Claire Fitts from Butterfly Bakery of Vermont
Scaling up a facility
Your own home kitchen is a great place to start a making your product. If your business stays small, you can even use your kitchen as a production space and have it Health Department inspected and certified. But, if you'd like to grow, you'll need a bigger space and larger, more specialized equipment. You may decide to co-pack, rent space in another kitchen, or build your own kitchen. If you decide to build your own kitchen, your equipment will be different from what you use at home. Here are some of the things that you might what to consider:
Everything you can imagine putting into an oven has a special kind of oven designed for just that type of product. Conventional ovens are the most common they have a burner on the bottom and are most similar to a home oven. Convection ovens are the type you most commonly see in a bakery they are similar to conventional ovens, but also contain a fan that blows hot air throughout the oven. Hearth ovens are generally used for breads they have a hot stone slab that the bread is baked right on top of. There are more types of ovens in this world than this manual will ever hold, so find out what kind of oven is most commonly used for your type of product and familiarize yourself with how it might be different than what you're used to using.
Most commercial kitchens are required to use a three bay sink, equipped with a floor sink, plus a hand washing sink and a mop sink. Some smaller facilities and bakeries have a different set of requirements. Check with the VT Department of Health for the requirements most appropriate to your facility. If you have a lot of dishes to wash, you will want to invest in either a glass sanitizer or a full dish machine. And if you commonly send things down the sink that aren't soap and water, you will need a grease trap (also good for things like bread gluten and anything else that can gum up the works). If you are installing a grease trap, check with the VT Department of Health about regulations concerning keeping the thing properly cleaned out.
Make sure you choose a countertop surface that meets with VT Department of Health regulations. Stainless steel counters are the most common because they are non-porous and can be sterilized. While many bakers prefer wooden counters, the porous surface prevents them from being usable for products that need a sterile environment (meat, or raw food production, for example).
Stoves and Stovetops
Scaling up from a pot of oil on the stove to a full commercial fryer can save you a lot of time and hassle. If you've been cooking a canned product on the stovetop, consider scaling up to a 5 gallon (or larger) kettle. Some kettles can hold your product at a constant temperature while you cook and package it. A flattop stove will give you a lot more room to cook your product than a pan and an indoor grill will give you a lot of versatility. Most of these things will require you to get a commercial hood with fire suppression. Make sure that your potential space has high enough ceilings to accommodate the hood and your stove is close enough to an outside wall where you can vent the gases.
Fridge and Freezer
When it comes to refrigeration commercial kitchens have walk-ins and reach-ins. A reach-in is similar to your standard home fridge in that it is a contained unit that can be moved around. A walk-in is a set of walls with a separate condenser that you can customize to fit your space.
If you've been hand mixing your product, test it out in a small, home mixer before scaling up to a 60 quart mixer or larger. If all turns out well, figure out how large you need to go. There is almost no limit to how large of a mixer you can get, as long as you're willing to spend the money.
Some other things to consider
Some large production equipment will need three-phase power (mixers, walk-ins, etc). If you anticipate needing this make sure that the space you are creating already has three-phase power, or budget in for adding it yourself. Do you need floor drains? Or indoor hoses? Do your walls need to be non-porous? Are there lots of door jams that you will need to roll racks and other equipment over in your potential space? There are many little questions to consider that can make a big difference in how well your space works for you. Talk to businesses that already make the type of product you are planning on making. Find out what special equipment has made their business run more smoothly. The right piece of kitchen equipment and proper floor plan can turn a hassle into a cinch.
Scaling a recipe
Scaling up a recipe is never as simple as multiplying by a large number and calling it a day. Many ingredients, like salt, spices and leaveners don't scale evenly as a recipe grows. And unexpected things can happen as you are growing a recipe. If your recipe is in cups and tablespoons the first step is to convert your recipe into pounds. If you feel unsure of your ability to scale a recipe, don't be afraid to ask for help. The Vermont Food Venture Center is one place that can help with that transition.
