As a baker and/or scientist, do you ever ask: If only I had an ingredient that would:
• Create a white bread that is nutritionally equivalent to whole-wheat bread?
• Function as well as potassium bromate?
• Allow me to make straight dough with equal quality to sponge-anddough formulations?
• Change the baking industry business model to make it more profitable?
• Just make the process of manufacturing and delivering easier and more tolerant?

For many years, this type of approach has been called the “magic bullet,” the “black box” and “outside the box” thinking. For some of us, it is considered innovation. Outside-the-box questions apply to millers, equipment vendors, co-packers, environmental consultants and “green” suppliers, too. When you visualize something different, you need to share that vision with your trusted suppliers. Ask them their opinion. Have they ever heard of anything like this? Do they think it is possible?

You must be prepared for the laughing or the “are you kidding me?” response. You will also hear: “That has never been done before” or “That is not possible.” And these come particularly from people used to answering questions with, “We have always done it this way.” This is one of my least favorite replies!

THINKING THINS. Here’s an example. Bakers were looking for a way to make a bun that did not have all that stuff inside. You know, all that bread. How do you take a bun, and move it into the 100-Cal category — one of the hot trends in marketing? Believe it or not, I personally sat with a bread marketing executive who consistently took the “guts” out of his bun before he ate his sandwich.

So how could a baker make a “reasonably sized” bun without all of the bread inside and calories? Is there a way to make a bun pan that will supply a bun similar to a MaryAnn pan like that used for shortcakes — you know, the small dessert cakes with the indentation for the berries and cream? It was diffi cult to imagine a way to bake a bun product without having a separate top and bottom. This solution would require additional labor to match up a top and bottom at the packaging line and could be cost-prohibitive in many ways.

Enter “thins,” the newest bun product on the market. These are typically 100 Cal each and lack all that bread inside the bun, so hence they have fewer calories. This is an example of outside-the-box thinking.

Two years ago, we may have said a bun is a bun is a bun. But today, we can also define a bun as a thin round, much like a small but thick pizza crust that has been sliced horizontally and, thus, transformed into a bun.

So how did this happen? While I have no details about the process that brought the first company to invent this product, I can tell you that if its product developers had stayed with conventional wisdom, the product would never have reached the shelf. Did it partner with ingredient or equipment suppliers or process experts? I believe the answer to that is: “Absolutely!”

CROSS-TRAINING. Another frequently untapped approach involves talking to people in other industries who may have information or technology that will assist you in thinking differently about solutions to challenges. Understanding technology transfer is also valuable.

For example, glass transition is a rheological theory that has been studied over and over again in cereal chemistry. Glass transition is a concept that characterizes the properties of a polymeric material, and starch is a semicrystalline polymer. So how does this theory relate to the products we manufacture? How does the mass of starch, water and gluten transform into a nice texture the consumer wants to eat? Does glass transition in starch work like that in the silicon that makes up home windows? Is it process driven? Is it time and temperature, or is there something else in the process that creates the difference? Can the technology be applied to your new products program?

REAL RESULTS. My thanks go out to the Wright Brothers for asking the outsidethe-box question, “Why can’t we fly?” Their first powered flight happened almost 107 years ago, Dec. 17, 1903. If they hadn’t taken the risk to try to fly an airplane, our lives would be much different.

Some of you may say it isn’t better when you are stranded in an airport and delayed getting home, but I am thankful for the dreams of Orville and Wilbur. My trip to and from the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas, NV, will take only a few hours and not days. Thank you for thinking outside the box.

I am positive that the brothers shared their dream with others. Some laughed at them, but others partnered with them to create an invention that revolutionized travel. I truly appreciate their ability to create valued supplier partnerships.