Diverse product lines and multiple distribution channels are helping this producer of more than 100 bread products thrive in a lean economy. People need to eat. That is never going to change. For Michigan’s Kordas’ Metropolitan Baking Company and Mike Zrimec, general manager, offering customers best-in-class bread products is the key to feeding another generation.

Metropolitan Baking has been providing various bread products to Southeast Michigan for more than 65 years. A family business, the company’s wholesale baking operations include sandwich bread, variety breads, rolls, and buns. Its product lines are diverse enough to suit fine dining clients as well as fast food or institutional environments. 

After humble beginnings in a facility no bigger than two houses, the company now operates out of its 80,000-square-foot headquarters in Hamtramck, Mich. All of its baking production, with a bread line and bun and roll line running concurrently, take place at the facility. The company creates its own dough formulas inhouse. A bank of large horizontal mixers simultaneously supplies both the bread lines and bun and roll lines with 1,300- to 1,600-pound dough batches every ten minutes. The dough is mixed according to its individual product specifications, scaled, divided, molded, and baked. 

Distribution operations are also run out of the Hamtramck facility. In addition to serving Southeast Michigan, the company works with restaurants, chain systems, and food service manufacturers and distributors to cover the entire state. All of its products are delivered by truck, and while the company does some deliveries itself, independent distribution companies, food service distributors, and jobbers sell Metropolitan Baking products and are responsible for the majority of the distribution operations.    

When the company got its start, it mainly serviced restaurants and institutional accounts like hospitals and school systems, with the majority of its products heading to restaurants in the region. Although 75% of the company’s business is still done with that market, about 10 years ago, the company saw an opportunity to expand and diversify by dabbling in retail and partnering with some customers to offer private labeling of its products.  

“We are trying to expand our marketplace. Southeast Michigan has a tough business climate, and a lot of people are leaving the area,” said Zrimec. “That is one of the reasons we are looking to expand our retail operations, and we are just really tapping that market now.”

The right ingredients

Looking to expand its sphere of influence isn’t the only way Metropolitan Baking is trying to survive in a tight economy. As a company, it continues to look at ways to make its production plant more efficient. In fact, the company is in the midst of a green initiative and will soon be replacing the lighting in the facility. While Zrimec admits there will be an up-front cost to the company, over time it will pay for itself through reduced energy costs.

The company also looks at its labor force and its production methods. If there are machines that can help reduce labor costs and increase production capacity per hour, Metropolitan Baking will look into it and analyze the potential benefits it could bring to operations. Every week, the company closely monitors its labor dollars in comparison to sales. Zrimec said the company runs a tight ship with labor, making sure people always have something to do, either helping with production, distribution, or sanitation.

By keeping a close eye on the bottom line, Metropolitan Baking has been able to develop products that are in demand regionally and take advantage of opportunities in the market. For example, when the company got its start, it had its own bun line, making things like hot dog and burger buns. But it made more sense to enter into a partnership with an area bun baker. Metropolitan bought the baker’s buns to distribute, and the baker bought Metropolitan’s bread products to distribute. But when that company went out of business several years ago, it was an opportunity for Metropolitan to get back into bun production and reaction from the market has been positive.

“Sometimes you just have to put a few different products out there and see what hits,” said Zrimec. “Over time, you can see what is selling and what isn’t.”

Metropolitan Baking is quite concerned with ensuring its own quality assurance programs are effective. The company has a third party come in on an annual basis to inspect the plant from top to bottom and make sure everything from its sanitation procedures to risk management is up to the level the company and its customers require. Zrimec said the company scores high on those tests year after year. State and federal regulators from the Department of Agriculture and MIOSHA also visit from time to time to oversee quality and safety. 

“We have all-encompassing plans and procedures in place to make sure quality assurance and safety guidelines are updated regularly and that all employees are fully trained on all aspects of that,” said Zrimec. “We also have an annual review process covering all of our procedures for each employee.” 

With a successful history of operations in the region, Zrimec is hopeful that the economy in Southeast Michigan will take a positive turn in the near future. But expanding into markets and opening distribution channels where the economy is somewhat stronger, such as Western Michigan in the Grand Rapids area, is one way the company can continue to thrive despite the tight financial times close to home. 

Continued exploration of the retail and private labeling operations is another way to expand. Considering that a leaner economy means fewer disposable income dollars to spend at restaurants, this is a good way for the company to reach the retail customer who is now more often eating burgers at home instead of at the local family restaurant.

Expansion outside Michigan is something the company would like to explore further, and Zrimec is confident that Metropolitan Baking would be up for the challenge when the time is right. “I would love for us to expand into new territories throughout the Midwest. We have the capacity in our plant to double production by adding a second shift. We would just need to open up a distribution center somewhere else and use it as a channel to spoke out in different areas,” he concluded.