Italian Home Bakery: No place like home

by Dan Malovany
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Some companies strive to be cutting-edge. Others simply rely on what’s tried and true. At a time when gluten-free and sodium reduction are capturing all the buzz, Dennis and John Rossetti’s latest product development initiative focuses on turning the oldest of the old into the next big thing. Specifically, the brothers, who own Italian Home Bakery (IHB), are tinkering with ancient grains to diversify the bakery’s portfolio of ciabatta, boules and Old World, European-style breads and rolls.

The Rossettis think the breads and rolls made with spelt, amaranth, quinoa, millet, einkorn, triticale, emmer and teff have been underleveraged in the baking industry, even though they have been around for centuries. “It’s a market that has not been fully explored,” noted Dennis Rossetti, president and COO of the Toronto-based company.


In fact, he added, products like 100% spelt bread provide a wholesome, full-bodied alternative to mainstays on the bread shelf or in the in-store bakery channel. “It’s being treated like the red-haired stepchild and is relatively untouched,” he said. “In the long run, we’re going to see people make different choices in the healthy grains that they want to consume.”

IHB operates its business under the Shakespearean philosophy of “to thine own self be true” that allows a company steeped in tradition to stay relevant in a constantly changing market. In addition to turning ancient into innovative, the Rossettis take an authentic approach to baking that refuses to alter key components of the process.

“You have to stay true to your methods, including long fermentation and retarding times, for doughs to properly mature,” Dennis Rossetti explained. “We — the industry as a whole — unfortunately have taken the bread process from 10, 12 or 15 hours down to 2.5 hours. We’re not allowing the proper enzymatic breakdown of certain proteins in the product. Although it’s completely conjecture on my part, I believe we’re not allowing full fermentation and full enzymatic activity to take place during the breadmaking process, and that can be causing some of the problems that we’re seeing with gut health.”

In its 67,000-sq-ft artisan facility, IHB demonstrates its commitment to maintaining a balance between automation and traditional but critical aspects. Fermentation times provide a good example: They are integral to creating many of its signature breads, including its best-selling Italian Calabrese that comes in long, round, sliced round, ring and baguette-shaped options.

Overall, the bakery houses five automated bread and roll makeup lines, which turn out 15 to 20 million units annually. However, the heart of the operation is a large 254-rack retarder where most product varieties ferment at a cool

4 to 5°C (40 to 45°F) for up to 14 hours. Moreover, dough pieces then receive up to an extended 2-hour proof at 43°C (110°F) and 70% humidity in a 96-rack proofer.

Even in the beginning of the process, some products such as ciabatta and Italian breads also receive four hours of rest time after mixing to bring out their full flavor and delicate texture. Others items such as multigrain breads, however, go directly to makeup from the mixer because any extensive dwell time would make the doughs too gassy to process without damaging them, Dennis Rossetti explained.

True to its heritage

Fifteen years ago, the Rossetti brothers, sons of immigrant Italian parents, purchased IHB, a small Italian wholesale bakery that operated in the northern part of Toronto. In 2001, they moved to its current facility to ­expand the business throughout Ontario and began investing in new equipment to create the current high-volume, artisan bakery.

“We make a lot of the products today the same way they were made back in 1955 when the bakery started,” Dennis Rossetti said. “The only thing we changed is how we’re mechanically producing them in terms of the type of mixers and processing lines that we use.”

Today, IHB makes about 60 different products, including its popular spaccato, or “split,” Italian bread and rolls. Additionally, it offers an array of breads such as the Multi-Grain loaf that it markets in conjunction with the Health Check education program of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. To keep on trend, the company also offers gourmet cheese buns, onion buns and, more recently, pretzel buns with a kaiser stamp for select retailers and restaurant chains. Additionally, the pretzel buns receive a brief wash in a 3% caustic solution to give them an authentic texture. “We wanted to give pretzel buns a more traditional German look and texture,” Dennis Rossetti said.

For IHB, new product development doesn’t involve creating something totally out of the blue, according to John Rossetti, senior vice-president and CFO. “R&D is a lot like baseball,” he said. “You can’t hit a home run all of the time.”

Rather, it’s providing a twist on what’s popular in the market. “When it comes to growing a business, you either innovate or die,” he added. “My definition of innovation is not developing a new bread variety all of the time. Innovation is bringing to the market what your customers and consumers want.”

