ORRVILLE, Ohio-In the Buckeye State and neighboring markets, Ruggles premium brand ice cream is well known, and is closely associated with its maker Smith Dairy Products Inc., a family-owned independent based in Orrville.

ORRVILLE, Ohio-In the Buckeye State and neighboring markets, Ruggles premium brand ice cream is well known, and is closely associated with its maker Smith Dairy Products Inc., a family-owned independent based in Orrville. All Ruggles packed ice cream sold in the region comes from a facility across from Smith's milk plant in Orrville. It's a facility that was built in 1989 shortly after the acquisition of Ruggles ice cream by Smith Dairy. The Ruggles name came from another family owned business.

"Herb Ruggles' family had a very successful local ice cream business in Sandusky, Ohio," explains Bill McCabe, Smith Dairy's v.p. of ice cream. "This plant was built to accommodate the production of the Smith and Ruggles ice cream lines, and Herb came to work here after the Ruggles merger."

Ruggles became the premium brand in Smith's lineup, joining the Smith brand. Herb Ruggles became the director of the ice cream making operation, and after he passed away in 1996, a plaque was installed near the entrance to the ice cream facility in memory of Herb Ruggles.

That plant has undergone a series of upgrades throughout its 17-year life, among the latest are the installation of a brand new bulk filler, the incorporation of a new can former that allows Smith to use metal-free 3 gal bulk cans, and an upgrade to a vision system that helps to provide allergen control through traceability.

Smith Dairy is a third-generation family company that was founded in 1909 by John and Peter Schmid. It has been a member of Quality Chekd Dairies since 1947, and Steve Schmid has served as President since 1986.

Smith Dairy has three brands-Ruggles, the premium ice cream line; Smith's, a full line of fresh dairy products; and Moovers, a line of long life flavored milks, shakes and eggnogs. The company operates three manufacturing facilities, each with a different focus. The original dairy manufactures all lines of fresh pasteurized dairy products in the Smith's line. A UHT facility in Richmond, Ind., produces the Moovers products and some ice cream mix. The ice cream plant produces all of the company's packaged ice cream including the Smith's line. It also produces ice cream and soft serve mix. Novelties are manufactured through a co-packer.

At Smith Dairy's ice cream plant, a new can forming system utilizes a plastic rim, eliminating all metal in 3-gal cans.

Downtown plants

Orrville has just about 8,500 inhabitants, but in addition to the Smith plants, it is also the headquarters of the J.M. Smucker Co., and it is thought that there are more day-time employees in the town than there are residents.

Some of Smith Dairy's marketing refers to the company as "The Dairy in the Country," and while Orrville is indeed in a rural part of Ohio, the dairy facilities are actually in downtown Orrville.

The oldest part of the dairy plant was first built in 1920. Once the small footprint was filled, the company began building up. Like many older facilities it has a lot of charm and it reflects a lot of ingenuity, with different areas having been re-purposed over the years. Smith Dairy is one of a handful of companies that have been successful in using a yellow milk jug to protect against light damage and the yellow jugs are blow molded on site.

Ice cream mix is also processed in the dairy plant and pumped across the street through an overhead pipeline to the ice cream facility. There it is stored in one of six refrigerated pasteurized mix silos which have a total capacity of 45,000 gals.

Smith's 14,500 sq ft ice cream plant includes four packaging lines for half-gal squares, squrounds, 5-qt pails and 3-gal bulk cans. The plant runs seven days a week and around the clock during peak production periods. There are 22 associates in the ice cream plant, and about 500 company-wide.

"It's a very hygienic plant," McCabe says. "There are steel plates under the floor, and it may be one of the only plants that runs a CIP in the floor drains. We've also switched to misters rather than foot baths."

Once the base mix is stored, it is ready for flavor mixing and production. Recipes are stored on a data base system and called up according to the day's production, with nut flavors and other allergen containing recipes being scheduled last in a production run.

Each of the four lines has its own blending system and freezers. The plant uses two WCB Ice Cream 1,200 gal freezers and one 800 gal. freezer, to feed two or three lines simultaneously.

A vision scanning system scans, photographs and records the flavor of each ice cream package to protect against inconsistent packages.

Better vision

Line No. 1 fills half gal squares with an Anderson/APV filler. Once the cartons are formed and filled, each passes through a vision system that was first installed three years ago and upgraded this year. It scans specific sections of the graphics on the carton so that it can look for misplaced cartons during a run.

"It's a Banner brand high speed camera that we purchased through our local distributor and we elaborated on it ourselves," says Jeff Facemire, ice cream maintenance supervisor at Smith. "We basically learned the software and applied it to our needs."

In ice cream plants, one of the biggest threats to allergen control is the possibility that a product containing nuts, or eggs might inadvertently end up in the wrong container. If a Cookies and Cream carton is somehow wedged into a shipment of Butter Pecan Cartons it could get filled with Butter Pecan ice cream. If it were sold to an unsuspecting customer who's allergic to nuts, the results could be devastating.

Smith Dairy has implemented a photo vision system to ensure that only ice cream in the correct package leaves the plant.

A monitor provides traceability, which is particularly important for avoiding allergen contamination.

The system is set up to notify operators of an inconsistency and it records each package so that after an incident the exact number of cartons can be determined and they can be located. It also can be tied into a reject station.

