When it comes to baking authentic, full-bodied artisan bread and rolls, Lantmännen Unibake USA believes that time is on its side.

 “How do you get a quality product? It’s all about how you set up your process,” noted Carlos Hernandez, director of operations at Lantmännen’s bakery in St. Petersburg, FL. “You can’t rush products through the system. We allow the product to rest and proof in a way that brings all of its flavors out. We actually try to take advantage of all of the opportunities where we can slow the process down so those flavors will be enhanced. It’s more about optimizing the process and less about speed.”

For some breads such as its 3 Cheese Asiago loaf, small 440-lb batches of freshly created doughs rest for 90 minutes in lidded bowls. Later, after makeup, the loaves proof for 4 hours at 65 to 70°F, allowing nature to take its course. Even its classic baguettes receive a cool proof for 90 minutes, resulting in a distinctive taste and texture, according to Scott Kolinski, president, Lantmännen Unibake USA, headquartered in Lisle, IL.

“We continue to focus on what artisan bread is truly all about with the nice, subtle sour notes, a slightly thicker crust and a moist interior to the breads,” he said. “These are the attributes we achieve in all of our breads and rolls.”

Transitioning over time

Lantmännen Unibake USA is a wholly owned subsidiary and a leading growth vehicle for Danish parent company Lantmännen Unibake, which operates 24 bakeries in 18 countries and has been in business for more than 150 years. In 1995, the European parent business planted its roots in North America by importing authentic frozen, pre-proofed pastries under the Schulstad Royal Danish Pastry brand. Then in 2008, the company established a production base when it bought Euro-Bake — a regional family-owned bakery that specialized in frozen par-baked and fully baked Old World breads and rolls.

When Lantmännen made the acquisition, Euro-Bake had slightly more than $25 million in annual sales. Five years later, the US subsidiary generates more than $75 million in annual revenue and continues to notch double-digit revenue gains.

That growth stems from a number of factors, according to Scott Rosenberg, director of marketing. Working with its parent company, Lantmännen imports a wide line of frozen baked goods, including an array of soft pretzel breads that allows the North American division to leverage one of the hottest trends in the in-store bakery and foodservice markets. “They’re truly authentic German pretzel breads and not an American soft roll,” he stated.

Lantmännen also imports freezer-to-oven traditional and filled croissants made in its sister bakeries located in southern Belgium and sold under the Pastridor name. Most recently, to diversify its product offerings, the company began shipping in savory pastries that are popular throughout Europe. “Our ability to sell our customers not only fantastic breads that are made here but also the Danish and croissants that we’re able to import from Europe and ship it all on one truck is another benefit that we offer to our distributor partners,” Mr. Kolinski said.

However, the Euro-Bake brand holds the greatest potential. Its more than 150 SKUs include everything from ciabatta, focaccia, baguettes, boules and brioche to multigrain, herb-infused, muesli and other classic breads and rolls. “The brand name says a lot about us,” Mr. Kolinski observed. “It captures the essence of who we are.”

This year, the bakery looks to roll out 10-oz demi-loaves of its most popular varieties to  provide a better price point and portion control in today’s competitive market, according to Mr. Rosenberg.

Although some of its products are sold either non-branded or private label, the Euro-Bake name resonates with its customers, which include restaurants, hotels, bakery-cafes, amusement parks and upscale retail shops as well as schools, convenience stores and especially in-store bakeries, which have contributed to the bulk of the company’s growth in bread sales over the past few years, according to Mr. Kolinski. Although the bakery initially distributed its Euro-Bake products throughout the Southeast

region, Lantmännen now ships them nationally to its diverse customer base.

To support the Euro-Bake brand, the company plans to promote the name in trade publications and at events such as the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s annual exposition, perhaps the largest show for wholesale bakers targeting the supermarket in-store bakery channel. “We’d like to establish the Euro-Bake retail brand through packaging and bags that a supermarket may want to share with consumers,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “Or in-store bakeries may want to establish their own brand, and we can provide them with a line of upscale products.”

Another major thrust involves garnering a greater share of the grab-

and-go sandwich segment. “One of our strengths is sandwich carriers, and we’re very much on trend with ciabatta, brioche buns and sliders,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “We’re providing what consumers and restaurants are looking for.”

Catering and the convenience store channels, too, pave additional avenues for growth for its sandwich carriers, according to Mr. Kolinski. “The C-stores in this country are starting to catch up with what Europe has been doing for years, where they are revered as being a place to get a real sandwich,” he noted. “We’re seeing several chains that are ahead of the curve in this country.”

Although it’s promoting the Euro-Bake brand, the bakery’s breads and rolls don’t have as thick and chewy a crust as its European counterparts. Developed by German master baker Uwe Kehlenbeck, the crust is tailored to the American palate. The breads are softer than many European products, and they contain plenty of inclusions such as fruit, olives, onions, herbs, cheese and grains. “They’re something our European bakeries don’t do,” Mr. Kolinski said. “[Our European counterparts] don’t quite understand why these products are so popular here, but they love them.”

