Processing and manufacturing almost always involve some degree of physical modification to a raw food product prior to packaging to prepare it for consumption. Common physical modifications in food processing include polishing, trimming, cutting, grinding and milling, among many others. With food manufacturing the resulting foods are distinct from their raw ingredients. Blending, mixing and baking are common activities in a food manufacturing environment. Food manufacturers use recipes to guide the cooking process, and many recipes have numerous inputs. Due to uncertainty in pricing, quality and material supply, a manufactured food product may have several recipes associated with it, each requiring a slightly or altogether different process. This heightens the need for logistical expertise, such as inventory management. Note that processed foods often go on to a food manufacturer for incorporation into multi-ingredient products. Though the products may be made by the same company, crisped rice is the central ingredient in Rice Krispie Treats.
In the last few decades, food manufacturing has been sharing many of the same characteristics as manufacturing in general. To meet specific marketing and branding objectives, modern food products are conceptualized and designed. For example, agricultural products are referred to as industrial inputs—proteins, carbohydrates, fats, flavors and colors that provide specific attributes to a food product. The use of processed ingredients in food manufacturing simplifies production control and gives companies flexibility in locating their manufacturing facility. It is no longer a requirement that manufacturing facilities and factories be located in agriculture producing regions, although doing so can be a strategic advantage in some sectors. For example, adding red food coloring to a fudge cookie can create a “red velvet fudge cookie,” a market distinction that might boost the price as well as sales.
Manufacturing companies often design their product line to work with their existing production environment, and vice versa. Some food products, such as bread, necessitate expensive, heavy equipment and have relatively inflexible, flow-oriented processes. Their long, sequence-dependent manufacturing processes prod companies to develop product lines with minimal variation, such as wheat bread, white bread and buns. Commercial bread bakeries are configured to mix big batches of ingredients and allow the dough to rise in large bowls. Kneading takes place in the same bowls, and the dough rises again. After the dough is divided into loaves, it moves slowly through ovens. The baked bread cools in the same pans, to be sliced and packaged. Converting such a massive process to make red velvet cookies would not work. A photograph of a large bread bakery is shown in Figure 6.3.
Other food manufacturing plants are modular in nature, designed for quick transition between products. Potato salad one day, artichoke spread the next. However, even small-scale, batch production processes are designed with efficiency in mind, as minimizing the transition between products helps maximize efficiency and profits. Standardized equipment, processes and automation allow for high-volume implementation of single-purpose activities. Even when the overall product line has substantial variation, this volume enables food businesses to take advantage of economies of scale and increase capacity utilization.
Figure 6.3 Large Commercial Bakery.
While the food industry is becoming like other manufacturing environments, input characteristics do separate the food industry from other industrial operations. Unstable yields, crop seasonality and other variables of procuring raw materials frequently cause variation in supply, quality and price. As a rule, food processors tend to be more susceptible to market fluctuations than food manufacturers because their suppliers tend to be primary producers such as farmers or ranchers. The sensitivity of food products to their processing environment can also create yield and processing time variation. For example, yeast-based breads can be highly impacted by ambient temperatures and humidity, creating variation in output yield and timing.
Tao Las Vegas: Fancy Food Production
When people hear the term food production, they might picture gleaming machines in a food factory or the efficiency of a meat packaging plant. The Tao Las Vegas restaurant brings a refined touch to food manufacturing. As one of the busiest high-end restaurants in the country, capable of feeding upward of 1,400 people a night, the act of food preparation is an organized and efficient production operation. It merely replaces packaging and shipping operations with plating and immediate service.
Tao is located on the Las Vegas Strip and draws the well-to-do, the thrill-seeking vacationer and the occasional celebrity. The ultimate goal is not only to get diners their meals in the elegant manner to which they're accustomed, but to get them rapidly out of their seats and into the upstairs nightclub or Tao Beach lounge, where they will likely continue partying for the rest of the night. To accomplish this task, Tao follows a cultivated strategy of quality food preparation combined with food manufacturing methods.
Tao serves dinner 24 hours a day. Eight chefs, 57 cooks and other staff members produce everything edible from the bar's fruit slices to US$40 entrees such as miso-glazed Chilean sea bass with stir-fried vegetables. This dish requires a five-minute bake in the morning, another five-minute cook later in the day and a final one-minute cook immediately before being plated and served. Tiny details like this allow managers to save precious minutes and keep guests moving during rush hours. But the cooking process is only one area of optimization.
Beginning at 7 AM, the staff receives daily shipments of fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood, while additional groceries are delivered twice a week. Lead receivers examine lobsters, tuna and other specialty ingredients before they are sent to the kitchens. By 8:30 AM the prep cooks arrive and begin their daily tasks, which have already been organized into notes and lists in their workspaces. At the same time, another team begins making about 500 dim sum, pot stickers, dumplings and other bitesize treats during their 71/2-hour shifts. In yet another kitchen, cooks clean seafood and poultry before dividing them into individual portions for initial cooking and service throughout the night. This work will have been well under way by the time staff begin cleaning and organizing the dining room at 10 AM.
Dinner service begins at 5 PM. The executive chef keeps a steady but swift flow of production by orchestrating the dozens of other cooks in multiple kitchens through a communication and control system. Between calling out orders and cooking instructions the executive chef tracks the time, informing cooks to begin a main course precisely 15 minutes after a table has received its appetizers. In this way Tao management ensures their operation does not miss a beat from ingredient receiving in the morning to the delivery of entrees.
At Tao, food production is an all-day affair and requires dozens of coordinated individuals. As over 1,000 guests purchase drinks and dance the night away in the nightclub or outdoor lounge, an enormous and highly organized staff work around the clock just behind the scenes to make the experience unforgettable. For many the night will end with a taxi ride back to the hotel or a return trip to the slots, but for staff at the Tao it all starts with preparation.3