CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind.-Considering that they don’t accept a drop of milk, the team at Kroger’s Pace Dairy plant knows a lot about cheese quality.

CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind.-Considering that they don’t accept a drop of milk, the team at Kroger’s Pace Dairy plant knows a lot about cheese quality. Where this plant really excels is in the area of producing cuts and shreds that meet the high expectations of Kroger’s retailers and consumers.

Mold is public enemy No. 1 at any cut and wrap facility. Thanks to Kroger Dairy Group’s continuous improvement the team at Pace Dairy has found ways to reduce customer comment on mold, and it has taken some of what it learned upstream to suppliers.

“We’ve been able to reduce mold comment by 50%,” says Mike Nosewicz, v.p. of dairy manufacturing east. 

“One of the keys was to reduce the amount of incoming mold on the 640 lb blocks from our suppliers. We worked with our suppliers, sending them digital photos to give them a better idea of where the mold was forming and why.  Our thought process was to eliminate the mold spores coming into our operation.” 

The Pace plant’s general mgr. Doug Harp pointed out some of the other efforts that helped the plant make improvements when he gave Dairy Foods a tour of the facility recently.

“The crates that contain the 640 lb blocks have to be disassembled before they are shipped back for refurbishing and re-use,” says Harp as he points to an area where the wooden slats and spring-loaded covers are being disassembled.  “We actually had to dedicate this staging area for that when we did a reconfiguration, and we’re very careful now to make sure that, as much as possible, this is done away from the unwrapped cheese.”

Safety first

Like all Kroger plants, Pace puts safety first. In fact Pace Dairy is one of three Kroger dairy plants that have been recognized for safety this year by IDFA. The plant has also been recognized with a double Superior Safety and Sanitation Award for ten consecutive years. For overall performance in the areas of safety, product quality and efficiency, the Pace Plant has won Kroger’s Presidents Award in 2000-2002. It has also been recognized internally for process reliability.

There is a specific safety program that Kroger uses and it works, says Jeff Brooks, who heads the safety team at Pace.

“We’ve been in this for eight years, and it’s really put us on the cutting edge,” Brooks says.

“Safety is based on experience,” adds Harp “We have a safety TIR of about one, and we are very proud of that. It is a major accomplishment by our great people.”

Like the neighboring Crossroad Farms plant in Indianapolis, the Pace plant achieves employee buy-in through team building. Home Teams ensure that objectives are achieved through the same scorecard system used at other Kroger plants.

Cheese is delivered to the Crawfordsville plant in blocks ranging in size from 20 lbs to 640 lbs., and in barrels. It is graded and stored in a 36,000 sq ft refrigerated warehouse. The plant employs the only certified cheese graders in Indiana, whose work determines which cheese blocks will be directed toward what particular products. Because natural cheese has some natural variability, some blocks of the same cheese might be better for slicing than others, for instance.

Robotic tools help employees load the blocks onto cutting machines, which begin the process of cutting the blocks down to slabs, loaves, and beyond. 

Harp says the natural shredded and sliced cheese business has been trending upward and the plant has responded in recent years by adding capacity. But he also notes the Nice n’ Cheesy has been a star product for Kroger and continues to do well.   N

Pace Dairy Plant Facts

Built: 1982

Employees: 250

Output: 80 million lbs a year and growing

Footprint: 148,000 sq ft

Products: Natural slices, shreds, chunks, cubes, deli loaves and processed slices and loaves