Md. & Va. Milk Producers keeps former Giant Food plant on cutting edge to serve key East Coast market. 

With the area in and around Washington, D.C., abuzz as our nation prepares to swear in its new president, it’s routine business as usual for a major milk bottling operation barely a mile outside the capitol.

“This was probably the most technologically advanced of our plants at the time of the acquisition,” Jan tenPas, director of finance and operations for fluid operations at the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, says of the plant in Landover, Md., that the organization acquired from Royal Ahold’s Giant Food LLC in March 2006. The longtime supplier of raw milk to the plant when it was owned by the supermarket chain, Maryland & Virginia continues to exclusively serve Giant Food stores from this facility, now known as Marva Maid Landover LLC. The plant produces, packages and delivers more than 30 million gallons of fluid product annually to Giant grocery stores in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan area.

“Operationally the acquisition was pretty transparent; we lost no personnel,” Landover general manager Joseph Milazzo says. “One of the biggest changes was going from a dedicated transport service [Giant’s truck fleet] to a third-party service.”

The plant’s history is a study in streamlining operations and efficiency. Giant Food opened the plant in November 1969 to ensure a supply of high-quality dairy products to its expanding retail grocery store network. Initially, the plant produced a variety of fluid and cultured products including flavored milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream and dips. Over the years, the facility rationalized its product line to focus on high-volume fluid milk and beverage products. Landover’s current output includes white milk (whole, 2%, 1% and skim), bottled water and fruit drinks.

The facility’s expansion and system improvements have been driven by management’s strategy of efficiently producing and delivering a relatively small number of high-volume SKUs.

In 1984, the plant added blow-molding operations to manufacture plastic gallon and half-gallon milk bottles. In 1989, the plant expanded its storage and warehousing capacity, adding an AWA Kone automated storage and retrieval system.

In 1994, a Kline computerized process control system, customized for Landover’s specific needs, was installed to monitor processing activity from raw receiving to packaging and to integrate production, warehousing and shipping systems. With software upgrades in 2000 and 2002, the Kline system’s next major upgrade is scheduled for early 2009 and will include recently released Web-based data collection and reporting tools to ensure compliance with the latest Pasteurized Milk Ordinance requirements for electronic data collection.

“It’s a very user-friendly system, a simple design,” plant manager LeGrande “Shot” Hudson says of the set-up that’s accessed via desktop PCs and PLCs, with easy-to-follow on-screen file names for every stage of receiving and production, including all data for incoming tankers, flow rates, temperatures and CIP systems.

Process controls are accessed through terminals, or “nodes,” throughout the plant. “The system has internal security by department,” Hudson says, explaining that no department has control over any other, except for the lab over receiving to authorize offloading of raw milk pending successful lab tests. The system is programmed to shut down if milk approaches the PMO maximum of 45 degrees F.

Every batch of every product is tracked throughout the system, straight through to the automated storage and retrieval system, where the Kline system “shakes hands” with the ASRS control software. The system can track each dolly of stacked milk cases back through to raw receiving for recall purposes. “All product run is ID’d by the filler and the time it’s run, all for the traceability part of the SQF [Safe Quality Food global food safety certification program],” Hudson says. “We’re striving to work with our customers to meet those standards.”

Designed for accountability, the system stores all data on a server for history and plant accounting, Milazzo explains. “We can access information quickly, ID any problems and respond to them,” he says. “We have a very good manufacturing shrink – less than one-half of 1%.”

The fill zone

Eighty tankers call on the receiving area at Marva Maid Landover every week, delivering fresh local milk from mainly Maryland & Virginia member farms. The plant receives about 15 trucks a day, six days a week, with a 300-gallon minimum pump-off, Hudson says. All milk processed in Landover is from cows not treated with rBST; the quality control lab matches all incoming batches against’s list of rBST-free milk suppliers.

Two tankers can be unloaded at a time; dual CIP systems allow receiving and washing of trucks in any combination. Following successful lab tests, milk is offloaded into four raw tanks totaling 160,000 gallons of storage capacity. The automated system then routes the milk to the HTST system, which processes milk at 7,500 gallons per hour. The system operates with split regeneration, allowing the Landover crew to “standardize on the fly,” Hudson notes. Any cream not needed on site is run through a cooling system and trucked to Maryland & Virginia’s balancing plant in nearby Laurel, Md., where it’s processed or sold on the open market.

Processed milk is held in the pasteurized tanks totaling 70,000 gallons before heading to one of six lines in the filler room – two plastic gallon lines, a gallon/half-gallon line and a half-gallon filler, all Federals; and a Shikuko paper quart/pint line, plus a Federal gallon filler for water. The plant bottles 115,000 gallons of fluid products daily, Hudson says.

An additional line handles spring water and five drink flavors, including Tampico and house-branded drinks, in 2½-gallon containers. Bottles for this line are the only ones purchased outside, all other plastic bottles are blow-molded on site. The blow-molding room is home to three six-head gallon-bottle machines and two eight-head machines for half-gallon bottles, all by Uniloy.