To expand its presence in the market, IHB has also bolstered its fully baked frozen business, which now ­accounts for about 20% of sales compared with about 5% five years ago. The move enabled the company to consolidate its fresh direct-store-delivery (DSD) system throughout Ontario — the bakery operates 26 routes compared with 35 five years ago — to lower costs and make it more profitable.

“When you start talking about distributing products in a 150-mile range and in less populated areas seven days a week, it can be a hard haul for some of our drivers,” Dennis Rossetti said.

The gradual expansion of its frozen business also ­allowed IHB to serve Canadian retailers and mid-sized foodservice chains coast to coast. “As private entrepreneurs, we prefer to make smaller, steadier steps and get sustained solid growth rather than making giant leaps,” Dennis Rossetti noted. “We make a wide variety of products, whether it’s a signature bun for a hamburger chain or a gourmet product for a catering business or unique items for retailers, we’re able to run the gamut in providing products to all of these customers. We’re not a single-product company where we can be the low-cost producer in the market. We are unique, and that’s why our customers come to us.”

Making the transition

As it expands, IHB is revamping its organizational structure to more effectively manage growth while maintaining its entrepreneurial spirit. In 2012, the company hired Gordon Davey as vice-president of sales/distribution to develop its local DSD system and its presence on a ­national level.

While Mr. Davey oversees the sales silo, John Rossetti, a certified public accountant, manages finance and administration, and Dennis Rossetti now focuses on product development and operations.

“We’ve gone from managing the business to managing talent and looking for people who want to enhance their talent,” John Rossetti said. “We’ve created these silos to add more structure to the organization, and now we’re finding ways to merge their silos to better manage our growth.”

In an administrative move, IHB developed an enterprise resource planning system to streamline order taking and billing and better integrate its services for larger customers. On the plant floor, the bakery has incorporated the 5S (sort, set, shine, standardize, sustain) continuous improvement and lean manufacturing program. Dennis Rossetti, who worked at Canada Bread and the Kellogg Company for more than 20 years, continues to explore how to incorporate the best practices in the food industry into a family-owned company.

“You can apply a 5S system to artisan baking. You just need to be creative on how to do it,” he said. “It involves doing the right thing at the right time in our process. If a product needs 14 hours of retarding, the 5S system manages when the product goes in the retarder, when it goes out of the retarder and also makes sure the product comes out more consistently while adhering to traditional artisan bread methods.”

Predictable but flexible

In 2009, IHB became one of the first food companies in North America to achieve Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000:2010, a comprehensive program based out of Stockholm, Sweden. “When we were looking at a global food safety initiative, we asked, ‘What is best for us, and which system is most encompassing for our business,’ ” Dennis Rossetti said.

The company had been Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) certified, but a gap analysis ­revealed the FSSC 22000 program better handled its data, lot tracking, recall processes and ingredient and supply chain management. Additionally, IHB is exploring installation of a recipe management system to provide better traceability and other front-end controls to its process. “Our business is based on producing artisan products that are reliable and repeatable day after day,” he added.

About 150 employees work in the bakery, which produces breads and rolls seven days a week. Currently, capacity averages around 50% in the separate mixing and makeup area that includes two bread lines and two roll lines. The bakery also has an encrusting line. The baking area, which houses a variety of tunnel and rack ovens, operates at 80% capacity. IHB is looking to expand its oven throughput to alleviate the bottleneck in this area.

IHB uses a Contemar bulk ingredient handling system with three, 30-tonne (66,000-lb) fabric silos holding European-style flour and a 15-tonne (33,000-lb) silo for whole grains. Minor ingredients are pre-scaled in a separate area. Two Peerless 2,000-lb mixers — as well as a smaller, older horizontal mixer and several spiral mixers — feed the makeup lines.

Two Rheon 2,200-lb artisan bread lines with V4 extruders create continuous, low-stress sheets that travel through a series of reduction rollers to reduce the thickness of the sheet. One string line produces mainly baguettes and ciabatta breads and rolls. “It tends to run higher-volume products with fewer changeovers,” Dennis Rossetti said. The second Rheon line also creates rounds and boules.

After trimming off the sides, the continuous dough sheet enters scaling rollers that send a signal to the line’s guillotine to create dough pieces based on a specific weight or length. The lines also have a circular cutter for creating ciabatta rolls.

