Bridor USA: Capturing the Passion
October 01, 2009
by Steve Berne
Points of differentiation are critical in helping a business stand apart from its competitors. For Bridor USA, Vineland, NJ, these aspects include its history, passion for baking and business philosophy, according to Ron Cardey, president. “The combination of our European know-how and North American market knowledge started with Louis Le Duff, Bridor founder,” Mr. Cardey said. French by birth, Mr. Le Duff traveled and spent time in Canada where he adapted the art of French baking to the North American market. Twenty-five years later, the company continues to share his passion.
And the passion is spreading. Bridor USA, a subsidiary of Groupe Le Duff America (GLDA), has sister companies in Canada, France, England and Argentina. GLDA is headquartered at Montreal, QC. Bridor USA operates the plant in Vineland while Bridor Canada operates two plants in Quebec. The Canadian facilities focus on pastries, croissants and breads while Vineland produces breads only.
Last year, the company reorganized the management of the US and Canadian operations, establishing autonomous operating units yet maintaining lucrative synergies. “The past few years have been a very opportune time for Bridor,” Mr. Cardey noted. “We are validating who we are today and defining who we aspire to be five years from now.” The 5-year strategic plan is being updated on a North American level and includes Bridor USA, Bridor Canada, Au Pain Dore Brioche Dorée and La Madeleine — the last two being GLDA-owned bakery cafes and restaurants.
According to Mr. Cardey, growth will come from geographic expansion and penetration as well as acquisition. “We know for a fact that we will continue our three main categories: parbaked bread, croissants and pastries. Any other areas must fit into one of these or be complementary in some way. On a macro scale, we have the restaurant side and the manufacturing side of the business, and that will remain.”
On the restaurant side, Groupe Le Duff strives to be the global leader with nearly 1,000 locations worldwide. And that, of course, benefits the manufacturing side of the business. “Not only can it add production, for which we have to compete like any other supplier, but it also provides us an inside track on industry trends that we can translate into unique and leading-edge products,” Mr. Cardey added. “We then become a more valued supplier to all our customers.”
25 YEARS YOUNG.
Although Bridor is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, it has been manufacturing in the US for only five years. “We’re still young in the US marketplace but growing rapidly,” Mr. Cardey said. “We are very fortunate in our position. We may be the new kid on the block, but we have Bridor Canada with more than a quarter-century of experience in R&D and market penetration. We also source ingredients together to maximize our purchasing power. We consult with Bridor France in equipment recommendations. Our vice-president of operations, Jean-Pierre Hyacinthe, has nearly 24 years of experience with Groupe Le Duff.”
Mr. Cardey, who came to Bridor in mid-March, was recruited by Claude Bergeron, chairman of GLDA, when the decision was made to reorganize North American operations. Mr. Cardey has a long history in the industry, dating back to stints in the financial and sales departments at Pillsbury and ConAgra, then Esprit de France as a startup, and Ralcorp in charge of C2B and Lofthouse sales, before a 2-year excursion in the natural pet food industry.
As a progressive company, Bridor management is dispersed at various locations. Mr. Cardey is based in Omaha, NE; company sales people are situated in strategic locations and other team members are both in Vineland and Montreal.
Mr. Cardey spends one week a month in Montreal, one week in Vineland, one week visiting customers and perhaps one week working from his home office. “I also find time and value being an officer in associations such as IDDBA and IBA,” he said. “I bring no value looking over anyone’s shoulder, nor do I have to with the strong team we have in place.”
READY AND SET.
When Mr. Le Duff started Bridor, he focused on producing artisan-quality products with the most modern technology. That enabled Bridor to establish a global reputation with 5-star restaurants and major foodservice customers. Products made in its commercialscale bakeries helped these customers become economically viable.
The Vineland plant was acquired from a European baking company in 2002 to take advantage of the company’s expanding presence in the US. It covers 135,000 sq ft on 16.5 acres. The plant was built in 2000 and already had two bread production lines installed.
This plant now has the two highly productive bread and roll lines and an artisan line. “It has floorspace for more lines,” Mr. Cardey said. “Vineland is ready and set to continue our North American expansion and to do it quickly because the infrastructure is already in place.” In fact, in late August, the GLDA board of directors approved $20 million for capital improvements and expansion for pastry and croissant production.
All processing areas in the building feature a light green epoxy-coated floor — even the walled-off empty 25,000-sq-ft processing bay. Every wall uses washdown paneling, and a 30-ft-high dropped ceiling conceals joists and utility cables. Skylights allow natural light to enter the building, and the company is investigating adding solar panels to the roof as an environmental initiative.
The building was designed for manufacturing frozen products. “It has a refrigerated room just before the dock that allows staging under low temperatures, and we only load the refrigerated shipping trucks when their interior temperature is cold enough,” Mr. Hyacinthe said. “This helps prevent condensation on products.”
