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West meets East over cookies

Headquartered in a 120,000-sq.ft state-of-the-art baking-and-packaging facility on the West Coast, Sugar Bowl Bakery has grown into a multi-million dollar pastry empire that sells to hotels, convention centers, grocery stores and warehouse clubs.

Like many other industry giants, this baking behemoth's story also has humble beginnings. But San Francisco-based Sugar Bowl Bakery's story starts on the other side of the globe.

From violence to poverty

Flash back to 1975. The South Vietnamese government has collapsed. The three attempts by the Ly family to leave their native Vietnam by boat met with varying levels of success. The fourth attempt only succeeds because the family, in its desperation, trades all of its property with the Viet Cong in order to get out.

When Andrew—one of five Ly brothers—finally arrives in the U.S., he has only $1 in his pocket and no knowledge of English. With limited language skills, Andrew Ly ends up working in San Francisco coffee shops and bakeries.

Sugar Bowl Bakery now sells three to four times more Petite Palmiers than it did before automating its packaging processes.

A failing business brings opportunity

In 1984, the brothers—Paul, Tom, Binh, Sam and the aforementioned Andrew—pulled together $40,000 in savings and bought a failing donut shop in San Francisco. In order to grow the business, the Ly family talks to the local Asian retailers about expanding the donut shop's offerings. As they began to expand the Sugar Bowl Bakery product line, the Lys discovered they excelled at making complex pastries, including palmier cookies.

Petite Palmiers, big business

As the orders for the Petite Palmiers® started rolling in, Sugar Bowl Bakery began to dedicate more and more people to producing and packaging the delicate treats. “I think what happened is that their products just started selling like crazy, and they had to just start throwing people on production lines,” recalls Doug Hill from systems integrator Hill Packaging Systems (

Sugar Bowl Bakery holds dear its 10 Secrets to Success, and its manual palmier packaging process was not in line with Secret Number Seven: Focus our time and resources.

Customized treatment

The Ly family brought in Hill Packaging Systems to do return-on-investment (ROI) analyses for potential packaging processes, with equipment ROI targets ranging from three months to one year.

The Lys decided to start packaging automation immediately after baking, with a conveyor system using KVP ( high-temperature belting with cooling fans. Hill Packaging Systems created automated, quality-control systems made from Eriez Mfg Co. ( metal detectors integrated with Thompson Scale Co., ( checkweighers.

A custom-built Hill Packaging Systems wraparound labeler, which the system integrator makes from either SL2000 or SL1000 devices from Universal Labeling Systems, Inc. (, was chosen for its ability to withstand frequent washdowns. The integrator added a Diagraph ( Lynx 4900 bar coder, which time- and date-codes filled trays, to the labeling station.

The final station in the palmier packaging line is home to a Wexxar/BEL ( semi-automatic case packer.

Packed to move

Operators visually inspect each cookie before placing it into a tray.

The new packaging line helped Sugar Bowl Bakery increase its production while keeping the process clean and dry. This helps the Petite Palmier cookies enjoy a shelf life of nine months after manufacturing—all without the benefit of preservatives.

“A lot of people feel that they need to use tons of preservations to make the product last longer, but it has a lot to do with the process too,” Sugar Bowl Bakery operations manager Kevin Ly explains.

With the security of the rigid packaging, Sugar Bowl Bakery was able to increase its bakery products distribution from the Bay Area to the East Coast. The bakery sources its crystal-clear PET clamshell packaging from multiple suppliers, including Dart Container Corp. ( and PWP (

Further automation ahead

Enthused by the results from automating the Petite Palmier line, Sugar Bowl Bakery has started automating the bakery's packaging line for madeleine cookies.

At the time of this writing, Doug Hill and Hill Packaging Systems technician Rudy Mayagoitia, are installing the madeleine packaging line incrementally. Not all of the new packaging equipment will mirror the machines used for the Petite Palmier line. Like the Petite Palmier line, the new line will use the integrator's customized conveyors. The Lys again are looking at Eriez metal detectors, but they also are considering systems by Lock Inspection Systems ( The new checkweigher will be a PMB1ESC semi-automatic, dual-lane linear scale from Weigh Right (

More information is available:
Hill Packaging Systems, 209/456-3379
Dart Container Corp, 800/248-5960.
Diagraph, an ITW Co., 800/722-1125.
Eriez Mfg Co., 800/345-4946.
KVP Inc., a member of the Habasit Group. 800/445-7898.
Lock Inspection Systems, 800/227-5539.
PWP Industries, 866/449-9253.
Thompson Scale Co., 713/932-9071.
Universal Labeling Systems, Inc., 877/236-0266.
Wexxar/BEL, 604/930-9300.
Weigh Right, 800/571-0249.

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