Frozen Desserts
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc.
St. Albans, Vt.
St. Albans, Vt., is home to the newest plant in the Ben & Jerry’s system, a 92,000-square-foot facility constructed in 1994. A 47,000-square-foot expansion has increased production and added warehouse space, and houses a new stacking and palletizing area. The plant will eventually be responsible for 80 percent of Ben & Jerry’s production.
The facility’s cast and crew grew from 180 employees to a staff exceeding 200 over the past year, according to Drake Wallis, director of manufacturing and St. Albans plant manager.
The plant manufactures pints, single-serve, 500 milliliter,  24-ounce and quart containers of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. According to Wallis, production capacity at the facility exceeded 16.7 million gallons in 2002 and was estimated to approach 20 million in 2003.
In May 2002, Ben & Jerry’s announced plans for a $10 million investment in Vermont as part of an overall restructuring of its manufacturing and distribution operations. The actions were intended to streamline production and distribution to make the company more competitive in the global marketplace and solidify the company’s Vermont-based manufacturing operations.
The expanded facility concentrates the company’s manufacturing and distribution operations in St. Albans with a quality center featuring increased freezer and storage capacity. The plant gradually increased its production capabilities, and by spring 2003 absorbed operations from the company’s Springfield manufacturing facility and Bellows Falls distribution center.
The St. Albans consolidation came as part of the management team’s plan to locate where there is the agri-economic infrastructure to meet existing and future needs. Proximity to the company’s rBGH-free dairy supplier, the St. Albans Cooperative, and Vermont family farms was a major site selection factor.
Ben & Jerry’s manufacturing site in Waterbury, Vermont’s No. 1 tourist attraction with more than 300,000 visitors annually, continues to operate as a central component of the brand’s marketing initiative.
To make Ben & Jerry’s ice cream mix, plant employees draw rBGH-free Vermont condensed milk and cream from storage silos and mix them with other ingredients. The required ingredients are then pumped from their storage areas through a series of valves and pipes that eventually lead to the blend tanks.
The plant’s 3,000-gallon stainless-steel batch tanks combine ingredients for the three different blends that make up Ben & Jerry’s product base mixes. From these three blends, a variety of intricate products are created.
The correct amounts of mix ingredients are combined and blended by a high-speed agitator and movable deflecting plates.
When a batch of blended base mix is complete, it’s pumped out of the blend tank into the pasteurizer and homogenizer, and finally into pasteurized storage tanks.
The mix is added and removed from the bottom of each tank by a pipe that is operated by programmable controllers.
After a tank is completely filled, the mix is cooled to 36 degrees before moving to the flavor vats. These vats consist of separate compartments that are linked and have designated companion vats for each production line. With this arrangement, many flavors can be made during a production shift.
Flavored solutions are injected into the vats through inlet valves. After the mix is flavored, it is pumped to a low-temperature continuous freezer (the first of two freezing phases) where air is added. The amount of air added determines the ice cream’s quality.
In the continuous freezer, the temperature of the base mix drops from 36 degrees F, required for the holding tanks, to 21 degrees F, which is the freezing point for the mix. The speed at which the freezing occurs plays an important role in creating the texture of the ice cream. The plant hardens pints individually to accomplish fast hardening.
The plant floor is crowded with multiple fruit feeders and add-in equipment necessary for blending Ben & Jerry’s complex flavors. Some of the equipment has been modified to produce offerings with multiple inclusions and variegates. Ingredient feeders put chunks of chocolate and other ingredients into the mix before the product enters the filling lines. Once filled and lidded, the pint containers travel to a spiral hardener, get tamper banded, then move to a bundler that groups the pints into eight-item, shrink-wrapped sleeves.
Among the more challenging processes at Ben & Jerry’s is for the company’s Core Concoctions line, manufactured at its Waterbury, Vt., plant. “Engineering worked especially hard to figure out a way to put a variegate in the middle of a pint of ice cream,” Wallis says. “The challenge was to get a variegate the width of a quarter right down the center that was consistent with one flavor of ice cream on one half and a different flavor on the other.”