A water distillation system, located in the corridor between the filler and blow-mold rooms, processes 500 gallons of water per hour, or up to 60,000 gallons weekly. Regular drinking water comes from the local municipal water system, while spring water is hauled to the plant from springs in Pennsylvania.

Landover’s processing and packaging departments operate 16 hours a day, including a four-hour cleaning shift; the QC lab is staffed 16 hours a day.

Off the rack

Packaged fluid products are handed off to the warehousing and shipping department, controlled by an AWA Kone automated storage and retrieval system. The system includes computer-driven storage and retrieval cranes, high-rise storage racks and paperless order picking. The ASRS ensures first-in/first-out production rotation, provides efficient use of storage capacity, improves product protection during storage and handling, reduces selection errors and improves plant shrink.

Hudson says the ASRS delivers an outstanding record for warehouse compliance and order accuracy. On-time deliveries are 98.7% of the projected delivery window; order accuracy, which measures the accuracy of the quantity and type of products supplied to Giant’s stores, is 99%.

Milk leaves the packaging area in crates stacked five high. Stacks are automatically loaded onto wheeled dollies accommodating 20 cases per dolly, eliminating the need to for pallets. Dollies move into a 14-lane sorting area where an automated crane retrieves and places dollies for storage into racks in the cooler, sorted by product type. Kept at a constant 36 to 38 degrees F, the cooler has a capacity of 45,000 cases in the racks, plus another 20,000 on the floor.

Hudson says about 75% of orders are selected as full dollies from storage. The remaining orders are manually selected and automatically merged with the automated orders for delivery. Order management and the automated order-selection process are computer controlled from the shipping office. The system compiles and tracks orders, transmitting information to the automated cranes for order picking. A crane on the other end of the rack extracts product, which is conveyed to shipping dock and loaded onto trucks. The process is complete when a clean bill of lading is generated to accompany product to the customer. Hudson explains the shipping department strives for as many full dolly orders as possible for peak efficiency.

When trucks return with empties, crates are washed and sent back to the filler room, and dollies are routed back to the cooler.

For the future

While the price of oil has plummeted in recent months, bringing much-needed relief to processors’ energy budgets, the team at Marva Maid Landover has spent the past year trying to minimize the impact of such price volatility.

“We’ve had to respond to things over which we do have control, like utility usage,” Milazzo says. This has involved making modifications to lighting systems and blow-molding equipment for more efficient operation. “We’ve reduced daily kilowatt usage by about 17% - not enough to offset all the additional costs, but enough to make a difference,” he says.

The team is also cognizant of the plant’s use of resources and its impact on the environment. Soon after the acquisition, Hudson recalls, Maryland & Virginia conducted an “intense” environmental audit on all operations, overseen by an environmental manager.

“They know the increasing environmental impact of a dairy plant,” he says of upper management.

Meanwhile, the plant maintains effective safety programs for its employees and products. 

A corporate safety manager oversees all of Maryland & Virginia’s plants, augmenting Landover’s own in-house safety program, Hudson explains. “She works closely with an individual within our facility to instill the importance of safety,” he says. An incentive program that rewards employees for days worked without incident, Milazzo adds, “seems to have a beneficial effect on awareness.”

Corporate-level attention to compliance plus third-party audits help ensure employee safety as well as food safety, on which the plant works closely with Giant Food to uphold SQF guidelines, to which Giant parent Ahold adheres as an international company. “That’s going to be an ongoing process,” Hudson says, “so we can ensure the quality of any product coming out of Landover or any Maryland & Virginia facility.” 

Employees’ attention to high standards will be boosted with regular refreshers, including a new online trailing module that will be fully operational in early 2009,” Milazzo says.

The Landover plant has invested considerable time and resources to make the facility an up-to-date, efficient model of contemporary dairy processing. Since its acquisition, Maryland & Virginia appears to be staying on the trajectory set by the plant’s former owner, who continues to play a crucial role in the operation’s success.

“It’s been a good fit for both sides of the operation,” says Hudson, who has worked with Maryland & Virginia, first as a customer and now as an employee, for more than four decades. “We look forward to growing together.”


Marva Maid Landover LLC
(Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers)
Location: Landover, Md.
Year opened: 1969; additions in 1984, 1989 and 1994
Size: 184,000 square feet
Number of employees: 93
Products made: Fluid milk; fruit drinks; spring, distilled and drinking waters.
Total processing capacity: 50 million gallons annually
Processing: HTST, homogenizer and separator, each 7,500 gallons per hour.
Lines: Three plastic gallon fillers, one gallon/half-gallon filler, one half-gallon filler, one paper quart/pint filler.
Storage capacity: 160,000 gallons raw, 70,000 gallons pasteurized, 70,460 cases (280,000 gallons) cooler.

The following companies are among Maryland & Virginia’s key suppliers:
Advanced Instruments
Berry Plastics
Foss Milkoscan
AWA Kone
Liqui-Box (DuPont)
Superstill Technology
Videojet Technologies
Westfalia Separator