MATTOON — Who doesn't like free bagels?
The upcoming annual Bagelfest, starting Tuesday in Mattoon, includes a free breakfast and parade on Saturday. Once again this year, the Lender's plant is preparing to provide tens of thousands of bagels for the event.
The bagels given away during the annual activities are a fraction of the approximately 2 million bagels per day that the more than 200,000-square-foot plant at 3801 DeWitt Ave. makes when it is in full production.
Plant Manager Patrick Shaughnessy said the Mattoon facility is the sole source for the refrigerated bagels and the frozen ones that Conagra-owned Lender's Bagels sells throughout the United States, including to schools and other large workplaces.
"Food service accounts for 25 percent of our business, so it's not insignificant," Shaughnessy said.
Nancy Bruner, quality manager at the Mattoon plant, said the facility produces 35 different Lender's products, with sizes ranging from 9-ounce minis to 4-ounce full size. The flavor varieties consists of plain, blueberry, cinnamon raisin, cinnamon swirl, egg, french toast, onion, white wheat, and whole wheat.
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Shaughnessy said the facility operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, producing bagels for four consecutive days and then switching to sanitation procedures before production resumes. He said they have two manufacturing lines, but each of these lines is designed to produce two different varieties of bagels at a time as needed.
The Mattoon plant's staff of approximately 250 employees is the facility's greatest asset, Shaughnessy said. This skilled workforce adapts well to changing products and manufacturing lines, he said.
Conagra purchased Lender's previous owner, Pinnacle Foods, last fall. Shaughnessy said the acquisition by Conagra has not changed how the Mattoon plant operates, but offers the potential for future production growth within the Lender's brand or possibly other brands. He said this will help serve a customer base that seeks to become increasingly well-informed about the food that it purchases.
Shaughnessy said Conagra recently recognized the Mattoon plant for facility efficiencies that reduced its water consumption by 976,000 gallons per year and a recycling program that reduced the amount of refuse materials that it sends to the landfill by 40 percent.
The Lender's plant in Mattoon opened in 1986. Community leaders organized the first Bagelfest and free bagel breakfast that year as a way to introduce this company to the community. The festival has been an annual tradition ever since then.