The Charlotte, N.C. snack bakery recently started unitizing multipacks in-house.
Photo by Vito Palmesano

by Pan Demetrakakes, Chief Editor

The Kellogg Co. snacks plant in Charlotte, N.C., is making a lot out of small things.

Output at the 60-year-old bakery and packing facility now consists of single-serve versions of Cheez-It crackers, and Famous Amos and Keebler cookies like Chips Deluxe, Pecan Sandies and Mini Fudge Stripes. It packages more than 80 SKUs, including several versions of 100-calorie snack packs, an area where Kellogg was an early adopter.

Much of the plant’s output goes into single-serve bags. Until about two years ago, those bags had been shipped off to contract packagers to be combined into various forms of multipacks, ranging from six-count cartons for grocery stores to 36-count club-store sizes. Now packaging for multipacks is done in-house.

As the location of the secondary packaging was changing, so was the material. To unitize the single-serve pouches, Kellogg had been using what it internally called “caddy packs”-paperboard trays with plastic overwrap. But these were deemed lacking on several grounds, says Paul Pezzoli, senior director of packaging innovation and technology.

“They had some difficulties with them in that, material-wise, they weren’t as sustainable as they could be,” Pezzoli says. “The plastic was not recyclable. And they didn’t merchandise very well at all, which is critical to that product line.”

Kellogg decided to switch the secondary packaging to 100% paperboard cartons. The cartons not only incorporate recycled material and are more readily recyclable, they stack more easily for shipping and display. At the Charlotte facility, the change required simply idling a wrapper and relocating the new close-top package to another multi-pack line within the facility, with minimal change to the overall equipment footprint.

Plant operations manager Mildred Grimsley shows a 100-calorie club store carton of assorted single-serve snack pouches.
Photo by Vito Palmesano

Changing times

With more than 80 SKUs running on eight packaging lines, many of which run 24/7, changeovers are a fact of life.

“Part of our purpose here is, we are a quick-changeover, very flexible facility,” says plant operations manager Mildred Grimsley. “We do a lot of changeovers. With 80-plus SKUs, we’re constantly changing over.”

Many of the lines change over every day, and total changeovers may range from 13 to 18 a week. The goal is to do them in an hour or less, but when a switch involves a changeover from a product containing an allergen such as pecans to a non-allergen one, the extra sanitation steps required can push the procedure to four hours or more. The Charlotte facility does much of its packing by hand, an arrangement that allows maximum flexibility.

Cookies are brought in totes from the adjacent bakery, as well as other Kellogg operations, and fed into a hopper that deposits them into the pockets of a compartmented conveyor. They travel upward and into the hoppers of five form-fill-seal machines, which feed combo weigh scales that drop them into individual bags.

Some of the form-fill-seal machines feed directly into the multipack lines; the output from others goes what’s known as the bulk packaging line. These bags are packed in large corrugated cases that are stored on-site, then emptied into the hoppers of other lines as demand requires. The plant recently started recycling these cases for internal use, for a net reduction in corrugated.

On the lines that do multipacking, the single-serve bags arrive on the topmost track of a two-tiered chain conveyor. Meanwhile, a carton erector feeds paperboard cartons onto the middle track. Workers pack the bags into the cartons and put them on the closest track. They then travel through equipment that seals and glues them shut. They are coded, pass through a checkweigher and hand-packed into cases. The cases are tape-sealed and hand-palletized.

The largest cartons, 36-count club store packs, are palletized without cases. These packs have a dedicated line that, instead of being fed by conveyors, comprise a series of bins, each for a different cookie flavor. Workers load these bins from the rear from large corrugated in-house cases, and on the other side, line operators take bags as needed to pack the cartons. This arrangement confers flexibility that is much needed for the 36-pack. For instance, one club store chain wants Pecan Sandies but no Chips Deluxe, while a major competitor wants just the reverse.

The goal is for product to spend the minimal amount of time between baking and packaging. Once the cookies are packaged, they go straight onto a truck for delivery to the nearest Kellogg distribution center.