To make oval and round loaves on the second line, dough pieces divert on a 90° conveyor from the Rheon sheeting system to a Kaak Group makeup system. After passing through a conical rounder, the pieces receive a 12- to 15-minute intermediate proofing. The pieces then convey under a roller that gives them a uniform shape. Then they drop onto flour- or cornmeal-dusted peel boards, which are racked and rolled into the bakery’s retarder on a first-in, first-out basis.

For specialty rolls, such as its cheese or onion buns, the bakery uses an Adamatic 6-pocket roll line that operates at a rate of 9,600 to 12,000 pieces an hour. An industrial 8-pocket variety roll line supplied by Gemini Bakery Equipment produces kaiser rolls and molded rolls items ranging from 4.5-oz buns to 9-oz demi-­baguettes at rates from 12 000 up to 21,600 pieces an hour, depending on the product.

Versatility is critical to production, according to Dennis Rossetti. The Gemini line features a Werner & Pfleiderer TWS 8-pocket divider that can produce up to 9-oz dough pieces, kaiser rolls or stamped pretzel rolls. The line is equipped with a KB 48-in. wide sheeter and moulder, which creates items such as its spaccatelli buns. It includes two back-to-back pressure board assemblies — one is a pre-moulding  station, with the second for final shaping. After passing through roll re-aligners, all dough pieces are delivered to a servo reciprocator that loads the rolls onto plastic peelboards, which are racked.

After retarding and proofing, breads and rolls bake in an LCB 100-ft stone tunnel oven. The 3-zone oven features direct-fired heating on the bottom and indirect on the top for baking ciabatta, baguettes and rolls. “You need direct-fired on the bottom because the volcanic stone is very thick,” Dennis Rossetti said.

For its artisan rounds and whole grain breads, IHB uses a 96-ft steel-plate tunnel oven. For shorter run items such as pretzel rolls, the bakery has six double-rack ovens — two Gemini/Sveba Dahlen, two DBE and two Revent ovens. The bakery also has three shelf-ovens for baking during peak holiday periods. After baking, products either cool on racks, or they enter a versatile Alit spiral cooler and blast freezing system.

IHB strives to make sure that breads have a 32°C (90°F) internal temperature before entering the blast freezer. “We freeze it one-third of the way through, then package it and put it into a holding freezer to freeze it all the way,” Dennis Rossetti said. “When making a fully baked frozen product, moisture management is what it’s all about. If you try to freeze to the center, you have to get more aggressive with the process because the outside begins acting like an insulating barrier. The longer you freeze it, the greater the chance of drying the product out.”

Frozen products are hand packed in bulk because of the items’ irregular shapes and sizes. IHB relies on two tractor trailers to hold frozen product prior to delivery. The company does not build inventory. “We fill orders in a just-in-time scenario,” Dennis Rossetti said.

Conventional sandwich breads travel though a UBE slicer/bagger at 50 loaves a minute. The bakery also has a UBE straight-through slicer and a UBE web/hinge slicer.

IHB defines sustainability in two ways. From an environmental perspective, the company instituted a new waste-management system and recently became “zero impact to landfill” in December. “But sustainability can mean lots of things,” Dennis Rossetti said. “For us, sustainability is how to grow the business. It involves ­remaining flexible in a changing market.”

To adjust to a shifting competitive market, the ­company recently reduced the size of loaves from 675 g (20 oz) to 575 g (18 oz). In addition to cost savings, the products provide smaller households with a more user-friendly size, according to John Rossetti.

It’s not unusual for IHB — or any mid-sized ­company — to spend two to three years researching a major capital investment. Currently, the bakery is exploring the installation of a third 100-ft tunnel oven or possibly a multi-deck thermal oil oven as well as an upgrade of one of its roll makeup lines. IHB’s strategy is to combine a short-term focus with a long-range outlook. “We want to determine what platform is best for us and what equipment will provide us with the greatest flexibility in the future,” John Rossetti said. “When you’re buying a 100-ft tunnel oven, you don’t have a second chance to make it right.”

Its conservative approach to investing allows the company to weather changes in the market. “We want to make sure we keep our major stakeholders — our vendors, financial institutions and customers — happy to absorb any bumps in the marketplace,” he added.

As its frozen business expands, however, IHB may ­explore building a second bakery so it can run dedicated frozen and fresh operations. In the end, it’s all about being true to what made the company successful in the first place.

“As long as we continue to make excellent products at an affordable price, we’ll see continued growth,” John Rossetti explained.              

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