Cool innovation at R&D test kitchen

This summer, Sara Lee Frozen Bakery opened its new Innovation Center in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., where for the first time in 40 years, the frozen bakery is in its own building as a sole company. The test kitchen works with small, batch unit operations, and the need for consistent capabilities is crucial. 

According to Judy Lindsey, research and development director at Sara Lee Frozen Bakery, when it comes to freezing and chilling in the kitchens of Sara Lee, the company has several different needs.

Sarah Lee innovation center

“During development, we need the ability to chill and freeze rapidly so we can move faster through the process of formulating, reviewing, adjusting plans, then repeating,” she says. “Some unit operations require chilling or freezing mid-process, and we always want to look at product after it has been through a complete freeze and prepped. So we have a small blast freezer in addition to standup and walk-in freezer and chilling units.”

As a frozen food company, Lindsey explains the need for a large frozen storage area that holds a consistent temperature. “We retain samples of all our development products, plus a supply of new innovations to allow our customers to experience them as soon as possible,” she says.

Equipment features that were important to Sara Lee during the design and build of the facility include digital setpoints and high-temp alarms that can alert staff via the internet if anything is off temperature. She reveals that customer service was a huge factor in choosing their equipment. 

“We cannot afford to have freezers go out of service; it will stop us in our tracks. Service contracts and very responsive managers and technicians are critical. We have developed great relationships with our key suppliers,” she says.

For a company that has the words “frozen bakery” right in its title, it is obvious that in its manufacturing facilities, freezing is vital to success. 

Freezing “is critical to our food safety program and our quality,” says Lindsey. “Slow freezing will quickly deteriorate the texture of the products we deliver. Any technologies that minimize the temperature variation and allow freezing faster and more controlled will decrease waste, consumer complaints and energy, thus increasing our bottom line.”