LAKELAND, Fla. - The dance of the sugarplum fairies is real, at least where Publix baked goods are made. The grocer’s Lakeland bakery plant gears up as the holiday demand ramps up, and it starts with a cascade of cookie dough.
"Twenty-four hundred cookies a minute,” bragged bakery general manager Gaye Pate, “and every one of those cookies have about 45 to 50 chips in each cookie.”
She explains that there's a wire cutter inside the machine that cuts them at that rate. "We have 15 across and we're running at 50 cuts a minute."
They recently finished up holiday flavors, including pumpkin honey cranberry. Then it's on to the march of the muffins, and a batch of blueberry.
"This year so far we have used about 500,000 pounds of blueberries," Pate offered.
Pumpkin is the most popular holiday flavor. Crews work weeks in advance to get seasonal fan-faves onto shelves in all 1,208 stores.
"If we waited too close to the holiday, we wouldn't make it."
They blow through 2 million pounds of flour a week, and 400,000 pounds of sugar.
Behind the rat-a-tat of rolls, sheets of carrot cake get cut, frosted, and decorated – 20,000 carrot bars a day. And it’s all done by hand.
"You wanna get your bag and squeeze here get a little bit of icing,” instructed one pro decorator. “We put it here so we don't make a mess, then turn -- wait ‘til you're ready -- you're gonna squeeze and release as you go."
When it comes to baked goods, no robot can match the human hands.
"Bakeries are tough ones. We don't have a lot of automation. There are some automations out that can do some version of it but we like to have that special Publix touch.”
They do get some automated help with packing. But all the finishing touches happen at store bakeries, which is why they have a replica in the plant to make sure all the recipes rise, bake, and please the crowd.
They invent new recipes at the plant too, like their brand new tiramisu-flavored cookie out in January.