Investing over time

While Lantmännen relies on its proprietary, time-honored methods, that doesn’t mean the company has taken time management and turned it on its head. Instead, the bakery adapted its process to its products. It relies on long runs and minimal downtime to garner efficiencies. In fact, the company’s 200 employees work on one of three shifts for 10 days straight, and the long production periods are followed by four days of extensive sanitation and maintenance.

“Either you plan your downtime to do maintenance, or the equipment will force you to do maintenance its way, and that means fixing breakdowns and unplanned downtime,” Mr. Hernandez said. “That’s a very inconvenient way to run your operation. You always want to plan maintenance. That’s why our unexpected downtime for the year is less than 1%.”

To accommodate the longer fermentation and proof times, the bakery tries to leverage its 2,500-pallet freezer and maximize the amount of product coming out of the ovens. It approaches production like a long-distance runner rather than a sprinter.

“We may not be running as fast as others, but through planning, we are doing longer runs,” Mr. Kolinski said. “We don’t have as many changeovers. Maybe that requires us to carry a little more inventory than we like, but I think that’s a good tradeoff.”

During the past three years, Lantmännen invested about $3 million to upgrade its St. Petersburg operation by installing new makeup systems — including Rheon stress-free artisan bread lines as well as a Koenig roll line that cranks out 15,000 pieces an hour.

“We’ve become more flexible to the changes in the market,” Mr. Hernandez said. “We want to build lines that are flexible to accommodate the emerging trends.”

Additionally, the bakery installed new packaging equipment, specifically pillow pack machines, automatic counters and vision systems to expand the number of formats it can offer foodservice, retail, in-store bakery, C-store and private label customers.

To bolster its sales and marketing initiatives, Lantmännen transformed a nearby 7,500-sq-ft building it owned across the street from the bakery into a Customer Welcome and R&D Center (see “Collaborating with customers” on Page 38). After moving its R&D activities and offices to the Welcome Center, the bakery remodeled and expanded its employee locker rooms and break area.

To enhance food safety, the company also used that extra space to invest in a state-of-the-art hygiene chamber that all employees must pass through before entering the production area. The stage-gate process includes automatic boot/sole scrubbing, hand-washing, hand-drying and hand-sanitizing stations. If employees don’t follow proper procedures, turnstiles prevent them from proceeding into the bakery.

Over the years, Lantmännen’s parent company’s standards for food safety typically exceeded industry standards, according to Mr. Kolinski. In fact, he added, its worldwide good manufacturing practices helped earn the St. Petersburg facility the British Retail Consortium (BRC Certified with A Grade) certification under the Global Food Safety Initiative.

Taking time for details

As a part of BRC’s and Lantmännen’s food safety and traceability programs, all ingredients and other materials are inspected before they’re allowed into the facility. In the receiving area, the bakery fills out a trailer inspection form that checks for cleanliness, odors, pallet condition and signs of infestation, noted Chris Henderson, incoming ingredients inspector. Moreover, much like a rental car customer, the receiving inspector marks down any damage to all sides of the trailer. He also records the trailer’s temperature for incoming refrigerated ingredients.

Upon receiving and weighing of ingredients, the inspector checks to ensure all bags, totes and containers had remained sealed. The bakery tags and stores all allergens in a separate area. In all, the receiving area holds about seven to 10 days of minor and micro ingredients.

Flour, stored in three 80,000-lb silos, is pneumatically transferred through a Great Western sifter to a 300-lb scale, which batches it on demand into mixing bowls. All minor and micro ingredients are hand-scaled per batch in a separate room behind the mixers. Overall, line Nos. 1 and 2 produce 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) per hour, while line No. 3 cranks out 4,400 lb (2,000 kg) an hour.

In addition to being the workhorse of the bakery, the revamped line No. 3 produces an increasing variety of rolls that together make up nearly 60% of Lantmännen’s overall sales. During Baking & Snack’s visit this year, the line was producing its popular small, square raisin pecan ciabatta muesli rolls. A Sancassiano Hydra 880-lb (400-kg) mixer creates doughs, which are elevated to the hopper of a Rheon V-4 artisan bread line.

Lantmännen upgraded the makeup area of the line two years ago to convert a ciabatta flatbread line into one that could produce the ever-growing and popular baguettes as well as a wider variety of rolls. In addition to supporting sales and the constant changes in the market, the remodeled artisan bread line enhances plant efficiency in a big way. “Because demand for ciabatta declined and we could not produce baguettes, the line stood empty 50% of the time,” Mr. Kolinski recalled. “Now, it’s running 80% of the time. Lantmännen is a big driver of key performance indicators (KPIs). Every aspect of the operation is measured.”

To monitor operating performance, line supervisors track targets vs. actual performance. On a large sheet, they write down the lines’ actual weight of baked foods produced and compare it against the scheduled amount by shift. “If it’s lower than the target, the line supervisor must explain why and document how much time the line was down, how much was produced, why the line wasn’t operating and if it was a changeover or a maintenance issue,” Mr. Hernandez explained.

The plant then takes this information to troubleshoot production issues, get to the root causes and evaluate how to avoid problems in the future, noted Mr. Kolinski. “If you want to improve, you need to pay attention to the details,” he said.

