Spiromatic customer in the press

Spiromatic customer in the press

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cérélia took the bold step of starting up a brand new facility in North America. Partly due to our expertise and our foothold in the US, they saw in us a suitable partner to work with them to achieve this expansion

In the August | Q3 edition of the Commercial Baking magazine, their story is told...

WHITEHALL, OH — Bold. Then lucky. That’s the formula for a successful startup during perhaps the most challenging time in the history of the baking industry.

It’s also the key takeaway from Cérélia, a Paris-based producer of branded and private-label frozen and refrigerated dough, after starting up a new 160,000-sq.-ft. facility in the height of the pandemic.

In commercial bakery production, timing is everything. Cérélia’s timing was bold, to say the least, and included developing a greenfield building in Whitehall, OH, during the early stages of COVID amid shutdowns, supply chain disruption and massive uncertainty.

But the move was also lucky, as the withering construction business afforded Cérélia its pick of contractors to execute the project.

“We had everything we needed, and everyone was happy to have activity going again,” said Claude Le Bourg, Cérélia group COO.

Building a new facility during COVID was quite unusual and not without its challenges. Most of the company’s leadership was based overseas at a time when international travel regulations were changing every month — and at every border. To get from groundbreaking to startup, relationships with vendors, contractors, government officials and attorneys had to be as rock solid as the foundation walls.

Operating nine facilities in five European countries, Cérélia has a reputation for not only its product quality and production efficiency but its agility to take on new product development.

The team found that working with European partners with a strong foothold in the US provided reliability with the added bonus of easy access to the plant. And the familiarity of US standards — especially for food safety — placed a high value on state-side experience.

With supplier partnerships playing such a critical role in the startup, many were chosen based on Cérélia’s established European relationships. But the team went a step further and focused on the ones who also had a strong US presence, which provided ease of onsite interaction amid challenging travel scenarios, especially during commissioning, installation and training.

Those relationships were about more than interaction with the Cérélia team. They also had to work well with one another to bring the project together, especially when some lines had components from as many as six different suppliers, requiring them all onsite at the same time to ensure that adjustments on one aspect didn’t impact other areas of the line.

Cérélia is known for its high standards, not only in its product development but also for high expectations of its supplier network. If this project was to be successful, it had to be, in every aspect, the best of the best.

Breaking into the US market during a time of disruption requires strategic finesse. Tracking market trends and sales data to forecast future growth is a different animal these days. COVID lockdowns caused massive swings in consumption habits, first spiking at retail and then falling when restaurants finally reopened.

“We have to manage these volume shifts and the comparables from the previous year,” Le Bourg said, though it’s also important to remove those volume metrics from lockdown periods and weigh against non-lockdown years for a realistic comparison.

COVID is far from over, and if baked goods producers have learned anything from it, it’s that diversification of markets is critical to not only success but also, quite possibly, survival.

It’s a tactical strategy to have one foot each in retail and in foodservice, according to Le Bourg. While that helps the business in terms of volume shifts, it also means the operation must be ready to execute based on any market demand. That made the facility design all the more important.

technology, but we also have to be the best co-manufacturer for our customers and also for our own Jus-Rol brand.”

Specializing in chilled and frozen dough for “place and bake” or “break and bake” formats, Cérélia makes products for foodservice as well as retail under what it calls a “dual-track” philosophy that creates a balance between co-manufactured private label and branded products. That meant going far beyond installing five lines in the facility. Production is designed mono­directionally to ensure that everything — people, products, machines, ingredients — moves in the right direction.

The operation is separated into four production rooms, constructed with floor-to-ceiling walls and individual entrances, each designed for a specific product type with its own needs: gluten-free cookie dough, traditional cookie dough, rolled pastry dough and pizza crust.

“It’s a simple concept, but inside each room is very complex,” Lacroix said, noting that the separation is not just by walls but also plumbing and HVAC.

This infrastructure segregates allergens and ensures the facility’s SQF compliance.

For example, the separation prevents wheat blowback from the traditional cookie line in Room Two from entering the gluten-free Room One, for which the HVAC is always set with over-pressure. On the other hand, Room One is always kept under pressure.

A separate drainage network also prevents potential water backflow from cross-contamination as well.

Each production room has its own entrance, and associates are typically assigned to one room, each designated by color-coded smocks and hair nets. If anyone leaves a production room, before they can enter another, they must start the process over. That means discarding the color-coded gear to re-dress for the appropriate room, as well as going through the handwashing and foot-bath stations in the foyer of each entrance.

“Our people know when they’re trained that these are part of our GMPs,” Lacroix said. “And it’s a state-of-the-art way of doing business and staying truthful to our allergen control.”

For efficiency and enhanced food safety, Cérélia designed the rooms with one overarching drop-ceiling, ensuring the Spiromatic ingredient handling system transfers the appropriate material from the dosing stations to each specific line while maintaining strict separation.

“The dosing system is the ‘brains,’” Lacroix said, noting that the Spiromatic system is also interfaced with the bakery’s ERP. Ingredients are scanned into the bakery before they’re run through any of the three outdoor or other indoor silos and conveyed above the ceiling and directly into hoppers of the VMI mixers located in each production room.

“It’s a double verification, not just for the system we use to manage inventory but also the system we use for the recipes,” Lacroix added.

But some ingredients, such as hard shortening or certain inclusions, can’t be piped through the system. In such an intricate network of tubes, if adhesion were to occur, it could shut down a length of piping and create major downtime on the lines. The conveyance system is self-cleaning, and inspections are performed to ensure quality and safety of those ingredients.

This story has been adapted from the August | Q3 2022 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.