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First Capitol Bets on Creativity to Set Itself Apart

First Capitol’s principals have decades of experience in the baking industry, and their bakery’s history goes back even further. (iStock.com/DaveBolton)

It can be difficult for a new company to establish itself in the food industry without a known name or an established reputation. But it might overcome that challenge if it delivers a fresh, unique product that satisfies the appetites of consumers.

First Capitol Baking, which opened in May in Burlington, Iowa, is betting on its twist on a perennial favorite: cornbread. But this is not cornbread as you have had it before, Jeff McCarroll asserts.

“When you hear the word ‘cornbread,’ you might think of a rectangle corn cake,” he describes. “We actually mean a loaf of bread with sweet corn, not just regular cornbread, along with sandwich rolls, hamburger, hot dog and dinner rolls.”

McCarroll adds that First Capitol Baking will be introducing a completely new category of product when the bread debuts in grocery stores this summer. “No one has ever done a bread profile of corn,” he says.

Legacy in Bread

McCarroll has decades in the baking industry, but the legacy of the 34,000-square-foot facility in Burlington goes back even further. Previously, it was part of Interstate Bakeries Corp. (IBC), which operated under the management of Ralph Leroy Nafziger.

According to Milling & Baking News, Nafziger was himself an industry veteran who decided to build a national baking company and create thousands of jobs. Despite the stock market crash in 1929, he bought fledgling bakeries across the United States and merged them together as IBC in 1930.

Under his leadership, IBC became the largest wholesale baker in the nation and its Burlington facility became the first bakery for supermarket company Aldi. Nafziger also developed many regional breadlines, including Butternut and Weber’s.

The Burlington facility later separated from IBC and recently had to close its doors under the ownership of an investment group. When First Capitol Baking’s owners acquired it this year, they sought to restart the facility with a local product.

Since the state of Iowa is known for its corn, “I worked with one of my suppliers to develop a recipe for cornbread,” McCarroll recalls. “Corn is actually the biggest cash crop in the country, so it’s a popular thing.”

The new owners also rehired the facility’s skilled team of employees, who were eager to return to work. “There will be about 30 people coming back to start the plant back up,” he reports.

According to McCarroll, its staff was one of the factors that made the bakery so attractive in the acquisition. “You can buy equipment and buildings,” he says. “But the employees make the plant a success.”

Ready to Grow

First Capitol Baking has yet to reopen its bakery in Burlington, but McCarroll says the new company is off to a good start. “We’ve had some pretty good success, with new customers already showing interest,” he reports.

These include future clients in the conventional grocery and club channels, as well as foodservice. In fact, the only major challenge that First Capitol Baking is dealing with is timing, he admits.

“We would like to have been open sooner, but can’t due to circumstances we cannot control,” McCarroll says, noting that these include the pandemic. But its staff stays safe by following regulations, wearing protective gear and using cleaning supplies.

Employees have stayed so safe that First Capitol Baking has been able to focus on enhancing its capabilities. Recently, it added equipment so it can provide individually wrapped items, and is in the process of adding a new bread line.

First Capitol Baking also recently acquired a new roll line and wants to grow its staff. Although the company will open with a single shift of workers, “We aim to have three shifts,” McCarroll explains. “So our goal is to have about 80 to 100 people employed there as soon as possible.”

The firm also plans to grow its product line beyond cornbread with pastry products, including new strudel blends. “We’re also doing a whole new line of zero net carb breads for the Keto diets,” he says, adding that this will allow First Capitol Baking to appeal to health-conscious consumers.

It also is working on a mill baking line of breads with extended shelf lives, using ingredients such as vinegar. “We’re able to do it naturally, so we’re not pumping it full of chemicals to get it to last longer,” he asserts.

According to McCarroll, staying innovative with its products will be key for First Capitol Baking as it grows over the next few years. “We’re always going to be the most innovative and the most willing to partner with customers,” he says. “Speed to market will be our cornerstone.”