Scott McCreary, director of operations, says it was a real breakthrough to create the technology necessary to complete such an intricate project. “Ben & Jerry’s 2Twisted line needed key technology as well,” says McCreary. “We had to take two very complicated products such as chocolate chip cookie dough and chocolate fudge brownie, and put them together in a pint. The two flavors are twisted together but you can still see they’re swirled.”
Much capital is vested in the St. Albans expansion, says Wallis. “But with expanded mix-making capabilities, increased storage capacity and warehouse space, production and palletizing capabilities,” he says, “the investment really opens up a lot of opportunities for us.”
Pamela Accetta Smith

Cultured Products
Anderson Erickson Dairy Co.
Des Moines, Iowa
In the tasting room at Anderson Erickson Dairy Co.’s Des Moines, Iowa, processing plant, there’s a long table that’s routinely covered by a vast array of products — including yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream and dips — made by AE and its competitors. These weekly tastings are how AE’s executives, managers and plant operators make sure their products are fresh, flavorful and innovative — and better than what AE’s competitors are making.
Of course, the manufacturing process actually starts when a truckload of milk pulls in. AE takes delivery of 25 to 30 truckloads every day, each truck carrying 50,000 pounds of raw milk, according to Warren Erickson, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer. Milk comes primarily from dairy farming cooperatives throughout the region, with 65 percent of the supply originating within Iowa and the rest from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Trucks weigh in at the scale house and pull into one of two bays, where the driver hooks up his tanker to be offloaded. First, however, a 15-minute agitation cycle begins before milk leaves the truck. During agitation, the plant’s receiving staff takes a sample, which is tested for temperature, antibiotics and flavor. Finally, a lab sample is taken before the milk is pumped off the truck and onto the chill plate, which takes the temperature of the milk down to between 34 and 36 degrees F.
The unloaded trucks then pull ahead for cleaning. Two trucks can unload at the same time while two others are being cleaned. The bays are also used for loading bulk cream for transport to customers. Liquid sweeteners and other chemicals are offloaded here as well.
There are six 450,000-pound bulk milk tanks, but raw milk rarely stays in them for very long. “We try to use it the same day,” says Erickson. “We receive milk seven days a week — the cows are relentless — but we don’t keep raw milk around, that’s for sure.”
Milk journeys through a system of overhead pipes first to the raw tanks, then the batch tanks before being homogenized and pasteurized. The plant has four HTST units, with processing capacities ranging from 25 to 100 gallons per minute. Finished here, the milk moves on to the pasteurized tanks.
Milk samples taken from incoming loads go to the quality lab. Each product sample is scanned into a computer so technicians can track products through the lab system. Bar codes allow information on details like milk origin to be tracked through the entire process.
The process to turn milk into AE yogurt — at a rate of 35,000 cups per day — begins with pasteurized 1% or nonfat milk. It starts out in the culturing tanks, where a proprietary culture is added to the milk. With the milk at 106 degrees F, the culturing process takes six-and-a-half to seven hours.
Once the culture is activated, the yogurt base is cooled to about 70 degrees F and screened. It is then pumped into the flavoring tanks, where fruits and flavors in their various combinations are added, depending on which line is being run on a given day. By the time the flavored yogurt gets to the filling stage, the temperature is down to around 55 degrees F.
Most store sales of AE yogurt are of 8-ounce lowfat cups, but it also comes in 24-ounce and 5-pound containers. The fat-free YoLite and fat-free with added soy protein come in 6-ounce cups. The plant makes as few as 10 or as many as 20 flavors each day, with CIP in between each batch. How much of each flavor is made depends on what flavor is running. For example, strawberry — AE’s top seller — will run in greater quantities than other flavors. There are 35 flavors in all between AE’s regular and YoLite lines, says Erickson.
