Friday, August 5, 2011

My visual tour of Gardenia's plant

Gardenia's meteoric rise in the bread industry to No. 1 is nothing short of spectacular. I remember my Mom telling me about a decade ago to buy Gardenia for my family (I was still buying another brand which I was familiar with growing up) and my reaction then was "What is Gardenia?" Today, ask anyone on the street what brand comes to mind when you say 'bread' and probably 9 out of 10 will say Gardenia.

I had been hearing about Gardenia's plant tours and was secretly hoping I would have a chance to go some day. First, I wanted to know how all Gardenia breads were made since it was a permanent item on my shopping list. Secondly, I wanted to assure myself that the production process observed strict quality control. And third, just plain curiosity as to why Gardenia came from behind and overran all existing bread manufacturers.

My opportunity came last week when some of us bloggers were taken on a special tour of Gardenia's plant inside the Laguna International Industrial Park in Binan, Laguna. Here's what we saw and learned....

A nice surprise - a special banner welcomed us at the main lobby
In a special audiovisual room, we got to watch a video of the entire production process, after which the marketing manager also talked about how the finished breads are distributed throughout the country. Some trivia we picked up:

* Gardenia runs a machine that can produce 6,000 loaves of bread AN HOUR! In the same plant, they have a machine that can do 4,000 loaves/hour as well as a machine that can do 2,000 loaves/hour. In their recently opened Cebu plant, they use a machine that does 2,000 loaves/hour.

* From P137-M in total sales in 1995, Gardenia's total sales in 2010 grew to P2.5-B. And based on a Nielsen audit in 2010, they command 67% of the bread market.

* Feeder trucks go out every day to different locations where smaller trucks meet them to further deliver the bread to the retail outlets so that consumers get them fresh every day.

* Every day also (esp for big retail outlets), unsold bread is taken back by Gardenia and brought to a holding area in the plant. There, contractors buy all the unsold bread. These are processed and broken down as fish meal. No returned bread is resold for human consumption. The holding area is thoroughly cleaned after all the bread is taken so that no chances of bacteria or molds can get into the production area.

Of course, nothing could beat actually seeing the entire production line from start to finish from a glass-enclosed viewing area high above the production floor so here we go...

Sponge and Dough Mixing Stages

50% of the bread's ingredients are mixed and fermented in a cold room to develop the bread's aroma. Once fermented, the other 50% of the ingredients are added in and mixed with the fermented dough.

Dividing, Rounding, Intermediate Proofing, Moulding Stages

At this stage, the dough is cut to size, rounded, and passed through a check weigher so that every loaf weighs the same. Cut dough that are over- or underweight drop from the conveyor belt into a pan. No hands touch the dough throughout this process. Those that pass the weight test are moulded into loaves.

Dough is divided and rounded

Rounded dough are weighed as they move on conveyor belts

Loaves about to have lids placed on them before baking

Spiral Cooling

Baked loaves are placed on a spiral cooler that has several open and turning circles, allowing air to freely go around the hot bread to cool it down prior to being packed and sealed. I watched like a child at the two giant mountains of bread slowly turning and turning. It was a fascinating sight.

Slicing, Bagging, Packing

The cooled loaves travel through an automatic slicer, then move on to an automatic bagger that stuffs the sliced bread into its familiar packaging. The G-lock is also attached at this point to seal the loaf. The bagged bread then moves to the final stage where these are placed on trays and sent to a distribution center where it is held prior to being loaded into feeder trucks.

Automatic slicing
Automatic bagging and sealing with G-lock system

Almost ready to ship out!

Distribution Center

The G-Lock Seal

When I used to buy bread before, my only concern was the expiration date. I thought the colors used for the plastic seals were just random to add some color to the entire packaging. It was only later that I found out that there was one color for every day of the week and signified the day the bread was delivered to the retail outlet.

Gardenia staffers remember the codes this way -- TOY-BGRW
I did get to test this. I was at the grocery last Wednesday and the G-lock was supposed to be yellow. I checked the bread on the shelves. Yup - yellow G-locks! Now we know how to check for freshness.

As a mother, I was very happy to have seen the innards of Gardenia. I am comforted, seeing how they made the bread, that I would always have fresh bread for my family. For those of us who do not have luxuries like time to bake our own breads (or mothers who bake), Gardenia is the sure alternative.

I'd like to thank the entire team of Gardenia, most especially its President, Mr. Jun Umali, who took the time to be with us and patiently answer all our questions.

Bloggers with the Gardenia officers (the President, Mr. Umali, is the one with a tie)

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