"The camera is given an address on our network and is accessed by our PC in the shop," Facemire says. "The camera is loaded daily with the days run from our stored inspections on our PC hard drive. We wired inputs from our plant computer system to select a flavor from the camera's preloaded memory, and we wired our own outputs to a reject station."

Individual squares are shrink wrapped and code dated and then bundled in packs of six before being sent to hardening. All packages are run through a metal detector.

The vision system is also used on line No. 2, the squround line that is used for packaging the premium Ruggles brand.

"This system is a bit more complicated in that we have to scan both the container and the lid," says Karl Kelbly, production mgr.

This line runs off one of the 1,200 gal. freezers and fills with a WCB filler. Once the 56 oz. paper packages are filled, a tamper evidence band is heat applied. The individual squrounds are then code dated and bundled in six packs before being sent to the hardening room.

In March a new efficient bulk can filler was installed. Smith Dairy does a good deal of bulk business with foodservice clients.

Bulking up

The plant runs two bulk packages of 5 quart and 3 gal. Five-quart plastic pails are filled on line No. 3 using a TD Sawvel filler. Each pail is shrink wrapped and code dated after tamper evidence seals are applied. They are then bundled in packs of two.

Line No. 4 fills 3-gal cans on a TD Sawvel filler that was installed in March after Kelbly saw it demonstrated at Worldwide Food Expo.

"This machine really does a nice job," he says. "Most bulk fillers go from a 4-inch tube to a wide filling nozzle, but this is more tapered, so it really operates much more smoothly and you get a really nice swirl on the variegates."

Inventory is kept to a minimum with product moving quickly to customer distribution centers.

A big change on the 3 gal bulk cans is the use of a new can that uses a plastic ring on the rim for structural integrity. Ordinarily this is accomplished with a metal rim, but suppliers are beginning to offer the plastic solution.

"This not only allows us to use a metal detection system for bulk cans, but it adds a lot in terms of safety on the user end," McCabe notes. "In most dipping shops you have teenagers scooping the ice cream, and after repeated use, the metal rims can get damaged and the kids can get nicked."

Smith served as a test plant for its supplier and the new can former was installed last October. Another improvement is that Smith is now able to provide a re-closeable plastic lid to food-service customers, which makes for a nice selling point.

After product is filled, it is bundled, code dated and sent to a tri-tray hardener.

All products at the Smith ice cream plant are sent to a tri-tray hardener before being palletized and put into storage. Onsite storage features a narrow aisle manned crane system. Space is limited so most product spends no more than a week on site. Some off-site storage is utilized, and Smith ships a large amount of its product to the distribution centers of its retail customers.

An expanded distribution center attached to the corporate offices on the outskirts of Orrville was completed in 2005.

Sidebar: Smith Dairy Vendors

  • APV Westfalia Separators
  • Banner
  • Berry Plastics
  • Burd & Fletcher
  • Pecan Deluxe
  • Seal-It
  • TD Sawvel
  • Tetra Pak
  • D. Thomas & Associates
  • Virginia Dare
  • WCB Ice Cream

Sidebar: Smith Plant Produces a Quality Line Up

Smith Dairy's ice cream plant produces a broad line of packed ice cream products that includes Smith's products in squares, Ruggles® in Squrounds and other package configurations, 5 quart pails under the Whale-of-a-Pail brand, and Ruggles branded 3 gal cans for foodservice.

The Smith's brand features nearly 20 flavors including year round favorites like Toasted Almond Crunch and seasonals like Orange Pineapple.

Ruggles products include loads of inclusions and variegates, and the line includes flavors such as Peanut Butter Crunch, and Oreo® Cookie Treasure. There is also a line of Denali Alaskan Classics in the Ruggles lineup.

A new flavor, Grandma Ruggles® Blueberry Pie was introduced in April to coincide with National Blueberry Pie Day, April 28.

"Since introducing the Grandma Ruggles rotational pie ice cream flavors in 2000, consumers eagerly await their seasonal favorite," said Bill McCabe, v.p. of ice cream.

The Blueberry Pie flavor, with a vanilla-flavored ice cream with a blueberry swirl and pie crust pieces, joins Lemon Meringue Pie, Peach Pie, Apple Pie, and Pumpkin Pie. Each flavor is available, in rotation, for a limited run.

"Blueberry Pie should do well, especially with the inclusion of blueberries on the list of super-healthy, good-for-you foods," said McCabe.

The Whale-of-a-Pail lineup includes popular flavors like Vanilla and Chocolate, Neapolitan and 50/50 flavors like Vanilla/Chocolate and Vanilla/Orange Sherbet.

The Ruggles bulk can lineup includes limited edition flavors like Cotton Candy, Blue Moon and Pumpkin, as well as frozen yogurt and No-Sugar-Added flavors.

In April, Smith rolled out seven new treats in its Ruggles® frozen novelties line. Marketing Mgr. Penny Baker said that the company expanded its novelty offerings to 16 in response to rising consumer demand.

"Over the past three years, we've seen a surge in our Ruggles novelties sales," said Baker. "Novelties are the shining star of the frozen dessert category."

Baker credits the trend to the convenience of retail multi-packs of individually-wrapped treats. She said too that they appeal to those concerned with weight management or healthy eating.

"With Ruggles novelties, they can find a treat to suit any need and taste, from weight-reduction-appropriate to super-indulgent, and they'll always know how it fits into their diets," she said.

Some of the seven new Ruggles novelties include Round Top Sundae Cones, Neapolitan Sandwiches, Strawberry