Cake Decorating: Going Upscale

by Shane Whitaker
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Although traditional shell borders and rosettes will always be popular designs for cakes, consumers today want more elaborate decorated cakes. They desire upscale, gourmet cake designs, and accordingly, bakers are looking for automated cake decorating equipment that can accommodate these requests by making designs that the competition cannot.

Bakers add more value to their cakes by offering increasingly complex designs beyond the standard shell borders and rosettes, according to Stewart Macpherson, vice-president, sales and marketing, Unifiller Systems, Inc., Delta, BC. Consumers appreciate and are prepared to pay more for upscale, fancier cakes, and accordingly, bakers are using higher-quality ingredients such as real Belgian chocolate, caramel and fruit fillings and adding particulates to the top of cakes.

Unifiller is also becoming more involved with cake manufacturers at the R&D stage, so it can work with bakeries to create unique designs for their cakes. “We can help them do it easily and reliably by machine but make it attractive enough that it doesn’t look mechanically produced and so it looks different than the competition,” Mr. Macpherson said. If the baker wants more sophisticated designs such as 2-color rosettes or for the top and bottom decorations to be different, Unifiller is able to accommodate those requests.

Because consumers want the higher-end look versus the standard, inexpensive iced cake look, today’s decorating equipment is geared toward being able to finish a base iced cake with rosettes, shell borders, string icing and other specialty toppings, according to Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA, Inc., Hudson, OH, said.

Rademaker’s most popular fully automated cake decorating lines are for round as well as quarter- and half-sheet cakes. However, the lines need to be flexible. “Today’s cake manufacturer wants high speed and hand-decorated qualities but most of all they want the flexibility to quickly shift from one type and flavor of cake to another such as a yellow cake with white icing to a devil’s food with chocolate,” he said. “The cake decorating company does not have the demand to run long, continuous production runs of one type of cake for days on end. It must be able to make multiple product changes per shift, quickly.”

ADDING VALUE.

Unifiller’s automated cake decorating equipment helps add value to cakes. “One of our latest developments to instantly add value to sheet cakes is a machine that will cut, separate and fill cakes ‘on the fly’ with custards, jams and icings automatically, so now you have increased the value of the product with just the cost of the ingredients,” Mr. Macpherson explained.

Another new technology from the equipment vendor allows cake producers to apply melted chocolate, ganache or caramel drizzle automatically onto cakes. “We can put spirals or swirls in one, two or three colors onto a decorated cake and instantly add value again with the ingre- dients and the eye appeal,” Mr. Macpherson said. “And we have another computer-controlled cake decorating system for shell borders and for automatically adding particulates to the tops and sides of cakes.”

Robotics plays an increasingly important role in decorating and building cakes. Unifiller employs robots to help perform sophisticated cake decorating designs. Workers create designs such as faces, seasonal motifs and writing into a computer, and the robot instantly demonstrates the design.

Automated cake decorating equipment delivers an appearance that cake manufacturers desire. Hinds-Bock Corp., Bothell, WA, offers machines with variable-speed controls for the conveyor, icing pump flow and icing head oscillation speed, which allow for an endless supply of different patterns or thickness of glaze applied to the top and side of a cake, according to Lance Aasness, the company’s vice-president, sales and marketing.

Its latest introductions include compact machines that are very versatile and portable so they can be rolled away for sanitation. “It is important that these machines have a lot of flexibility in the different icing viscosities they can handle,” he said. “And the equipment must be rugged and designed for three shifts a day production if necessary and easy to changeover and clean up.”

MAKING IT CONSISTENT.

Rademaker concentrated its latest designs on improving the speed, accuracy and sanitation of its cake decorating systems. To improve the accuracy of the depositing methods, it switched to gearwheel-style pumps to handle a wide variety of fillings accurately as opposed to piston-style depositors that are less reliable.

Additionally, Mr. Riggle said automated cake decorating equipment increased speeds vs. the previous benchmark of 20 cakes per minute. “Automatic lines in excess of 20 cakes per minute can automatically apply rosettes and top and bottom shell borders to the cake,” he said.

The single biggest benefit of an automated line is consistency. “With an automated cake decorating line, you still have labor, although it’s greatly reduced from a totally manual operation,” Mr. Riggle said. “What the end user benefits from is that they know how much icing is put in the middle of the cake, how much icing is on top of the cake and on the sides, and this enables the end user to know the true cost of a cake.”

Reducing labor costs is a major benefit of an automated cake decorating line, Mr. Macpherson said. “It also minimizes the high training and recruiting costs normally associated with a skilled staff,” he observed.

However, Mr. Macpherson noted that bakers often purchase decorating lines because they want to standardize the product’s consistency. “Even in regions or countries where labor is low cost and plentiful, product consistency is the No. 1 driving factor, and our machines provide consistency in way of portion control and finished cake consistency,” he said.

Bakeries want to put consistent quality products on the shelves time after time, according to Matt Zielsdorf, vicepresident, sales and marketing, The Peerless Group, Sidney, OH. Automated lines also reduce injuries to decorators such as carpal tunnel syndrome and allow better control of icing weights, thus reducing giveaway.

Bakeries are more focused on labor savings and effi ciency than in the past, according to Mr. Aasness. “Our servodriven icing depositor is able to achieve spreading of icing on rectangular cakes equal to hand dressing, thereby eliminating the manual labor typically associated with this task,” he said. “This labor reduction, in conjunction with accurate metering of the icing, improves end users’ margins.”

Because bakeries are making multiple products per shift, most processors are buying small, semiautomated lines that are fairly inefficient but allow the processor to quickly and inexpensively change products multiple times within the shift, Mr. Riggle added.

Rademaker also manufactures clean-in-place lines to make cleanup quicker and easier.

RETURN ON INVESTMENT.

Bakers desire speed, flexibility and hand-decorated qualities because it helps shorten the return on investment (ROI) that a bakery can expect from purchasing an automated cake decorating line. Almost always, the ROI on automated decorating equipment is six to 12 months, whether it is modular system or a fully automated cake line, according to Mr. Macpherson. Cake decorating systems can be extremely complex because every bakery has different issues, cakes, recipes and methods, and to that end, Unifiller often customizes lines by combining different standard components and tooling to meet each customer’s specific needs.

ROI is totally dependent on the processor, the skill level of labor and the ancillary equipment, according to Mr. Riggle. “Cake decorating is the hardest thing to automate in the baking industry because of the nature of the inconsistent cake layer, the variables and inconsistency in the type of icings and the skill level that is required of the operators,” he said.

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