The Waffle Shuffle

This article appears in the September 2019 edition of Canadian Packaging on Page 30.

Family-owned Schep’s Bakeries Ltd. has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a small business for small specialty stores over 35 years ago.

Founded by Dutch-born Arie Schep, Schep’s Bakery quickly blossomed into the only stroopwafel manufacturer in North America, distributing the Double Dutch waffle cookie assortments into larger retail stores in Canada and the U.S. market.

For the past eight years, the Norwich, Ont.- based Schep’s Bakery facility stands at an impressive 50,000-square-feet, where they are conveniently at the centre of a predominantly Dutch community.

“We’ve grown from a smaller shop to a bigger shop,” says Schep’s Bakery president Jacco Schep, who has taken up the mantle from his father and has continued to oversee production of only the best waffle cookies, credited to a tightly guarded family recipe.

“Making waffle cookies is what we do – it’s our main focus,” extols Schep.

A true Dutch delicacy, a stroopwafel is a wafer made from two thin layers of baked dough with a golden caramel syrup filling in the middle. While it was first made popular in the Netherlands, nowadays stroopwafels are enjoyed worldwide.

While most stroopwafels are traditionally filled with caramel, Schep’s Bakery has created gluten- free and organic varieties, and a plethora of flavours requested by their customers, which include fan favourite, Cookies & Crème.

“If demand is there, we will create it,” Schep told Canadian Packaging during a recent visit to the lively 55-employee facility working on two-shifts, six-days-a-week schedule throughout most of the year, with steady demand upticks throughout the year.

“Everything changes daily––there’s trends and there is necessary changes. As a business, you try to go along with it as much as you can based on how big the market is for that particular trend.”

To show their commitment to producing high quality stroopwafels, the Schep’s Bakery plant has earned the internationally recognized GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) and BRC (British Retail Consortium) certifications, while the stroopwafels are Kosher, gluten-free, and only use Non-GMO and sustainably sourced ingredients.

According to Jonathan Schep, the younger of the two Schep brothers, consumers have provided them with glowing reviews of their stroopwafels.

“Customers just love the product,” says Jonathan. “We look at the quality more than at the quantity of what we do. It’s always about how it tastes, and how it looks.”

Adds Jonathan: “We have our own in-house R&D (research-and-development) lab to develop new flavours and waffle types.”

Although Schep’s Bakery will continue to make top-notch stroopwafels, the Schep brothers are mindful that they are doing business in an increasingly competitive market.

“The industry is competitive, ” Schep reiterates.

“Even though we are the only stroopwafel manufacturer in North America, there is definitely competition out of other parts of the world, which keeps the business interesting.”

Propack Row Distribution System

A bird’s eye view of the Propack Row Distribution System (RDS), which had been installed by Propack to help speed up production at the 55-employee facility. Photo credit: Naomi Hiltz

To stay afloat in an increasingly competitive and demanding market, the Schep brothers sought the help of Propack Processing & Packaging Systems Inc., a leading supplier of custom robotic packaging solutions.

Specializing in high-speed pick-and-place structures for applications such as cakes, cookies, candy, granola and snack bars, Propack has been a faithful partner of Schep’s Bakery for over a year and a half.

“A lot of machines were considered during the process of making the decision on which company to use and why, and I think that in the end, Schep’s Bakery chose Propack,” says Joseph Bradley, a technical sales representative for Propack.

“We were able to work together as a team, and as a team we developed a system that we believe is beyond what’s available in the market as a standard offering.”

The Propack Row Distribution System (RDS), which has been installed at the plant for about six months, uses AC motors and servo technology to receive rows of prepared stroopwafels from upstream processing equipment and co- ordinates product delivery on-time, on-demand to low, medium, or high-speed wrapping machines.

A flexible machine, the younger Schep brother has no qualms about singing its praises.

“The RDS distribution system that we have is one of the most advanced in the world,” Jonathan shares.“There really is nothing else out there like it with all of its capabilities.”

Prior to being distributed and sold throughout North America, the waffle is baked as per the family recipe’s instructions, the waffles are filled with the syrup and it is then cooled.

Once they have cooled, the waffle cookies are promptly distributed in rows on the RDS’ main belt, where the central panel controls system deter- mines which line the cookie will go.

“The system has the ability to deliver those rows to multiple packaging streams simultaneously or in- dependently,” Bradley explains.

“This includes distributing stroopwafels to high speed wrappers and then sending them further downstream to robotic carton loading. Or, the RDS can make a decision to deliver products to the scale and bagging system instead of to the wrappers. We can also wrap the product and then send it to the baggers instead of going to the cartons.”

Having met in the initial stages of Schep’s Bakery looking for a partner, the Schep brothers were very clear about what they wanted the overall line to look as an integrated packaging line as one system from Propack.

Suffice to say, Propack provided everything and more in the eyes of Schep’s Bakery.

“Everything had to be integrated along with all of the programming and Propack took care of every- thing from start to finish,” Jonathan says.

“From purchasing the machines, to getting them all here, to installing it and setting it up, and commissioning it, everything has been good – what more can we say?”