Cups are filled and lidded, then sorted into packs of nine. Hot-melt glue on cardboard sheets holds the yogurt cups in place while a clear plastic overwrap is applied to form the nine-cup bundle. These nine-packs are stacked three packs to a crate and sent off to the cooler for sorting, storage and shipment.
The most recent change to AE’s processing procedures came last March, with a new vat room for cottage cheese production. This coincided with the company’s purchase of two new packaging machines for cottage cheese.
While most dairies had quit hand-packing cottage cheese by the 1970s, AE continued the practice, and its Old Fashioned cottage cheese developed a cult following. Hand packing allows the cream to settle on the bottom of the carton, leaving moist whole curds on top. The pressure required for machine packing has the potential to damage the curds and allow cream to be absorbed throughout the product.
Last year, AE’s hand-packing operation used up the last of its supply of waxed paper cartons, which its supplier had stopped making a year before then. According to Erickson, plastic cups don’t lend themselves well to hand-packing because of their nesting design and their sharp, brittle edges, which can injure hand-packers and could result in bits of plastic winding up in the product.
While the change prompted an initial outcry from devotees of the hand-packed product, AE has since managed to perfect the process and get its Old Fashioned back to its old self. “This new technology helped us move our process from labor-intensive manual hand packaging to a much more automated process,” says Norm Dostal, director of operations. “Most importantly, we are able to use technology to create a machine-packed cottage cheese that tastes like our original AE hand-packed cottage cheese.”
It takes five-and-a-half hours to incubate the cultures added to milk to form cottage cheese. The curds are then cut, the whey drained and the curds rinsed before filling. AE offers its cottage cheese in nonfat, lowfat (2%) and 4% milkfat varieties.
Erickson says the plant has overcome the obstacles faced in the initial runs. “The product did things we weren’t expecting — got a little thicker,” he says. “We’ve got a more consistent product now because we have more systems in place to make sure it’s the same every time.”
Conveyors carrying crates of all the plant’s product lines converge at a common point and head uphill for a journey over to AE’s four-story cold-storage warehouse, kept at a constant 36 degrees F. A shortage of space forced construction of the cooler just across the street from the main plant, requiring a conveyor system that takes crated product uphill and around a corner.
The cases, stacked six high, arrive in a staging area resembling a railroad yard, with many chain belts pulling stacks of crates to various locations. After an aluminum pallet holds 12 stacked crates, the computer opens a gate allowing the pallet to move forward for further loading. When the pallet holds 24 crates, the computer opens the gate allowing the pallet passage into cooler, where its picked up by one of two automated cranes.
The cranes have two jobs: to keep the flow of product moving and keep the pick lanes below full as needed for loading onto trucks for shipment. Cranes visit five levels in the cooler; from bottom to top, the lowest is for storage, then two for pick lanes, then two more for storage. The cooler is 32 bays deep; cranes are laser-guided for perfect alignment with storage racks. The system is monitored from two computer workstations.
Orders accessible on hand-held computers tell the pickers how much of what product has to go to which loading dock. Six pickers assemble orders, all of which come together at a “merge point,” where employees designated as “traffic cops” make sure the orders get on the right trucks, says Erickson. Some orders are stacked onto wheeled carts before shipment for ease of delivery in stores. “The wireless network in the facility ensures the product pickers have their orders instantaneously and keeps the inventory updated on a real-time basis,” says Dostal.
AE employees load 60 trucks per day on two shifts, six days a week. “The implementation of our automated cold-storage system in 2001 was the biggest technical advancement in the history of our company,” says Dostal. “The impact of that system was very large and widespread. There were dramatic increases in productivity as a result of this product.  There were also large increases in the accuracy and availability of information regarding our finished inventory.”
A 19,000-square-foot addition to the cold-storage facility, completed in late 2003, is used for cultured products pallet storage. —
James Dudlicek

Cheese
WestFarm Fo ods Sunnyside, Wash.
