H.E. Butt Poised for Ice Cream Production

Excerpted from Dairy Field, July 1981
(Editor’s Note: As HEB celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, we look back on one of DF’s earlier visits to the Texas grocer’s manufacturing operations.)
How does a supermarket chain take full advantage of its frozen distribution system?
If you’re H.E. Butt Grocery Co. (HEB), one of the largest supermarket chains in Texas, the answer is simple. You open a new ice cream plant and begin funneling high-quality frozen desserts and novelties through it.
Already selling more than 4 million gallons of ice cream and 1.5 million dozen novelty items annually, the food retailer’s new ice cream facility in San Antonio, Texas, has resulted in a growth in production each month. The plant is part of the chain’s plan to invest some $50 million into a growth pattern that includes building grocery stores and additions to its distribution and other support facilities.
According to M.H. Martin, vice president of manufacturing, the new ice cream plant allows HEB to incorporate ice cream items into the normal plant distribution system. The chain presently has 155 stores, and the growth plan calls for 15 to 20 new units per year.
Dom Mladenka, director of dairy operations, recently told Dairy Field that using the frozen-food distribution system for ice cream items will assure proper refrigeration, ensuring that customers are purchasing quality items. The distribution method eliminates delays in handling at the store level when transferring products from trucks into frozen food and ice cream cases.
A separate operation from the HEB fluid milk and cultured products plant, the ice cream plant receives ingredients (milk, skim, cream and condensed) from an adjoining milk plant receiving area. When ingredients are required, they are purchased from the area cooperative, Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI), and delivered to the plant using 6,500-gallon trucks. All dairy products received at the plant are sampled and tested for quality. Once the testing is completed and ingredient quality approved, the products are automatically routed to one of four new ingredient storage tanks.
Says Don Hipsher, ice cream plant manager, “The ice cream mix formulations are computerized in the new plant. The heart of the ice cream mix batching system is a Digital Equipment PDP 8/A computer.” All formulations for ice cream mix, ice milk, mellorine and novelties are plugged into the memory of the computer as needed. Presently, the plant uses some 20 formulations and, as plant production expands, the computer’s future memory capacity handles any new functions.
The procedure for making a batch or multiple batches of ice cream mixes starts with operator calculation of a recipe on the mix computer keyboard, assuring the plant has the correct amount of each ingredient in inventory. Once ingredients for the batch have been selected, liquid ingredients are weighed in sequence using a 1,000-gallon stainless tank mounted on electronic load calls. Milk, skim, cream, condensed, cane, corn syrup, water and recovered CIP rinses (raw and pasteurized) enter the load cell tank with the last 100 pounds of each ingredient added at a slower rate or dribble flow.
As each ingredient enters the batching system, the computer records the weight. At the end of the batch, the computer notes the date, batch number, formula, individual ingredient weight and gross weight of the batch. This information is then accumulated and incorporated into a daily inventory and production accounting report.
Ice cream and novelties are now transferred from the ice cream plant to the H.E. Butt Frozen Food Warehouse. A computerized facility, it serves the storage area for food, bakery and ice cream items. Using the grocery MSI ordering system, ice cream items are automatically ordered and loaded out to awaiting refrigerated trailers.
An innovative one, HEB’s expansion program is expected to strengthen its present marketing position. By providing high-efficiency plants for processing and manufacturing of dairy products, it should provide quality for Texas consumers.