the upper story and packaging will take over the first story. Two additional loading docks will be added.
As the company works to move its offerings to another level, Jack Anderson puts plans into place for making research and development practices more efficient and as cost-effective as possible for both the client and the company.
“Sales have always been an area where we’ve been careful so that we’re not getting a big, big, big customer that all of a sudden we can’t produce for,” Jack Anderson says. “We pay a lot of attention to that, and as such, we’ve been able to hold a large customer base.”
J.S.B. does not have one large customer to buy up all of its volume. Rather, the company works with 500 smaller customers. No customer is too small, and Jack Anderson explains that J.S.B. operates on a service basis in a community setting, differentiating it from any other company in its field.
“[Bigger companies] run one product that’s on their automated lines, and we’re able to make five different products,” Jack Anderson says. “It takes away from production a little bit, but yet it’s best for the customer, and we’re able to [retain] our customers a lot longer. That’s a plus of being a service company.”
Taber agrees: “A customer can literally pick up the phone and ask for a certain product and we immediately get to work, get on the phone, and in a day or so, we have our ingredients suppliers sitting around the conference table with our packaging supplier and our R&D team. Then we begin to get to work on product development,” he says.
That’s exactly why J.S.B. works so closely with its customers. The more time spent finding out what exactly their product goals are, the more time and energy saved in the long term, ultimately producing a finished product that will promote customer satisfaction.
As J.S.B. moves into its happily ever after, with plans for expansion, thoughts of putting down roots in other cities, and even creating partnerships with other companies, the moral of the story is clear. Aesop once said, “The value is in the worth, not in the number.” J.S.B.’s commitment to its company performance, consistent product quality and most of all, customer service have made it a kingdom to be admired as it continues to take slow and steady steps, never looking back.