Converting your recipe to weight
Measure each of the ingredients you use in the form that you use it in (e.g. weigh 4 cups of crushed tomatoes) and then calculate how many pounds your recipe will use of that item. Alternately, you can measure the weight of exactly the quantity that you use in a recipe, but this can be inaccurate if you're using a very small amount, like 1/2 teaspoon. After you have converted your recipe to pounds, make a batch of your product by weight to make sure that you did, in fact, calculate everything right.
Growing the batch size
Things act very differently when you are making a bowl-full of a product versus many gallons of the same product. Don't jump straight from your home-sized batch to a full production run (unless you have oodles of money to spare!). Start with a moderate batch size increase. Perhaps 10 or 20 times your original batch. Flavorful ingredients like spices and salt will be much more flavorful in large batches. Start with 1/2 the amount you used to use and adjust to taste. Leaveners in baked goods might need to be adjusted as well. If the individual item that you're baking is the same size (e.g. one loaf, one cookie, etc.) then you may not need to change the leaveners at all. But if you are baking larger items (e.g. wedding cakes), you will need to adjust down the amount of leavener. Start with 3/5 the amount you used to use and adjust to the needs of your product.
Keep in mind how long it takes to package or scoop your new batch size. Does it need more liquid because the product is drying out as it sits and waits to be packaged? Do the leaveners start to deactivate because it takes to long for them to get to the oven? Also look at the tools you are using. If you used to mix your product by hand and now use a mixer, make sure that the mixer isn't over mixing, shredding or otherwise changing your product for the worse.
Shelf life testing
Once you get your recipe to the place that you like it, you will need to shelf life test it. Shelf life testing is a very important step that you can't afford to skip. While some dry products (like chips and crackers) can be put on a shelf and tasted every few days to check for staleness, most products, especially jarred products, need to be tested by a process authority to determine pH, moisture, and water activity (the Vermont Food Venture Center in one organization that can help you find an appropriate process authority). If the product doesn't meet your needs, they can advise you on how to make changes. Once you have worked out the kinks, you can scale your batches up to full size, keeping a careful eye on how things change. If you make any changes to the recipe at this point, you will want to re-test your final product, to make sure that you are still producing a safe and shelf stable product.
Making your recipe scalable
If every batch is going to be the same size, you can determine that recipe and be done with the calculations. But, if you are going to be making a different batch size each time, you will want to write up your recipe in an easily changeable way. The easiest way to do this is with a spreadsheet. You can download a sample spreadsheet to get an idea of how to use equations in your spreadsheet [Download attached spreadsheet]. The basic idea is to have a single batch recipe in your spreadsheet that can multiply up according to how many of the items you need. This method is especially handy if you need 100 of something, and your recipe makes 80 of that thing. You don't have to mess with multiplying fractions, but can just let the computer do it for you! If you are new to spreadsheets, you can inexpensively purchase a tutorial book that will teach you much more than you need to know.
When you're producing product in large quantity, you're going to need to buy the ingredients in large quantity. Distributors are the most convenient place to get the ingredients you need, but most likely you will need to go to several different sources to completely supply your facility and will find that certain ingredients are best sourced directly from the person or company that makes or grows it.
Here in Vermont we are lucky to have such a wide variety of growers and food producers and many ingredients can be bought directly from the farmer. That farmer will likely turn around and spend their money on other Vermont goods (like yours) and keep the money circulating in the Vermont economy. Your first sourcing expedition for your ingredients should be to a farmers market. Most of the farmers at the farmers market also sell wholesale, and if you're at a local farmers market, will deliver in your area. You can also make the farmers market trip an opportunity to talk to other food producers who use the same ingredients as you do. They might know of a local source for your ingredients.
Other food producers are usually the best source of information about distributors and other business supply sources. If you're starting out small and don't meet the minimum delivery requirements, many food producers will also let you get your delivery dropped at their location (as long as you promptly pick it up!).
The internet is also a wealth of ingredient information. It's the best place to search for a new type of ingredient. If you're looking for jalapenos that are already diced, or need an idea for what kind of dried fruit will taste perfect in your jarred mincemeat, the internet is a great place to start. Once you find what you're looking for, you can contact your regular distributor (or a new distributor) to find out if they carry it, and if they don't, find out if they can!