With its current production facility quickly maxing out on capacity, Ozery’s Pita Break prepares for the
future by starting up a new 90,000-sq.-ft. plant later this year.
By Dan Malovany
When Alon Ozery and his father decided to begin wholesale production of pita bread a dozen years ago, they knew they had something special.
They just didn’t understand what they were doing at that time.
“We leased a 4,000-sq.-ft. bakery, bought used equipment and did not know anything about commercial baking,” recalls Alon, co-president with his brother Guy at Ozery’s Pita Break in Toronto. “All we knew was how to make pitas at home and at the sandwich shop. Back home, we always had fresh pita breads for every family event and that’s where the special recipe came from. It was handed down from our grandmother to our aunt to us.”
Certainly, the product quality was fine, but there was that little nagging issue called “making money” that eluded them.
Fortunately, someone showed them the way.
“At a certain point, we had a supplier of equipment who believed in our product who said, ‘You know, guys, I’m willing to finance the automation of your line. I believe in your product. I’m a little slow right now so let me build the line, and you can pay in installments,’” Alon says.
The rest was history. Well, almost.
Riding the popularity of its all-natural, whole grain products, Ozery’s Pita Break expanded again and again until Alon and Guy moved into their current 40,000-sq.-ft. facility five years ago.
Guy, who oversaw the startup of the plant mostly by himself, logged endless hours of on-the-job training and worked with the general contractor to transform the former warehouse into a food facility that’s certified for Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points and houses three pita lines as well as a lavash cracker operation.
“I think the biggest thing that we offer is product innovation with automation,” Guy says. “By taking automation and combining it with innovation, it proved to be a winning combination.”
Alon adds that the company focuses not only about automation, but also on producing high-quality products.
“It’s [a] little labor-intensive, especially in the packaging area, but it’s worth the extra effort to have someone check each product to make sure it’s up to our standards,” he says.
Today, with the existing bakery operating 24 hours a day and six to seven days a week, the company is spending $5 to $10 million to start up a second 90,000-sq.-ft. operation. Unlike in the past when the Ozerys ramped up production on their own, the company hired an engineer to oversee the proper renovation of the building and to fulfill their “wish list” that anticipates the business’ needs over the next few years.
“We’re making sure that everything from the drains to the walls to the floor to everything there is up to par,” Guy says.
This fall, Alon notes, they expect to install the first line, which will produce the company’s new OneBun line, which is comprised of three varieties of extra-thin, whole grain buns that can be used to make everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to sandwiches, paninis and even French toast.
By the end of the year, it also plans to add a cracker line to bolster production of crispy, multigrain lavash flatbreads. Production at its existing facility will remain intact as the expansion goes on. That way, the $30 million company also will have enough storage space at the two facilities to accompany future new growth and go to market with new products.
“We now know how to design a facility to accommodate everything that we need for the next few years,” Alon says. “With the larger plant, we have the opportunity to triple our sales.”
Built for Versatility
At the current plant, the packaging crew operates on three, eight-hour shifts a day while production personnel work on 12-hour shifts, which allows them to have three days off each week, Guy notes.
When the bakery opened a few years ago, only 40% of sales went to whole wheat varieties. Now, Guy says, whole wheat products account for 80% of the plant’s volume.
“Over the years, the ingredients used to make whole wheat products make them taste much better,” he says. “We’re now producing higher quality and better-flavored products that are all natural, and many of them are made with whole grains as well.”
Whole wheat flour is stored in a 53,000-lb. silo while a separate 37,400-lb. silo holds white flour.
Because of the number of different products it produces, most whole grains, including spelt, flaxseed and others, come in 50-lb. bags. Some minor ingredients, like all-natural honey, feed the lines from 3,000-lb. totes.
The bakery uses two dedicated spiral mixers to feed each of the three pita lines. Typically, batches weigh no more than 440 lb. to ensure quality and product consistency. Additionally, most products rely on ferment from a liquid leaven system, which creates the sponge in about four to six hours to add flavor and shelf life to the all-natural products. Ozery Pita Break never uses additives, preservatives, artificial flavors or dough conditioners in its products.
As the bakery has expanded production over the years, it has improved its operational efficiencies as well. The first two lines were custom designed using a combination of modified and existing equipment. The fastest or third line, Guy points out, currently produces about 10,000 pitas per hour and is designed with an enclosed natural gas tunnel oven that is about 90% more energy efficient than the previous two lines.
In the new plant, Alon adds, the company will use a combination of custom-modified and existing equipment.
Nobody touches the dough from the moment it is mixed until the pitas, OneBun items or flatbreads reach the packaging area, he adds.
After passing through a piston divider, the dough pieces pass through a rounder before receiving an ambient, intermediate proof. The dough pieces pass down chutes, much like in a tortilla line, and simultaneously drop down onto the conveyor before traveling on multi-length finger conveyors that align the symmetrical doughballs onto a third conveyor and into two sheeters.
During the process, the pieces are docked to release gas during the proofing and baking process. The pitas are then baked on a steel-belted oven.
“We have very high heat because we want to bake the outside, but maintain the softness on the inside,” Alon says.
After about 30 minutes in spiral coolers, the products head to the packaging department. Because the products are all natural, packaging operators wear plastic gloves.
“It’s all sterile here out of the oven because the all-natural products have no preservatives or mold inhibitors,” Guy notes.
Here, packaging operators inspect all products. Quality assurance personnel also score products prior to shipping.
“We will never automate this part of the process completely because we need people to visibly inspect every product prior to packaging,” Alon says.
The products then are bagged and receive metal detection until they’re placed in baskets for local delivery or cartoned, palletized and shipped.
The fourth line produces crackers, which are sheeted out like lavash and cut into triangles prior to baking for 30 minutes in one of the eight rack ovens.
“This product is very dense,” Guy says. “It’s not a water-based product. It’s a grain-based cracker so it doesn’t bake quickly for one minute like with a water-based cracker.”
The new facility, he adds, will allow Ozery’s Pita Break to produce a greater amount of pitas, flatbread and crackers more efficiently. During the past year, however, the bakery also installed additional PLCs and software to streamline production in its current operation. Specifically, the company has started a “war on waste” to monitor and minimize product rejects, reduce waste and improve production volume.
Going forward, Alon says, the bakery plans to focus on obtaining greater efficiencies as it pushes the envelop on innovation.
“We have spent a lot of time figuring out how to produce pitas in the most efficient way to accommodate different sizes and to get the quality that we want,” he notes.
To do that, Ozery’s Pita Break needs to continually break the rules when it comes to innovation and perpetually break new ground in area of automation.
Editor’s Note: Go to www.snackandbakery.com to read about the latest in equipment technology.