Flexible new Kleinpeter Farms Dairy ice cream facility mixes up homegrown success.

The space-efficient, $5.5 million Kleinpeter Farms Dairy ice cream plant in Baton Rouge, La., fills ice cream cartons and future prospects for the independent, family-owned dairy.

Kleinpeter Farms Dairy joined the premium ice cream market in 2008 as the only Louisiana ice cream processor. Diversification of the dairy’s fluid products creates a practical way to use excess cream, broadens the brand’s retail presence and meets consumer demand for locally-produced ice cream. The ‘only ice cream made in Louisiana’ niche fit with the Kleinpeter brand’s boutique-nature and consumer research showing support of locally-made foods and products, says Jeff Kleinpeter, president.

The executive team’s short list of potential growth avenues combined with a chance invite to a Texas ice cream plant auction swiftly led to plant construction. Within five months, the new Kleinpeter Farms Dairy facility was up and running. The first batch christened most of the eager attendees with splashes of mix, but trial and error had vanilla and chocolate half-gallons headed to market in January 2008. “Things change fast around here. We don’t have to go through layers of red tape to get things done,” Kleinpeter says.

When processing space in the original $4 million, 4,000-square-foot facility proved almost immediately inadequate, a two-phase, $1.5 million project added processing floor and staging area for a 7,500 square feet total. As part of the dairy’s environmentally-friendly and keep-product-cold commitments, the ice cream plant interior walls are insulated with freezer panels, and doors to freezers open into chilled areas to conserve cold air.

As the ice cream facility’s volume grows, new capabilities are added. In September, the production floor added 40 feet of conveyors to ease the manual labor of moving filled product to the spiral freezer. In October, the spiral freezer will add new decline equipment.

Ice cream offerings have expanded with capabilities. Half-gallon cartons are now joined by pints, 3-ounce sundae cups and 3-galloninstitutional sizes: the flavor count has jumped from two to 24. Varieties including Sweet Potato Pie, Homemade Ponchatoula Strawberry and Buttered Pecan are often inspired by Louisiana cuisine and feature locally-sourced ingredients. Flavor development is a team effort with leadership from Don Gerald, the ice cream plant manager and a graduate of the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course.

Farm to filler

A century of Kleinpeter family wisdom goes into farm and processing operation management. “The best way to see how the dairy farm manager is doing is to look at the cows. The best way to see how the production department is doing is to taste the milk,” Kleinpeter says.

To protect product integrity and extend overall shelf life, Kleinpeter Farms Dairy takes multiple steps to circumvent the often brutal Louisiana heat. “The heat is a serious concern here,” Kleinpeter says.

Efforts start at its dairy farm, where fresh raw 102

Creative concoctions

Fluid processing creates ample cream for blending into bases for 38- to 40-percent butterfat ice cream. Simple flavor bases are created in the fluid operation, and then travel to one of three 5,000-gallon ice cream facility storage tanks. The outdoor pipes from the fluid plant to the holding tanks are heavily insulated.

Mix is deliberately held in the tanks for one day to help form unique Kleinpeter flavor profiles. “It’s an added touch,” Kleinpeter says.

The base mix travels from the tanks to flavor vats and is routed through the inclusion hopper. The variegate sprayer is the last stop before reaching the filler, which has 25 half-gallon carton per minute capability. Ice cream production is typically limited to one flavor per day, with 12,000 half-gallon per day capability.

The first delivery of bulk ingredients for Bread Pudding shows the occasional challenge in sourcing products from specialty ingredient suppliers unused to ice cream processing demands. The bread pudding ingredient is delicious, but doesn’t initially distribute through the carton properly, impacting final product taste and inclusion appearance. 

After several tries, Gerald decides the bread pudding mixture is too dense and moist to properly go through the inclusion feeder. The supplier picks up the mixture to revamp it, with success: Bread Pudding rolled out in September along with four other new flavors.

Filled cartons are shrink-wrapped in bundles of three to ease mixed pallet load out. The bundles travel by conveyer to the opening to the adjacent 30-foot-tall, 900-square-foot spiral freezer and are flash frozen at -40

Sustaining operations

The plant’s small footprint, made possible by co-location with the fluid plant, conserves energy and reduces the watershed impact. In addition to base mixing and storage in the fluid operation, the ice cream plant utilizes CIP sanitation run through the fluid plant.

The processing facility campus houses a non-mandated wastewater treatment plant. It also captures refrigeration process ammonia gas to preheat city water used for boiler water; piping carries the hot gas through the water, reducing the energy needed to heat water. Fluid operations run four days a week, 20 hours a day, while the ice cream plant runs five days a week, 12 hours a day, maximizing shared facility use.

Attention to every detail, every day, by every employee, ensures quality products and brand integrity, Kleinpeter says. “I can’t pay them enough to care with the passion they have for our products.”

At a Glance: Kleinpeter Farms Dairy

Location: Baton Rouge, La.
Year plant opened: Ice cream, 2008. Fluid milk, 1955.
Size: Ice cream, 7,500 square feet. Milk, 44,000 square feet
Plant additions/renovations: Ice cream, original 4,000 square feet added 3,500-square-foot processing/staging, 2008 and 2009. Fluid milk, original 550-square-foot facility tripled in 1960, doubled again in late 1960s expansion; cooler size doubled in 1973; blow mold addition, 2,000-square-foot, 1982, expanded to 6,000 square feet in 2005; vertical addition to refrigerated cooler space, 2005 (expanded volume, increased crate stack height from five to seven, added insulation); air conditioning throughout processing and load-out areas, 2007.
Number of employees: 230 total: 95 sales/distribution; 65 processing/packaging; 10 drivers; 25 transportation/load-out for milk and ice cream, 5 mechanic repair shop, 15 corporate/office; 15 dairy farm operation.
Products made: Fluid milk, orange juice, drinks, ice cream, ice cream mix. Branded butter, cottage cheese and dip lines are co-packed. All milk and ice cream is certified rBHG-free.
Total processing capacity: Fluid products, four days a week, 75,000 gallons a day. Ice cream, five days a week, 12,000 half gallons a day.
Milk receiving: Two bays, three silos (30,000 gallon, 25,000 gallon, 15,000 gallon).
Milk source: Kleinpeter’s 750-cow operation, 25%; 20 independent dairy farms; balance loads from a cooperative. All milk certified rBGH-free.
Pasteurization: 4,000 gallons an hour.
Pasteurized storage capacity: Ice cream mix, 15,000 gallons in three tanks (5,000 gallons each). Fluid, 21,000 gallons in five tanks (3,000-7,000 gallons).
Number of production lines/types: Ice cream, single-head half-gallon filler (25 a minute also fills pints, 3-ounce cup and 3-gallon sizes). Fluid, five dedicated fillers: 21-head half-gallon, 18-head quart/pints/half-pint bottles, 15-head gallon (40 per minute), half-pint paper, school milk pouch.
Spiral freezer: 900 square feet, 30-feet tall; 4,000 half-gallon capacity (-40