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Tina Capps, a 36-year employee of Flowers Bakery of Crossville, packages pecan spins at the Main St. location. These sweet treats are among the 1.4 million pounds of snack cakes produced each week at bakery. Flowers Bakery of Crossville has its products shipped across the country and to Canada.

Tina Capps began working at Flowers Bakery of Crossville in 1976, when the long-time Crossville industry was Mountain Farm Bakery.

After 36 years, she said, "It's become my second home."

Capps said the bakery offered a good, steady job, even though she had limited English skills as a German native.

"I decided to try working here and see how I did," Capps said. "I've been here ever since."

Through the years, she's seen many changes in the business. Mountain Farm Bakery opened in 1963, owned by Cumberland County resident Howard Mercer. In 1980, the business was purchased by Thomasville, GA, based Flowers Foods, and operations were expanded. Since that time, the company has completed six expansions and invested more than $35 million since 1997 to improve efficiency. Today, Flowers Bakery of Crossville employs about 430 people, with another 90 employed through Aramark in various parts of the bakery facility on Hwy. 127 and a distribution center at the former Avery Dennison facility. Each week, the Crossville bakery produces about 1.4 million pounds of snack cakes.

"All the changes were good," she said. "We grew and more people got jobs."

The company is good to its employees, Capps said, noting the retirement and health benefits have eased many worries she's had as she's grown older.

"I have nothing to worry about," she said. "And the health insurance is very good. It's a blessing. It's fast and hard work, but it's kept me healthy all these years. I'm 67 years old and still working."

Frank Shipley, president of the Crossville bakery, said there were many employees with 20, 30 and even more years of service. Many employees are also second generation workers or relatives of other employees.

“To me, if this is a good place to work and you want a family member to work here also―that’s a great compliment,” Shipley said.

In addition to the health, retirement and other employee benefits, there's another benefit Flowers Bakery has offered its employees ― peace of mind. During the difficult economic times of the past several years, the company did not have to reduce its workforce.

Tony Hall, vice president of operations, said, "A lot of other workers were seeing layoffs and people losing their jobs. None of our people had to experience that."

International Competition

Flowers Bakery of Crossville operates four baking lines, producing products under the Mrs. Freshley's brand, which is sold nationally through warehouse distributors.

"No matter where you see Mrs. Freshley's in this country, if it is one of the snacks we bake, it will have been made right here in Crossville," Shipley said.

Another brand is Blue Bird, which is sold regionally to supermarkets and other retail stores through Flowers’ direct-store-delivery system. The bakery also produces some items that are sold under different brands, including private labels.

"Crossville is a good location to collect product and ship it nationally," Shipley said of the distribution center. "It's centrally located among Flowers' other snake cake bakeries, making it easy to coordinate shipping logistics."

Flowers’ distribution center in Crossville handles cake products from Flowers bakeries in London, KY, Cleveland, TN, Winston-Salem, NC, and two TastyKake bakeries in PA, a relatively recent acquisition for Flowers. Those products are then shipped nationally and into Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Locally, customers can take advantage of the bakery thrift store next door to the facility. Here, the community can find fresh snacks and breads or day-old products at reduced prices. Shipley invites those who have never visited the store to try it. It's stocked with items from the Crossville bakery, and breads from other Flowers bakeries under such brands as Nature's Own, Cobblestone Mill, Mary Jane and Whitewheat.

Each week, the Crossville bakery produces about 1.4 million pounds of snack cakes. They will use about 400,000 pounds of flour, 300,000 pounds of sugar and 300,000 pounds of liquid sweetener.

"We make our cakes just as you would at home, using the same type of ingredients. We just do it on a much larger scale," explained Shipley.

The bakery often operates around the clock five to six days a week. Staffing depends on customer orders so that fresh products are delivered to grocery and warehouse stores.

"We bake to customers’ orders and, of course, snack cakes are a perishable product."

The baking takes place in the 265,000-square-foot facility that occupies about seven acres. Production lines include the most recent upgrade, a band cake line that produces various shaped cakes and Swiss cake rolls at a rate of about 850 per minute.

"That increased our production and allowed us to add some personnel," Shipley said.

Other production lines include the Danish and pecan spin line, which has to allow dough to rise before baking. There is also a snack cake line and cupcake and creme cake line that use batter. The products made on this line include snack cakes, brownies, angel food cakes, dessert cups, pound cakes and cupcakes.

One line is the state-of-the-art AutoBake production line, which is used for cupcakes and creme cakes.

"I believe it's one of the largest cupcake lines in the country. It's highly automated, stretching about 724 feet from start to finish and it produces about 42,000 cupcakes an hour," Shipley said.

The AutoBake line uses radiant heat oil to bake the products, which is more efficient than gas ovens.

After baking, products are topped with icing or filling, or both, and cooled before packaging. They are packed and prepared for fresh shipment or quick frozen, depending on the needs of the customer.

Quality Cakes

A quality snack cake begins with quality ingredients, Shipley explained. All suppliers have to be certified that their operations meet high quality and safety standards.

"We're dealing with a food product," Shipley said. "We want to maintain the highest quality product. It's an ongoing challenge to do an excellent job with food safety and quality."

Each production line has quality check points. At the end of the line, all packaged snacks pass through a metal detector. If metal is detected, production stops immediately and quality control personnel investigate the source.

Samples are pulled off production lines every hour and the quality control team monitors those samples to ensure quality is maintained throughout the shelf life of the product.

The bakery is certified according to British Retail Consortium standards, a global quality certification standard.

Around the bakery work space, signs remind employees to keep efficiency goals and safety in mind. Among efficiency goals is reduction in waste costs.

The bakery works with the city of Crossville to aid in wastewater treatment. The bakery, one of the largest industrial water users in the city, pretreats its wastewater to a predefined level before releasing it into the city's wastewater system. This program helps provide increased wastewater treatment capacity for the city’s system.

Last year, Flowers was also recognized for its sustainability and recycling efforts. In August, the Crossville City Council and Mayor J.H. Graham III presented the Flowers Green Team with the Mayor's Green Partner award.

The Green Team is a volunteer group of employees that help find ways the bakery can reduce the use of water, energy and fuel as well as integrating sustainability into all aspects of the business. Initiatives have included the use of low-flow automatic faucets and toilets and air hand dryers in restrooms and replacing old lighting with more energy efficient fluorescent lights. At the time of the award, Flowers had recycled more than 293 tons of cardboard, paper and plastic in 2011.

Bakery food scraps don't go to waste, either. Those scraps are collected and sent to a pet food manufacturer.

Flowers Foods has an internal awards program called the Pinnacle Awards that recognizes those bakeries that attain operation excellence. Since 2001, Flowers Bakery of Crossville has won 7 Pinnacle Awards, most recently a Bronze Pinnacle last year. The program looks at all facets of the operation, from financial goals and safety to quality and production.

In addition to producing quality products, Flowers Bakery also wants to be a good neighbor to the community.

"We get a lot of requests from various charities for product donations," Shipley said. "In most cases, we do what we can to help. We've assisted everyone from schools to organizations that feed the homeless."

The Crossville bakery sponsors sports teams at the Cumberland County Youth Center and supports the American Cancer Society Relay for Life and the Cumberland County United Fund.

"We're pleased to be a part of the community and look forward to a bright future," Shipley said. "We are proud of our employees, our products and our customers."

For more information about Flowers Foods, see the company's Web site, www.flowersfoods.com.

A Salute to Industry series is a project of the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce to feature local industries and businesses.

 

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