We are approaching the end of the first decade of the new millennium quickly. It is hard to believe it has been 10 years since the Y2K bug had us on the edge of our seats. This past decade was certainly a tumultuous one from unparalleled highs to nearly unparalleled lows.
Certainly there are lessons to be learned from the past that can provide guidance for the future, but there is also value in thinking about the future and how we can prepare for it. Energy, the environment and nutrition will remain hot-button issues as will the globalization of supply and demand.
ENERGY.There is a limited supply of natural gas and petroleum-derived fuels. Regulatory and consumer pressures call for conservation, and we know conservation reduces cost. But why are we not moving faster on this front? Can the cost of conservation be justified by the savings?
Consider that a 1-lb loaf of bread requires about 200 btu for baking (according to E.J. Pyler’s Baking Science and Technology, 3rd edition), yet most bakeries use in excess of 500 btu to bake 1 lb. It would seem there is room for improvement. A starting point could be the establishment of industry targets for energy usage. And our suppliers could design to these guidelines.
ENVIRONMENTAL.Phrases such as carbon footprint, environmentally friendly, eco friendly, green sound cliche and are certainly not industrial or bakery related. However, their importance to the baker should not be lost. Today, going "green" is not only the right thing for our planet, it enhances the bottom line.
The first steps in conservation are paying attention to details and getting back to basics. Here is an area that sharing best practices in cleaning methods, reducing waste and improving equipment designs will pay quick dividends. What we need is someone to lead the effort.
GLOBALIZATION.The demographics of the US are shifting from predominantly European to a far greater blend of ethnicities. The impact can be seen in our supermarkets. As new tastes are introduced and assimilated by consumers, demand for new products is greater than ever.
Is sliced bread heading out the door? Quite the contrary; it is gaining acceptance in developing countries as incomes enable the purchase of off-the-shelf staples. In the US, the trend will continue toward nutritionally enhanced variety breads.
Globally, food-safety initiatives, monitoring and compliance systems and adherence to standards will be demanded of food manufacturers. Assurance of the wholesomeness of products will be a prerequisite to acceptance in the world marketplace. This next decade will see increased pressure by consumers on manufacturers to control ingredient sourcing and provide processes, equipment and facilities that support regulatory compliance.
Changing demographics will result in a more diverse, unskilled labor pool competing for entry-level positions. This, along with looming workplace benefit costs, will likely increase pressure to eliminate none-value-added manufacturing jobs, as well as necessitate schooling of employees in baking basics so that they are prepared for skilled positions. English as a second language will likely be a part of educational programs.
INNOVATION.The application of science to current methods will play an increasingly important role in the baking industry during the next decade. Some emerging technologies include:
• Hybrid mixing techniques that incorporate the best of small batch development and continuous mixing and require minimal operator skills. Techniques for pre-hydration of flour that enable increased absorption and reduced mix times.
• Belting materials that will enable new processing methods to be implemented and reduce cleaning requirements.
• Dashboards for equipment and processes that provide real-time process information on absorption, efficiency and yield costs. Bakers will be able to view shift and weekly summaries, too.
PREPAREDNESS.Cohesive efforts by associations and support groups will assist the baking industry to meet current and future challenges such as:
• Promoting the value of grain-based products in a balanced diet. Creating a base of information that reduces the impact of disinformation that results in the fad diets.
• Enhancing the image of our industry and the value it has in the work and marketplace.
• Preparing for changes in global climatic conditions and the pressures it will place on supply of ingredients and materials and the demand for finished products.
• Training of operators in baking skills and science, and preparing maintenance personnel with appropriate technical skill sets.
We would like to hear about your thoughts on the next decade — write, e-mail, call or join the discussion through Baking & Snack’sLinkedIn group. We are interested to learn what you think will be the challenges in the future.
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, October 1, 2009, starting on Page 14. Clickhere to search that archive.