Wintry grip in Texas disrupts grain-based foods operations
DALLAS — Power failures, water restrictions and icy road conditions in Texas created major disruptions to grain-based foods operations this week. Toward the end of the week, operations appeared to be gradually returning to normal.
The state was gripped in unseasonably cold temperatures early this week, in some cases falling below zero degrees, including in Dallas. Making matters worse was ice and sleet, which caused roadways to refreeze overnight.
On Feb. 17, the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said “The worst of the weather is behind us, but the worst of the road conditions is still to come as we enter a daily cycle of partial melting and refreezing. This means more black ice and bumpy ruts through Saturday. Drive safe or not at all if you can wait.”
Considerable pre-planning ahead of the storm helped mitigate the effects on millers and bakers of a winter storm that wreaked have across the nation’s second most populous state.
The state is an important one for Ardent Mills LLC, which operates three flour mills there — in Saginaw, Sherman and Houston (Galena Park). Due to power outages and other factors, all three mills were down at different points Monday through Wednesday, Feb. 15-17, said Jeffrey D. Zyskowski, vice president, supply chain.
“The good news is that we were in front of the storms,” he said. “We knew the bad weather was coming. Our customers knew. They pre-ordered flour to make sure their bins were loaded. We loaded our bulk carriers over the weekend and Monday to be prepared. Most everyone built pipelines in anticipation.”
Still, the preparation was for a more conventional storm, Mr. Zyskowski said.
“We thought it would be just icy roads,” he said. “We didn’t expect the power component, that it would be this broad and disruptive. Our first focus has been on keeping our team members and carriers safe.”
Mr. Zyskowski said the company’s different mills were hit differently by the storm. One mill sustained a single shutdown for an extended period while a second mill was subjected to regular power interruptions that necessitated taking the mill offline until the power grid became more reliable. Other operations at the mill were able to continue. The company’s third mill never lost power but was forced to shut down temporarily because of freight disruptions that kept the facility from loading out flour and millfeed.
While the week was a difficult one, Ardent Mills was still able to keep its customers adequately supplied throughout, Mr. Zyskowski said.
“It was a combination of issues — weather, roads, power curtailment, mechanical issues, issues around water restrictions for 7 million people in Texas,” he said. “The same issues that caused us problems were challenges for our customers, too. We’re proud that none of our baking customers had to shut down because of flour supply.”
Mr. Zyskowski said because Ardent Mills was able to draw from its three different mills during the storms, the company was able to redirect flour to customers most in need. The company did not need to ship flour to Texas from mills in Louisiana or Kansas, he said.
By Thursday Feb. 18, all three Ardent Mills Texas facilities were operating, and road conditions were greatly improved, Mr. Zyskowski said. Still, the threat of rolling blackouts had not completely lifted.
“Customers are beginning to come back up,” he said. “They will need to catch up, refill their pipelines, make sure retailers’ shelves are filled. We expect strong demand the next few days to make up for slow production. We are not expecting to get overwhelmed.”
Paul Baltzer, vice president of communications at Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga., said 14 Flowers DSD bakeries in 6 states have been affected by the winter storm, experiencing “significant disruptions to operations, including curfews, power outages, shipping and transportation issues, as well as hazardous roads preventing team members from coming to work.”
Despite the issues, Mr. Baltzer said Flowers’ bakery teams were able to get product out to affected markets before the worst of the weather arrived in many areas. Many of the baking plants were back online by mid-Tuesday (Feb. 16) with a streamlined product mix, Mr. Baltzer said, but as of Feb. 18 five of Flowers’ six Texas baking plants remained offline due to utility issues. The baking plants that were offline included Denton, Houston (two plants), San Antonio and Tyler. Only the company’s facility in El Paso was online.
“With road conditions poor, it continues to be difficult to bring product in from other bakeries,” Mr. Baltzer said. “We know this has been extremely difficult for our affected team members and independent distributor partners, and are monitoring the situation closely.”
Bimbo Bakeries USA, a subsidiary of Mexico City-based Grupo Bimbo SAB de CV that operates six baking plants in Texas, did not divulge the extent of shutdowns to operations in the state.
“BBU continues to work through the significant weather challenges in Texas and surrounding states,” said David White, senior vice president of the Central Business Unit, BBU. “Our associates have been working around the clock to execute contingency plans, run production and serve our customers and communities as it is safe to do so.”