Sunday, October 11, 2009

Batching-Up and Packaging

It has been an exciting week for Vermont Cookie Love. This week we moved further toward establishing a distributor relationship with Associated Buyers. It looks as if we will be added to their catalog of products in December. They cover most of New England, so this could mean a very large increase in our production and sales.

We also had a conversation with Ben and Jerry's this week that could mean a large increase in our bulk dough sales.
We sell our bulk dough in 15 lb. blocks. The company Ben and Jerry's still owns several scoop shops here in VT (i.e., they are not franchises). They are considering buying our bulk dough to bake for cookies in these shops.

That brings me to one of the topics for this week, which is batching-up. How do you take a home sized recipe and increase it in size? How do you go from a recipe that fits in a 6 qt. home stand mixer to a recipe that makes the most of an 80 qt. Hobart mixer? When we started out doing this, we thought it was a matter of just multiplying the ingredients by two, four or whatever to increase the size. Turns out that's not how it's done.

The first step in batching-up, and in recipe development itself, was to reduce the quantity of each ingredient used to a weight, and preferably grams rather than ounces. Weighing ingredients by the gram was the single most important thing I learned in order to create consistent recipes. I had no idea when I started out how much different in weight a cup of flour can be from one measuring to another. Do you scoop it in the cup and level off? Do you sprinkle the flour into the cup lightly then level off? The difference in weight is staggering, and the outcomes very, very different. So when we developed our recipes, I weighed each ingredient rather than measuring. And when I made adjustments of an ingredient, that adjustment may have been too small to measure other than by the gram. But the difference in outcome was enough to notice.

Once you have your recipe written out in grams, add up all the ingredient weights to arrive at the total weight of your batch. Then you calculate what percentage of the whole batch each ingredient constitutes by dividing the ingredient by the whole. As an example...

Flour - 1000 g
= 1000/1360 = .736 or 73.6%

Sugar - 200 g = 200/1360 = .147 or 14.7%
Eggs - 150 g = 150/1360 = .11 or 11%
Salt - 10 g = 10/1360 = .007 or 0.7%
TOTAL - 1360 g = 1 or 100%

Now that you have the percentages, you can pick a large batch size and multiply the batch size by the percentages to arrive at the weight of each ingredient for that batch size. For example, the first large mixer we used was a 60 qt. mixer, which could handle a 30 kg batch of dough. So for our example, the calculations would be as follows:

Flour - .736 x 30,000 (30 kg equals 30000 g) = 22,080 g
Sugar - .147 x 30,000 = 4,410 g
Eggs - .11 x 30,000 = 3,300 g
Salt - .007 x 30,000 = 210 g

Certain ingredients may not batch-up as well, such as spices or salt. We learned all this from Brian Norder at the Vermont Food Venture Center. He taught us that salt, for example, may need to be decreased in the final large batch because ingredients that are a very small part of your home sized batch may become overwhelming when batched-up. That happened in our case for some of our flavors. We ended up decreasing the salt content by about 25% from the batch-up recipe.

When it comes to packaging, we still have a lot to learn, and it is an ever-evolving work-in-progress. At the point when we were selecting packaging for our frozen cookie dough, we were heavily influenced in our choices by our desire to make the packaging look like a burrito (in keeping with the DOUGH-rito theme, now no longer used). But it was also important to create a barrier from freezer burn. We wanted to start with a layer that the dough would not stick too very much. We tried waxed paper, but it disintegrated. We decided to go with freezer paper because it is designed to protect the food from freezer burn and it created a nice foundation on which to wrap the aluminum foil. The foil adds another layer of freezer protection and provides a tighter seal than the paper. It also looks like a burrito, at least the kind you get in a California burrito shop.

We had our graphic designers create the "cuffs" that go around each log of dough with all the required label information and baking instructions. As I mentioned before, we started by photocopying our cuffs at a copy shop and securing them to the foil with tape. We closed the cuff with one of our logo labels. A year after we started, we had the cuffs redesigned and printed to look more professional. They are now on freezer tolerant paper with an adhesive strip to attach them to the foil.

The final piece to our packaging is the plastic outer layer, which comes in a tube form that is then sealed. We have to thread each log of dough individually into this tube of plastic and then seal it with a hand sealer.

As many of you may imagine, our packaging will need to be changed if we ever hope to become more efficient at producing the product. Chances are we will need to extrude the dough with a machine into plastic tubing, and have our label information printed right on the tube. We have resisted such an idea until now because we fear there will be less to differentiate us from the mega brands of dough in the refrigerator case. Unless we come up with another idea though, there may be no other way for us to grow the company.

If I were to advise another company starting out about packaging, I would suggest they think about the "what if" scenario where they need to produce thousands of units of their product very quickly. Would they be able to do that with the packaging they have in mind? If growth of that nature is not a goal, then it may not be an issue. Perhaps maintaining an artisanal profile is more important than growing the company. In any event, it's something that is best taken into consideration early on.

I'm off to stoke to fire and find a really good beans and rice recipe for tonight.


  1. I've been to culinary school and never learned the proper way to scale up a recipe. Jeez, and I thought costing was a miserable task!
    About your packaging, we've just changed the packaging for our cookies, so I can relate to the challenges. Can I suggest that you look into pint sized ice cream cartons for your dough?? I've seen some other cookie dough in the freezer case at Whole Foods in ice cream cartons and thought it looked very cool, definitely different than the tubes.

  2. Thanks for the idea and for tuning in. We did consider pint containers for the cookie dough, but we are concerned about the ease of use. The whole pint would have to be completely defrosted first in order to scoop it. With the tubes, it can be easily cut while still frozen. We find the dough is best shaped when it is still pretty frozen. But we have not ruled out the possibility completely. We're still going around in our heads about it.