For the two baguette and roll lines, flour is conveyed from one of three Spiromatic outdoor silos to the holding bin above the VMI continuous mixing and kneading system. Three stainless-steel bins hold other ingredients and water, and all employ loss-in-weight feeders. Being a closed system, the dough makeup area requires only three people.
The jacketed mixer/kneader controls dough temperatures to within ±1F°. At the mixer exit, dough is chunked onto a reversible conveyor to supply the two parallel production lines.
The two baguette lines integrate dough dividing, makeup, forming, proofing, scoring, baking, cooling and freezing at a rate of more than 700 trays per hour — approximately 2 tons of product: 5,000 baguettes or 20,000 mini baguettes or rolls.
The proofers carry fluted trays of dough pieces through three zones, each independently controlled for temperature and humidity. The vertical design of the Mecatherm systems fit well in this plant with high ceilings. Automatic scoring systems bridge the proofers and ovens. Each scoring system employs three axes of motion to slit the crust of dough pieces with the same spatial characteristics of a hand score, including overlapping of subsequent cuts.
Pans of scored bread continue into the 3-zone ovens. The vertical ovens are just 25 ft long, again using the high ceiling to their advantage as they index trays up and down in each tower. Heat and humidity are controlled separately in each oven zone.
From the ovens, pans proceed into ambient air cooling towers and then to the freezers, which also use the same vertical movement of the proofers and ovens. Products are baked to varying degrees of doneness, between 60 and 100%, based on customer specifications, according to Mr. Hyacinthe. Products leave the freezer and are raked out of the pan, through Safeline metal detectors and onto supply conveyors to bulk packaging stations. The pans return to the front of the lines for reloading.
The plant’s newest line, installed in 2007, produces baguettes, batards, boules and other artisan-style loaves. After sifting through a Great Western Manufacturing inline system, flour is added to one of two VMI 400-lb bowl mixers along with other ingredients prescaled using an Esteve staging system. After an optimal rest period, dough is elevated to the makeup hopper where scaled pieces are deposited on peel boards. From this point, the process is similar to the other lines, using Mecatherm proofing, scoring and baking systems. These products are also parbaked to various degrees before being frozen and bulk packaged.
“We emphasize our innovation and flexibility,” Mr. Cardey noted, when discussing marketing tactics. “We embrace store brands, which are critical to retailers. We work with them to create solutions that benefit their consumers. We also will be coming out with branded products in 2010 for retailers who do not have their own brand but want a high-quality brand they can call their own.
“From all the data analysis, the trends firmly are in the area we refer to as ‘healthy halo,’” he added. “There still is a dominance of bread purchases in the bread aisle versus the in-store department, yet more than 50% of bread aisle sales by dollar volume are for products touting some healthy aspect. However, such products are almost nonexistent in the in-store or food service arenas.”
Mr. Cardey postulated that it is price points and the fact that in-store bakeries follow trends of the bread aisle. “So we see tremendous potential for parbaked healthy breads for those markets, and we are seeing results,” he said. “We use very lean formulations and only a limited number of ingredients, keeping with the European tradition.” In the spectrum of the category, the terms natural and clean label are the growing areas of interest among consumers.
“It boils down to social trends,” said Emmanuelle Dubois, marketing coordinator, Bridor USA. “Consumers need to have the emotional confidence of what they eat at home — the growing preponderance of healthy, whole grain and natural — and translate it to food service and restaurant choices. Then you will see sub shops and mainstream quick service restaurants (QSRs) offering truly whole-grain options.”
A lot of that push comes through efforts by the Wheat Foods Council and Grain Foods Foundation to increase consumer knowledge, Mr. Cardey noted. Obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol are all issues where bread can make a positive health impact, he said.
Bridor addresses marketplace trends such as smaller sizes, portable, grazing, clean label, natural and heart healthy with various product options. Mini baguettes are a handheld item that easily competes with what QSRs may call “snackers.” “We also offer smaller size products as an alternative to our traditionally large loaves to meet the needs of various consumer segments,” Mr. Cardey noted. “Beyond products, there is growing interest in private label; food safety among customers and consumers; R&D and production flexibility; supplier protocols and traceability; and providing solutions.”
Bridor predicts major growth potential in the US market for parbaked and healthy bread items based on population, demographics and income. The company has enjoyed double-digit growth each of the past five years. “We also anticipate more than doubling output within the next few years, equating to at least a 15% compound annual growth rate,” Mr. Cardey said. “With the artisanstyle bread line, two baguette and roll lines and room under roof for multiple more lines, not to mention the 16-plus acres of land to expand on as well, we are set here for quite awhile.
“Our only limitation on bread is distribution because of transportation costs,” he said. “When we decide to expand our market reach to all geographies through direct distribution, we will consider all options.”