SILVERTON, OR — Few foods and beverages have achieved near synonymous association with the verb “to share.”

An after-work beer or a spaghetti noodle enjoyed Lady and the Tramp-style come to mind, but pie is the standout. Slices of pumpkin, apple, cherry and pecan are cut and dispersed amongst family and friends during festive gatherings all year long, a tradition enjoyed by all.

This evergreen indulgence is being baked by pie producers around the country, eager to provide consumers with high-quality slices of all kinds. There are challenges from sheeting and dough handling to sourcing ingredients during a supply chain upheaval, but pie bakeries are pushing onward.

About 75 miles from the coast of Oregon, Willamette Valley Pie Company is one of those bakeries. The Silverton, OR-based business is in the heart of wine country, often deemed one of the best fruit growing regions in the world. The company sources some of that world-class fruit from about 30 local farms in the area, and 20 million pounds of fruit gets cleaned and individually quick-frozen (IQF) at its berry plant each summer.

“In the late ‘90s we started processing that IQF fruit that was being grown on the family farm, and a couple years later we bought local pie manufacturing assets to start that production as a way to vertically integrate,” said Austin Kelly, CEO of Willamette Valley Pie Company. “We have really diversified the company now to where we are focused into that finished dessert category of pies, cobblers and crisps.”


Willamette Valley sells its products to restaurants and other foodservice outlets, but its big success is in natural grocer retailers. It also sells its pies in the frozen section and through fundraising programs, which have raised millions of dollars for nonprofits over the past 10 years. That’s a lot of pies — and it’s got to get done somehow, even with the supply chain disruption.

“From a foreign material perspective, we actually use an X-ray to check the product because our pies are packed in an aluminum tin,” Kelly said. “We’ve been adding another production line, and it’s been very difficult to source another one of these due to all of the supply chain challenges.”

Robin Venn, president of Kansas City, KS-based Tippin’s Gourmet Pies — a leading pie production company with both branded and private-label products — is also going through supply chain challenges. The bakery is experiencing a hefty demand for its pies, but equipment delays are impacting the speed at which the operation can expand and improve. And when it comes to pie production, speed is everything.

“Unfortunately, it impacts every piece of equipment that I am looking at,” Venn said. “It’s either about timing or it’s about quantity because everyone’s labor issues impact the delivery speed. We want to add more capacity, so I need to look at that automation. How do I get more of what I have, or can I improve the process with the same amount of people? Because I couldn’t go out and hire a whole new shift today.”


Just down the road from Tippin’s, Bradley Hunt, VP of Overland Park, KS-based Golden Boy Pies, is also facing delays when it comes to sourcing equipment and ingredients. If he can track down what he needs, the prices create more hurdles.

“We try to buy direct as much as possible, but a lot of businesses are going to minimums that we can’t meet,” he said. “I haven’t had blackberries in six months, oils are harder to come by, and not only harder to come by, but also the price has just skyrocketed. And there’s only so much of that we can pass on to our customers.”

Despite all the challenges, Golden Boy refuses to compromise on quality. It’s something that Hunt’s dad taught him long ago.

“When he started this business 48 years ago, he taught me that no matter what you do, don’t waver on the quality,” he said. “If it’s inferior, we won’t use it. Of course, we try to buy smarter though to not pass on too much of that overhead cost to our customers.”

Willamette shares that mentality. Many of the bakery’s products are artisanal, which involves a combination of the human touch and robotic precision. That requires the operation to balance out which elements it can ramp up using automation.

“We hand-weave lattice, and that’s a process that is very slow and very difficult to automate, and no one has quite figured out how to do that perfectly,” Kelly said. “We are committed to being that premium product, so there’s a fine line about how much we automate to still have it have that premium look and feel.”


Tippin’s’ pies also maintain that handcrafted quality while utilizing automation that’s right for the operation, and the bakery always makes sure the ingredients are up to snuff.

“Our Tippin’s brand fruit, pumpkin and pecan pies are all clean label,” Venn said. “People are looking for that, and they’re also willing to pay for that premium quality product.”

When it comes to the actual baking process, pie producers have several factors to deal with. For Willamette it’s temperature control for the pie crust. That’s a delicate process, and one that needs to remain cold.

“With many pressed doughs, you need to apply heat to make them do what you want, but with pie dough, you’ve got to keep it extremely cold,” Kelly said. “We’ve done a lot of work with cold presses that allow us to keep that dough temperature as cold as possible, which produces the best quality pies at the end of the line.”

Temperature also impacts the slicing process for Golden Boy. In addition to pies, the company makes cheesecakes and other cakes, and uses an automatic slicing solution for those products, but for pies, it’s a bit more complex.

“Our cheesecakes are frozen before we slice them, but for our pies it’s a bit more difficult because we don’t freeze those,” Hunt said. “There’s also a difference with finding one that’s set up for pie plates. It would be great to have a slicer with a piece that’s interchangeable, which you can go back and forth with.”

Despite these challenges, pie companies are persevering in figuring out how to give their customers what they need. After all, everyone wants a piece of this American classic.

“We pride ourselves on being the pie manufacturer that will do what no one else wants to do,” Kelly said. “If someone says no, we say, ‘Call us and we will figure out how to do it.’”

This story has been adapted from the April 2022 Q2 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.