A Double-Dip Expansion

HERMITAGE, Pa. – A pair of planned expansion projects will position Joy Baking Group in Hermitage, Pa., to put more cones in the hands of ice cream lovers, as well as cookies on grocery store shelves. 

Joy Baking Group, founded in 1918, manufactures cones and inclusions – cookies cut up for ice cream manufacturers to insert into their products. The company serves retail, food service and industrial customers in the eastern half of the United States and into Canada from the Hermitage plant. It also has a pair of plants in Flagstaff, Ariz., and Le Mars, Iowa, to service the rest of the country.

The 103-year-old company is preparing to begin construction in the next couple of months on a two-story, 3,000-square-foot addition to the 530,000-square-foot cone plant and warehouse. The expansion will make room for a new sugar cone batter room.

Drawings are being prepared for the second project, an expansion of 200,000 square feet to the neighboring 110,000-square-foot cookie plant that will expand its capabilities.

The two projects will help the company meet growing demand for the products it already offers and expand into new markets, says David George, president and CEO.

George’s grandfather founded the company. George’s father, Joe George, took over in 1964, and he became president in 2011. “We’ve been growing steadily over the last several years,” he says.

Sugar cone production capacity is tight now and Joy has picked up additional customers, necessitating the need for new ovens at Hermitage and the new batter room to supply those ovens.

“We need much more capacity,” George says.  

The company’s major customers include restaurant chains Dairy Queen, and McDonald’s, retailers Walmart and Kroger, and food manufacturers Wells, Nestle and Unilever.

The cookie oven at the cookie plant, which is used to make cookies that are chopped up for ice cream manufacturers who include the pieces in their products, is running at capacity as well. A second oven will help Joy with that issue as well as give it the ability to enter the retail cookie market.

“We have some ideas about Joy brand retail cookies, but we anticipate mostly [producing and packing cookies] for other companies,” George says.

How soon that takes place will depend on how soon the new building can be constructed, which George says he will have a better handle on in the next 30 to 60 days. When interviewed in mid-June, George said he hoped to have drawings for the addition completed by July and put out to bid. But supply issues facing contractors might delay the project and the start of production, he said.

“At this point, the building won’t be done until sometime in 2022. The oven placement wouldn’t be until the summer of 2022, so we’re really talking more like the 2023 time period,” he said.

Between the two projects, George estimates the company will make a $20 million investment.

Before its purchase of BoDeans Baking Group about four years ago, Joy Baking Group’s focus was on the retail and food service markets, George says. The acquisition of BoDeans, which operated “pretty much exclusively” in the industrial market, “made us a much stronger company overall.”

Joy now has probably 80% of the retail market and more than 50% in both the food service and industrial segments, he estimates.

Since joining Joy 17 years ago, Tyler Tupper, plant manager at the cone plant, said the company has expanded in terms of volume and automation.

“During that time, we’ve also expanded our employment,” he says. Joy had 250 employees at the Hermitage plant. That’s expanded to 700.

The growth has been interesting to watch, George says. He recalls when the plant was just 30,000 square feet. Then the company began expanding geographically, “pushing further and further west and further and further south,” and added McDonald’s as a customer.

“It’s been very exciting,” he says. “There’s a lot of history with the family but we’re a pretty close-knit workforce, and we really think of everyone as part of the Joy family.”

One of the major changes for the company has been bringing the members of the “Joy family” into ownership. George’s father and uncle Fred  had been the primary owners for years, but when the uncle decided to leave the business in 1992, his shares were bought through an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, putting about 40% of the company in employees’ hands. 

In 2016, Joy went to full ESOP ownership.  

“It’s a great concept for the employees to be actual owners in the company,” George says. “It’s not just your paycheck. The better the company does, the more your shares are going to be worth and your retirement grows.”

Norm Young of Hermitage, a maintenance technician who has worked at Joy since 1992, praises the arrangement.

“You’re looking after things, making sure everything is running well,” he says. “It’s your time, it’s your effort and you’re getting a good dividend from it.”

Kevin McGowan of Hermitage, a senior sanitation technician who oversees the batter rooms and batter lines, returned to the company 7 ½ years ago after working there in the 1980s. He agrees that the ESOP makes workers more personally invested in what they do. Everyone should take pride in their jobs but the ESOP “actually makes a difference,” he says.  

McGowan regularly attempts to recruit young workers to the plant.

“I don’t know if the steel mills are going to be here in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, but this place is going to be here,” he said. Whether we’re twice the size or half the size, we’re still going to be here. This place is going to be here forever.”

Over the past six months, Joy Baking has hired more than 150 people, “which is a big number but we are still hiring,” George says.  

“We’ve made a lot of progress in that area but, like a lot of companies, it’s difficult to hire right now,” he continued. “We’re chipping away at it.”

By the end of the year, he says the company will need to bring on another 50, and next year bring on another 80 or so. “As we continue to grow, we will add to that number.”

Pictured: David George’s grandfather founded the ever-expanding Joy Baking Group more than 100 years ago.