On the line, the raisin pecan ciabatta dough travels through a cross roller that stretches it and a multi-roller/high-speed stretcher that establishes the sheet’s appropriate width and thickness. After trimming, the sheet passes through a roller cutter that divides it into five fingers that travel along a diverging conveyor that separates and aligns them. A guillotine cuts the fingers into 2-in. square rolls. A Dunmatic water applicator adheres the muesli topping to pieces.

Afterward, the dough pieces travel along a retractable conveyor, which drops them onto a parchment-covered, 800-by-2,000-mm screen pan. To minimize changeover time, the bakery uses parchment paper to reduce allergen contamination and because it doesn’t have inline pan cleaning. After passing through a Mecatherm four-module proof-and-bake system, the products travel through two ambient vertical, modular cooling towers for 45 minutes. In all, the line can produce 32,000 2-by-2-in. square rolls per hour.

Time for a cool process

Production on the two older lines is similar. A bank of five Sancassiano 440-lb (200 kg) mixers feeds line Nos. 1 and 2. Line No. 1 primarily produces baguettes and French sandwich and dinner rolls. The bakery relies on a slow mix, ranging from 13 to 16 minutes, to incorporate the ingredients and fully develop the dough, noted Henry Ford, production superintendent. Times and temperatures vary according to the strength of the flour. Additionally, the mixers are designed so that yeast and salt can be added at different times during the mixing process to enhance the flavors and textures of the final products.

The production on line No. 1 employs the straight-dough process. The dough is elevated to the hopper of a Mecatherm single-pocket bread divider that can produce 2,800 baguettes or up to 22,000 French rolls an hour. After a short intermediate proof to relax the dough, the pieces travel through a sheeter, a curling chain and a pressure board before a circular cutter divides them into seven or eight units. After they’re aligned on a diverging conveyor, the pieces are moulded on Mecatherm’s finger belts and dropped onto screen trays, which hold up to 56 pieces.

On line No. 2, the doughs rest in a lidded mixing bowl for upward of 90 minutes as part of Lantmännen’s time-tested formulas. After fermentation, the bowls are elevated to the hopper of a Rheon artisan bread line that makes products such as the company’s signature cheese bread. Production alternates with a Koenig roll line, installed recently to support the company’s growing roll business. Both makeup lines feed a manually loaded first-in, first-out rack proofer and a bank of 10 Werner & Pfleiderer rack ovens. All products are 90% baked so that they can be finished and refreshed by the company’s customers.

Unique to the bakery are its long proofing times at relatively cool temperatures. On line Nos. 1 and 3, proofing ranges from 80 to 90 minutes at temperatures between 60°F and 65°F, depending on the product. On line No. 2, proofing can take up to 4 hours in the rack-style proof box. “Everyone who visits is always surprised by how cool it is in the proofer,” Mr. Kolinski notes. “But you want a very slow process to develop the flavor, texture and the distinctive crust on our breads.”

After ambient cooling, the partially baked products enter modular freezers set at -10°F for rolls and -28°F for its various breads. According to Mr. Hernandez, the process requires a quick freeze where only the outer shell is frozen solid, while the core remains soft and cool. This approach locks moisture into the products. The items later completely freeze while stored in the on-site holding freezer.

More automation in time

During the past few years, Mr. Hernandez noted, Lantmännen has steadily automated its packaging lines to improve operational efficiency, reduce labor, increase bagging accuracy and add flexibility as its customer base has diversified.

On line Nos. 1 and 2, frozen rolls are depanned and tumble into mechanical counters in the 60°F packaging room. For foodservice accounts, Homburg vertical form/fill/seal systems package 40 rolls per bag. The packages are manually packed four to a case, made on an ETT case erector. Additionally, sandwich rolls on line No. 1 can be diverted to a LeMatic slicer and bagger, while line No. 2 employs an Ilapak bagger for 12-count retail products. Large bread products are still manually case packed.

Line No. 3 features a more accurate Affeldt system with a camera that not only counts rolls against a blue belt but also checks the products’ size and color. “If a product is too small or misshapen, the system automatically adds in an extra roll so that we never short a customer,” Mr. Hernandez said.

During Baking & Snack’s visit, the bakery was putting the finishing touches on a Fanuc robotic palletizer and shrink wrapper. Mr. Hernandez noted the system reduced labor in packaging by 12 full-time employees who were redeployed to other parts of the bakery. Loaded pallets are then forklifted to a 15,000-sq-ft storage freezer set at -5°F.

Over the next year, the labor-intensive line No. 2 will be the focus for investment, according to Mr. Kolinski. Lantmännen plans to spend upward of $4 million to reduce manual handling of the products and replace its battery of rack ovens with a tunnel oven. Plans for the project are expected to be finalized in the coming months.

“The real challenge, as with any big project, is determining what products our customers will want in the future,” he said. “We’re willing to invest as long as it allows us to better serve our customers.”

Like many artisan bakeries, Mr. Kolinski added, Lantmännen also continues to search for new ways to streamline its process while remaining true to the traditional procedures that differentiate its products’ quality in an increasingly competitive market. That’s the Euro-Bake way.