Those of us who have ever spent an afternoon baking cookies must feel awed by the sheer scale of the pastry-making operation at Mrs. Fields Gifts in Salt Lake City. Located near the company's headquarters, the facility makes, packs, and ships gift boxes of Mrs. Fields cookies in astronomical quantities. Running through 2.1 million pounds of cookie dough annually, the factory shifts into top gear during November and December, when holiday demand accounts for up to 75% of the yearly business. During this period, the number of staff swells from 35 to 300, the facility operates from 5:00 AM until 2:00 AM, and the bakery may churn out as many as 35,000 packages of cookies per day. (The holiday season of 2011 has proved to be so busy that Mrs. Fields has suspended its tour until after Christmas, but after then you can make a tour reservation at the company's website.)
Guided tours of the gifting facility take you into the center of the operation. You start with a video and a brief history of the company, which began with the single small cookie store that Debbi Fields founded during 1977 in Palo Alto, California. After this introduction, you head toward the bakery, a sizeable space about as large as a basketball court. There are no passive viewing windows here: you don a hairnet and step right into the action. The strong aroma of cookies that greeted you when you set foot in the building now surges and fills your head with the bliss of baking pastry as staff members deftly prepare trays of cookies to be whisked into ovens.
The packaging lines are in the bakery too. Gift batches of freshly baked cookies are set in colorful tins or decorative baskets, complete with hand-tied bows. You then follow their progress to the warehouse and shipping dock, where gift packages are sent all over the United States. Perhaps the most amazing thing here is the giant storage freezer. At 20,000 cubic feet, it can keep a city's worth of pastry fresh until shipping. Tours end at the outlet store, where you can find gift packages of cookies made right in the bakery.
This tour will be featured in the next edition of Watch It Made in the U.S.A. Meanwhile, you can read about other confectionary tours in the current edition of the book.
Posted By Karen Axelrod Dec 8, 2011