Photos by Vito Palmisano

For the first time ever, the readers of Dairy Foods selected the Plant Of The Year. We asked you to vote online for one of 13 nominees. All of the nominated dairy processors had been featured in the magazine between January 2011 and June 2012. We publicized the awards program through our own social media channels, and we encouraged each of the nominated processors to do the same.

Throughout the month of June, we posted news about the Plant Of The Year program on our Facebook page and sent Twitter messages directing our thousands of followers to We asked the 5,000+ individuals on our LinkedIn Dairy Foods Professional Network to weigh in, too. In all, visitors to our website cast more than 3,600 votes.

At the end of June, we tallied the votes. Mars Ice Cream, Burr Ridge, Ill., received the most and is declared the Dairy Foods 2012 Plant Of The Year. We invited Craig Hall, the general manager of Mars Ice Cream, to elaborate on his company’s success.  You can read his article by clicking here.. On the following pages, you’ll find our original article from February 2012 along with unpublished photos.

—    Jim Carper, editor-in-chief


In the early days, the company rang a bell every time it sold a truckload of Dove. These days, Mars also rings up sales with Snickers, Milky Way, Twix and M&M’s ice cream novelties from its facility near Chicago.

From a consumer’s perspective, ice cream is about fun and good times. The ice cream division of Mars Chocolate North America shares that point of view. Evidence of the company’s sense of humor is a banner welcoming visitors to Mars’ little “corner ice cream shop.” In fact, the processing facility is larger than an airplane hangar. The building consists of four production lines, wet and dry ingredient storage areas, packaging supplies and a warehouse.

Mars makes ice cream bars, sandwiches, stick novelties and cones at a facility in Burr Ridge, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Mars entered the ice cream business in 1986 with the acquisition of Dove ice cream from the Stefanos family.

Within the first year of the acquisition, Mars moved the business to the current location, built originally for truck parts manufacturing. At first, the site produced only Dove Ice Cream bars, and a bell was rung every time a truckload was sold. The Snickers Ice Cream Bar line was added in 1991, and the current cone and stick lines in 2000. Other ice cream novelties made here are Snickers Ice Cream Bars and Cones, Milky Way Ice Cream Bars, Twix Ice Cream Bars, M&M’s Cookies and Cones, and Snickers Brownie Bar and Cones. All of Mars’ ice cream novelties for the North American market are manufactured in this facility. (Pints are filled by a co-manufacturer.)

The ice cream sandwich line was replaced in 2011. It’s a hybrid of automation and human labor. On the day of Dairy Foods’ visit, associates were loading hoppers with cookies studded with M&M’s. The bottom cookies moved two abreast (the line is capable of producing four units at a time) down a conveyor and under a filler, which deposited ice cream the consistency of soft-serve. As the cookie passed down the line, an associate placed the top cookie by hand, and the novelty was conveyed into a spiral blast freezer.

Upon exiting the freezer, the sandwiches passed under a camera which checked for the presence of a top and bottom cookie, proper alignment of the cookies and other standards. Then each ice cream sandwich was wrapped and hand-packed into boxes marked for wholesale or retail sale. The boxes moved by overhead conveyor to the secondary packaging line where they were case-packed according to customer requirements (for example, six boxes per case).