Washington’s Yakima Valley is home to one of the most efficient cheese and whey plants in the West. The Sunnyside facility follows the WestFarm Foods’ business strategy of manufacturing top-of-the-line commodity products while being a low-cost provider competitive with other processors, especially those in California where milk prices are typically lower than in other regions in the United States.
Each day, the plant manufactures 450,000 pounds of bulk cheese products in addition to 320,000 pounds of sweet whey powder.
The Sunnyside facility has grown significantly since its first stage of construction in 1991. Since then, the cooperative has extensively invested at the plant level to increase efficiencies and production capacity. According to John Underwood, senior vice president of operations, the goal at Sunnyside is to reduce variability and drive cost down. “The focus here is on throughput, the amount of milk we process, the amount of cheese we make and the amount of powder we produce,” he says.
According to Underwood, the company is diligently driven by a commitment to customer service. “We are customer-focused. We have to provide the customers with what they want rather than simply only offering block cheese or sweet whey powder because that’s just what we happen to produce,” he says. “We work to be their provider of choice by offering valued services in addition to a consistent quality product.”
Sunnyside’s highly automated production system helps decrease labor costs while maintaining the company’s position of being a low-cost processor. “We have managed to raise our throughput without adding extra employees,” says Underwood. “Auto­mation at the Sunnyside plant not only keeps costs down and offers safety and ergonomic benefits by eliminating back-breaking, menial labor, but also reduces the variability of our product. We put as much money as we can into equipment. What exists in this plant is top of the line.”
According to Tom Rouleau, cheese plant manager, advanced systems and quality control ensure the highest levels of consistency in Sunnyside’s cheese products and an increased yield in raw materials output. “The plant is capable of turning 4.5 million pounds of raw milk into 450,000 pounds of cheese and 320,000 pounds of whey powder seven days a week,” he says.
The Sunnyside plant is energetically focused on the low-cost production of a high-scale product. “That is the only way you can make money,” says Underwood.
Cheese production at the Sunnyside plant begins with arrival of milk from its producers in a three-bay receiving area. Once received, the raw product undergoes a series of quality tests before being stored in silos prior to processing.
The milk travels from the silos through a standardization process and then pasteurization. From the pasteurizer the blend is transferred to 10  6,000-gallon (55,000-pound) cheese vats. Over the course of half an hour, the milk is brought from 88 degrees F to 102 degrees F. The curd and whey are transferred to the curd machine where the whey is drained. The curd moves through the machine and into the salter at a rate of 22,500 pounds per hour. Salt is mixed into the curd and the curd is then sent to one of 16 block-forming towers. Once formed, 42- to 43-pound blocks of cheese emerge, and with the help of an automated system, the blocks are placed in plastic prior to sealing. Blocks begin to cool on the same conveyor system where they are automatically cased into individual corrugated boxes. Once boxed, the cheese travels into an automated rack refrigeration system for cooling.
Cheese blocks are then stacked on a pallet by automatic palletizers. Pallets are then moved via a conveyor to an automatic warehousing system/holding room prior to distribution. “The warehouse is capable of storing 25 million pounds of cheese,” says Rouleau.
A sensor eye signals a crane to retrieve new pallets from the conveyor line and sort them according to bar code. The crane takes its orders from the warehousing control room, where an inventory control leader programs the computer to command the crane to pick orders according to bar code.
Product is later moved to the load-out area, where pallets are loaded directly onto trucks.
Meanwhile, whey, the by-product of cheese making, is undergoing a process of its own. Liquid whey is processed first with membranes then by evaporation to remove excess water. After evaporation, the whey is spray-dried in one of two dryers, first to a 15 percent moisture content at 450 degrees, then slowly to 4 percent. Sweet dry whey is automatically bagged and palletized. “Although workers oversee the process, there is no need for human handling of product,” says Rick Lehr, whey plant manager.
Whey is dried at a rate of 14,000 pounds per hour, producing 295,000 pounds of powder each day.
Pamela Accetta Smith