Hitting The Sweet Spot
By Dan Malovany

Harlan Bakeries recently finished outfitting a state-of-the-art, 160,000-sq.-ft. plant with three pie lines and a cookie and muffin operation. What’s next? How about further automation and even more expansion?

For Jim Kyger, whose family bakery had been producing pies for more than 30 years, life was as sweet as it can be … at least in the baking industry. While the competition was pushing production and racing to the limits, Kyger ran his 45,000-sq.-ft. bakery in Lafayette, Ind., at his own pace.
“He only ran one shift of production,” notes Hugh Harlan, president of Harlan Bakeries. “He ran 8 hours a day. That’s all he was going to do, and he was happy with it.”
In 2000, Harlan Bakeries purchased Kyger, which specialized in crème and meringue pies, but also produced some brownies and angel food cake for a limited customer base. With the new owner, life in the sleepy bakery picked up in a hurry.
“We had the vision to go in there and run three shifts, which we did within a year,” Harlan recalls. “We sold the facility out.”
What Harlan Bakeries did was successfully penetrate the in-store bakery market, sell pies into the foodservice channel and pick up some contract-manufacturing customers who were seeking the sweet goods that the old Kyger plant produced.
Additionally, there were perfect synergies with Harlan Bakery’s joint venture with Apple Valley Foods of Kentville, Nova Scotia. Kyger’s line of crème and meringue pies nicely complemented the fruit pies made by the Canadian operations.
“We were able to take the crème and meringue pies to our existing customer base, and it grew faster than we expected,” Harlan says. “We thought we would be able to ramp up sales and it would take us a couple years to get a couple shifts, but within six months, we were so out of capacity. We were saying, ‘Uh, oh. What did we do?’”
Initially, Harlan Bakeries explored automating the process and expanding in Lafayette, where production was semi-automated, with all of the components of the pies made in batches. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough square footage around the landlocked facility to add a state-of-the-art makeup system and a longer tunnel oven to drive capacity in the long run.
Instead, the company turned its attention to Indianapolis, and why not? From its headquarters in Avon, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis, Lafayette is a 90-minute drive by car. After a short search of commercial property nearby, Harlan Bakeries found a paper trimming plant that is only 20 minutes from its headquarters and perfectly fits its needs for today, as well as for the future.
“The big key is that we have 34 acres there with the building, so we have plenty of room for expansion,” Harlan says.
It’s a good thing Harlan Bakeries has the extra room. Even before the plant was fully operational, the company added on to the facility, which now stands at 160,000 sq. ft. The bakery added two 110,000-lb. flour silos, as well as bulk tanks for soy and fructose. It also recently installed a kettle system for precooking its fruit fillings. On the contrary, its Canadian bakery uses uncooked fruit fillings as its preferred process.
More than 25 products are made at the Indianapolis bakery; the facility houses two baked pie lines, one with an 80-ft. tunnel oven and the other with an 85-ft. oven. Both lines can produce between 60 and 100 pies a minute, depending on the product. They also produce a variety of thaw-and-sell, sugar-free crème cakes, which come in banana nut, chocolate and lemon flavors. Other cake products include sliced crème cakes, sugar-free sliced crème cakes and white, lemon and strawberry angel food cakes. During Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s visit this summer, the bakery was making French vanilla loaf cake.
In addition, the facility has a spin crust line that produces products such as a key lime pie with a graham cracker crust and chocolate silk with a crumbled cookie crust. In addition to crème pies, the line cranks out Kyger’s signature meringue pies. Line speeds range from 70 to 80 pieces a minute, again depending on the complexity of the product. Overall, the bakery is running three shifts on its cake lines and two to three shifts on its other ones.
Unlike producing bagels, which Harlan Bakeries is an expert at, pie production can be more complicated, especially on those products that have a lot of components. In addition, placing cakes in upscale dome packaging often requires some manual labor before the packages are shrink-wrapped and automatically case-packed.
“We’ve had to do a lot of tying of systems together to automate the process,” Harlan explains. “Not only are you baking the crusts, you’re filling them and then topping them and then sending them through packaging. There’s a lot of timing that goes into the process. There are also a lot of moving parts here, unlike when we’re producing bagels.”
For product safety and consistency, all desserts are check-weighed and released for distribution, but only after microbiological testing. In addition, the bakery has installed X-ray machines to check for both metal and non-metal pieces in the product.
In many ways, the Indianapolis plant is the company’s U.S. sweet goods operation. Harlan Bakeries moved its muffin and cookie lines from its Avon facility to this facility not only to consolidate all sweet goods production under one roof, but to also free up much-needed space at its flagship plant, which produces between 2.5 and 3 million bagels a day, plus other contract manufactured products. The plant also has rack ovens for short-run items, two spiral freezers and a spiral cooler.
Expect more capital investments to come soon for its sweet goods operation. In the packaging area, Harlan Bakeries is adding more casepackers, and it’s looking to add a robotic palletizer to streamline the warehouse operations.
As for expanding the plant once again, that’s in the works, as well.
“I’ve already been working on drawing up the plans for the next project that we’ll be working on,” Harlan says.
Adding more capacity. That’s a sweet situation to be in.