How to build a bakery in a developing nation, part 1
by Lucy Sutton
Building a bakery in an emerging market requires additional homework, a solid project definition, clarity in scope, meticulous planning, time and patience, according to Jim Kline, president of The EnSol Group, Erwinna, PA. With active projects in Africa, Ecuador, Vietnam and St. Kitts, The EnSol Group’s international experience is broad. The company also supports an additional project in Malaysia.
Presently, the project and operations management and consulting organization is installing nine lines that will produce more than 1.5 million units per day at plants around the world. Mr. Kline, who serves as a contributing editor and columnist for Baking & Snack, has worked in turning around, starting up, planning and installing new lines, and managing the day-to-day operations of bakery and snack plants for more than 30 years, including as director of engineering for Bestfoods Baking Group and George Weston Bakeries.
Baking & Snack: Tell us about your experiences with building bakeries in emerging markets and how it differs from building one in North America.
Jim Kline: We take North American and European standards as a given, yet for most of the world’s population, these standards do not exist or are not clearly understood. Many times, you’ll need to explain the intent of a specification or recommendation. You cannot assume it is understood. Likewise, listening and adapting to local conditions become very important parts of the process.
Having said this, I have been in bakeries in less developed countries where they put our standards to shame. In one location, it was equivalent to entering a high-tech clean room. Yet in this location, flour was not sifted after receipt; inventory wasn’t managed to ensure “first in, first out” was maintained; and process operating guidelines were not in place.
From a baker’s perspective, how does the initial design and planning process differ in overseas markets?
First, don’t assume the new markets will want what you produce in developed countries. For example, twice now we were requested to put in hot dog bun lines. Straightforward enough, right? But what if the bun was to have a New England top slice, have a cream filling the size of a hot dog applied and then be individually wrapped? This puts a bit of a twist on an old standard. These twists can be the norm in developing markets where they are still trying to define their customer and, therefore, the product.
The same applies to equipment manufacturers — it is more than differences in voltages and frequency. Training takes on new meaning, and personnel turnover can be ongoing; thus, simplicity in control and operation are critical in these new markets. Also, equipment needs to be designed to run 24/7 because, many times, it will do just that.
Supply chain management and inventory require additional attention. Ingredients will likely involve overseas sourcing and shipments, and there will be a greater degree of variability in the ingredients. Equipment suppliers have to assume parts and hardware you may need will not be available down the street, and they’ll have to ship those expendables with the equipment.
Often, you are likely to find you are on your own. Suppliers will not have local skilled support personnel available to them. Designs need to be robust and maintainable using bakery personnel. Many times, support will be three to six days in coming. This obviously has to be taken into consideration when selecting the equipment and your suppliers.
Whenever possible, it’s worthwhile to invest in online diagnostics that are built into the equipment to allow the supplier to support your operation remotely.
How do food safety and quality assurance standards differ overseas?
They’re gaining momentum. The one thing that can be said is they are consistent in their inconsistency.
There is recognition of their need; however, cost and best local practices filter into the equation. No doubt everyone wants to produce a quality product that is safe to eat, but how far you go in filtration of air, climate control or selecting finishes to minimize sanitation become questionable. If funds were unlimited and there was not price sensitivity in the marketplace, no questions would be asked. But that is not the case.
I believe more modern bakeries in developing countries would pass an audit by European or North American inspectors, although it would take work to get an excellent rating.
What challenges might you encounter when building an overseas bakery that are totally different from constructing a bakery in the US?
I have learned shipping to be an art form from initial inspection prior to loading a container through to receipt. Your paperwork has to be perfect. Also, you do not want your container to be at the bottom or top of a stack onboard the ship. At the bottom, in the hull, it can take on water — and trust me, it happens. On top, they may take a leap into the pond. No, this one hasn’t happened to me.
What are the odds of a group of rebel police deciding to overthrow the president who is visiting the hospital next door while your crew is installing a production line? Oh, and they find the roof of the bakery to be a great place to operate from.
What about the river running at too low a level for the boats to navigate, so the containers have to be offloaded at another port and brought around by a boat with less draft. What do you think that does to your timeline?
Fourteen power outages in one day is the record so far; thank the lord for uninterruptable power supply (UPS) systems. And 35-volt swings add to the fun!
Bakery equipment is also the meeting place for English and metric systems. This can really complicate life, from nuts and bolts through pipe and tubing sizes and cable glands on electrical cabinets. It keeps you on your toes — and buying two sets of tools.
Lastly, how about construction crews that prefer block and tackle to cranes to raise a steel building with a 15-meter peak?
What challenges are universal to all bakery startups or expansions?
The complexities of startup and training are universal. Using a commissioning period to shake down the lines prior to attempting startup is a smart move. The extra week or two pays dividends in the end — less ingredient loss, reduction in idle operations labor and faster startup curves.
Because good jobs are scarce in many of the less developed countries, we find there is an eagerness to learn that you do not always find in the States. The use of train-the-trainer tactics to enhance the skills of the trainers and bakery supervision really pays off. It may seem basic, but plan on having the training and training materials prepared in the country’s official language.
Prepare for bilingual needs. Build the requirement into your purchase orders, and don’t forget to include bilingual screens. Your people need to be able to run the equipment as well.
This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.