A focus on and investment in automation and quality equipment, combined with flexibility and high-quality products, has made the Fancy Pokket Corporation Atlantic Canada’s leading manufacturer of pita bread, bagels, tortilla wraps, pizza crusts, Greek pita, and flat bread. Janice Gable Bashman reports.
Mike Timani, President of Fancy Pokket Corporation, knew only a little about manufacturing pita bread when he moved to Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, a central hub in the area, in 1989. What he did know is that consumers were becoming more health conscious. Armed with a belief that he could produce a better pita than what was available at the time, coupled with his extensive management background working with Hilton International hotels, Timani started Fancy Pokket in June 1989 in a 1,000-square-foot facility. The company produced and promoted a healthy pita – cholesterol free, fat free, and no sugar added – at a time when its competitors were adding sugar to their products, which many still do.
“Retailers were impressed with our product,” says Timani, “but we couldn’t produce for them because they required frozen products. So, we went back to the bank and expanded in order to enter the market.” Ten months after opening its doors, Fancy Pokket’s manufacturing facility grew to 4,000 square feet, enabling the company to increase automation and production.
The year 1992 found Fancy Pokket expanding its line to include hot dog and hamburger pitas, innovative and unique products at the time. The company also began producing 2.5-inch in diameter herbal and garlic flavored mini pitas. Fancy Pokket expanded again in 1995 to 24,000 square feet and bought a stress-free line, a high-capacity, fully automated line capable of producing 14,000 pita loaves per hour. This line also enabled the company to diversify and expand its offerings to include pizza crust, bagels, and Greek pita, and made Fancy Pokket the single largest pita producer in Canada.
By 2001, Fancy Pokket outgrew its facilities once again and expanded to 32,500 square feet, adding freezer and warehouse space and a new bagel line capable of producing 12,000 bagels per hour. It also installed a state-of-the-art tortilla line that could produce 38,200 pieces per hour.
The year 2008 was another busy year for Fancy Pokket. In June, the company replaced the pita line with new, state-of-the-art, fully-computerized equipment, capable of producing 17,000 pitas per hour with fully customizable programming, which enables the company to change the line if necessary.
Today, Fancy Pokket is in the middle of another expansion, adding 3,500 square feet to its manufacturing facility, bringing the plant to 36,000 square feet. The company is also adding a traditional Lebanese pita line, producing a thinner pita product with increased shelf life. This line is capable of making 12,000 pitas per hour.
Fancy Pokket uses state-of-the-art, stainless steel equipment to produce all of its products, selling to retail stores under the Fancy Pokket and Paco (tortilla) labels and to private labels located in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Caribbean Islands, and the United States. Some customers have been with the company for 19 of its 20 years in business, a testament to the quality of its products and the service the company provides. “We started with three employees and now have over 50,” Timani says. “Our growth is due to our high-quality products, personal service, and flexibility. We work closely with our customers in the private label markets and large retail stores, where we continue to do business, based on our products and services.”
Fancy Pokket produces 40 sizes and varieties of products, including pitas, bagels, tortillas, pizza crust, Panini, and pita toasters. With 11 sizes and flavors of pita bread, including hot dog and hamburger pitas and mini pitas, Fancy Pokket has something for everyone. “The mini pitas are great for kids,” Timani explains. “They can stuff anything inside. It’s also great for snacks or catering – just add lobster or tuna salad or whatever you like.” The company also makes herbal and garlic pitas, as well as Greek style pitas (original, sun-dried tomato, and garlic flavors). Bagels come in seven varieties (plain, sesame, cinnamon raisin, whole wheat, blueberry, whole grain, and everything), while the tortillas (sold under the brand name of Paco) are available in pesto garlic, salsa, tomato, and veggie, and are available in a variety of sizes.
Pita Toasters, the company’s newest product, was recently launched in two major retail stores in Canada and are shaped like toast. Pita Toasters contain 10 different grains and five grams of fiber, are trans-fat free, and are a source of Omega-3. Available in two flavors (apple cinnamon raisin and cranberry apple), Pita Toasters are a good breakfast or snack alternative for the health-conscious consumer.
AUTOMATION IS KEY
Fancy Pokket has invested over $10 million in its manufacturing facility to obtain the best equipment possible and produce the best product. “Our belief in automation is a huge factor in our success,” says Timani. “We ensure we use the machinery that produces the best quality product. The pita line machine we have now is equipped with a12-inch screen, so to program the line you just push a button and it changes the whole sheeting for you. This enables us to produce a consistent, high-quality product. The mixing and sheeting are keys to how the product comes out of the machine, but there are also other controls involved, such as our proofer, which is enclosed to enable us to control temperature and humidity.” Fancy Pokket also uses spiral cooling conveyors. The products sit on the conveyor instead of being dropped, resulting in a product that remains intact. Fancy Pokket’s automated packaging line and metal detectors round out the manufacturing process. “Every line in the plant has its own metal detector for safety,” Timani says. “We want to ensure we have a healthy and safe product.”
POSITIONED AT THE TOP
Growth has been tremendous over the past few years for Fancy Pokket. From 2003 to today, the company doubled its business, and from 2007-2008 it saw an increase of 27 percent in sales. This is definitely a company on the rise.
Fancy Pokket believes that in order to grow and meet customers’ needs, it must engage in research and development efforts focused on product development. Each year, it creates something new and adds the product to Fancy Pokket’s product line. The company also believes its flexibility and a willingness to work with its customers in determining their needs are keys to success. “If a customer approaches us about a product, we say ‘can we do this?’ and then take a look at it and test it and keep our minds open,” Timani explains. “When our customers see that we are working with them and trying to make things happen, they work with us too, and that improves our business.”
Recent economic conditions have impacted Fancy Pokket’s operations. The rising cost of flour increased production costs by a few hundred thousand dollars. While the company did not raise its prices immediately to cover these increased costs, its customers soon realized that the increase was hitting everyone and not just one baker. Therefore, Fancy Pokket was able to pass on the increased costs to its customers.
The cost of oil has impacted transportation costs, increasing expenses by up to 50 percent, making transportation costs a challenge for Fancy Pokket. “New Brunswick is a smaller population,” says Timani. “So we have to be very competitive to ship to and succeed in other parts of the world.” And although increased shipping costs affected Fancy Pokket’s cost of goods, the company chose not to pass this increase on to its customers.
Despite the current economic conditions, the future looks promising for Fancy Pokket. “We’re in the right business – flat breads, pita breads, etc.,” Timani says. “If you open any magazine, these are the products that are being pushed and promoted more and more. Customers are looking for whole grain, high fiber, and healthy foods. The trend is there, and it is growing and will continue to grow. We see it in the business, and we are responding through new product development.”
Fancy Pokket’s business philosophy is “if we can’t do it right, we won’t do it at all.” From the looks of things, that’s the motto that has brought Fancy Pokket to the top of its market, providing high-quality products to major retail and foodservice chains; independent retailers; and foodservice and industrial clients. Through constant product development and an investment in top-of-the-line, automated equipment, Fancy Pokket is sure to continue producing its high-quality products for years to come.