In a time when discretionary income for many consumers is sparse, will shoppers continue to purchase better-tasting, higher-quality, better-for-you products or will they instead opt for value? That is the question many bakers are currently asking themselves, as they determine whether to invest more in producing premium baked foods or focus on baking commodity-style breads and rolls.
"Even with a down economy, premium breads have not hit their saturation point as of yet," said Mark Ungashick, executive vice-president, Shick USA, Kansas City, MO.
Premium bread sales are still growing, agreed Matt Zielsdorf, vice-president, sales and marketing, The Peerless Group, Sidney, OH. Although premium bread sales surged for several years, Bob Anderson, president of Reimelt Corp., Odessa, FL, suggested they have slipped in recent months with the downturn in the economy.
Margins are generally higher for premium breads because they command higher prices without ingredient and production costs being proportionately higher. However, premium bread production can also lead to scheduling nightmares as most bakeries run these products on the same lines where they run standard products.
Most bakeries would love to run white/whole-wheat on one line and premium breads on another because of the efficiencies; however, this rarely happens, according to Mr. Ungashick. "Most plants don’t have the luxury of scheduling their lines in this manner and keeping the volume maximized on all lines," he explained. "Even a larger bakery with two or more high-speed bread lines is likely to find itself running multiple products on all lines."
Rick Rodarte, director of engineering, Stewart Systems, Plano, TX, estimated that 60 to 70% of high-speed bread bakeries run both standard and premium bread products on the same lines. "It used to be more specialized, and you would have a line for premium and a line for white bread," he said. "I think the reason for that is bakers wanted to continuously run that standard product, but as demand for premium breads has gone up, they have been forced to cut into some of their standard production time on those dedicated lines."
Although premium loaves can often be made on lines designed for conventional soft bread, bakers must take into consideration some equipment needs that assist in the high-speed production of these wide pan breads.
INGREDIENT HANDLING.The motivations for using an automated ingredient handling system for premium bread production are virtually the same as for standard loaves, except bakeries making premium bread are generally using more ingredients, thus it may be able to better control and store those using an automated system. The reason bakers have automatic ingredient handling is twofold, according to Mark Rosenberg, president of Gemini Bakery Equipment, Philadelphia, PA. "One is cost savings because you can achieve $2 to $3 savings per hundredweight," he said. "And just as importantly, if you are doing it with automatic ingredient handling, your product is more consistent."
Automating minor and micro ingredients on a high-speed white bread line is probably easier and more cost effective, Mr. Ungashick said. This kind of line would benefit greatly from automation because it has more common ingredients for each of the relatively few formulations, thus it would require fewer bins, feeders and scales that would be used more often.
"The logical conclusion would then be that a line running premium products with a myriad of formulas and many more ingredients would make an automated ingredient system a tough sell," he said. "However, this operation might require additional manpower to scale and add the ingredients to the mixer, which might drive the decision to explore automation of at least some of the minors."
To make a recommendation, Shick tallies the ingredients that appear in the most recipes with the highest volume and then attempts to at least automate those. "Also, there may be specialty flours, grains or gluten that are used in such a high volume that automation might eliminate the difficulty of physically introducing them to the process," Mr. Ungashick pointed out. "Hence, the return might be a reduction in labor or the elimination of a physically demanding job that might have safety implications."
A trend Mr. Anderson said he notices is more processors using batch or continuous fermentation systems and slurry systems for premium breads. "We see additional bakers trying to get more automated so the breads have more consistency and quality," he added.
Processors also want to know more of the metrics of what is happening in their facilities, according to Mr. Anderson. Thus, the company is supplying more automated systems and retrofitting existing systems with controls that have lot tracing, ingredient lot tracking and traceability features. Reimelt is a Rockwell Solutions Provider, which means it can provide the highest level of system integration controls with Rockwell, he said.
MIXING AND MAKEUP.Mixing dough for premium bread typically requires more power, according to Mr. Zielsdorf. "A heavy-duty roller-bar-style horizontal mixer is best for mixing these premium loaves," he said.
However, from Peerless’ perspective, premium bread production does not necessarily require specialty equipment. "They just need to be sure to specify enough mixing capacity and horsepower to mix these doughs," Mr. Zielsforf said. "Many of these mixers do get special features to allow minor additions such as rear ingredient doors, two-way tilt, etc."
The amount of fiber seems to be the controlling factor on required horsepower, according to Charles Sullivan, sales representative, Turkington USA. Another consideration processors need to keep in mind, according to William Terry, director of sales and marketing, Turkington USA, is that some high- and extra-fiber products need to be processed in smaller batches and do not tolerate wait times before dividing.
Premium bread production requires dividers that do not punish the dough. Extruder dividers should not be used to portion these doughs because they put too much "work" into the dough, according to Mr. Rosenberg.
Instead, he said processors will most likely use a knife-and-shear divider or in some instances may even use a low- or no-stress divider. Turkington USA’s SofTouch divider is an excellent choice for not punishing the dough, according to Chris Cipriani, sales representative, Turkington USA, Goldsboro, NC.
Mr. Rosenberg pointed out that premium bread doughs may require a longer intermediate proof than conventional pan bread. Premium breads most likely will need an 8- to 11-minute intermediate proof, he said, adding that the exact time depends on the formulation and additives used by the baker.
Gemini’s moulders are designed so that processors can change the ratios on the sheeting rollers to create different flow patterns, and bakers can get a narrow sheet coming out of the sheeting head. This is essential because most premium bread products are shorter, denser loaves than conventional pan bread.
PROOFING AND BAKING.Premium bread formulations differ, thus proof times will fluctuate more often than with conventional pan bread. "A plant may have one product that has a 55 minute proof and another that requires 75 minutes, so the bakery has to be able to accommodate longer proof times," Mr. Rosenberg said.
Toppings often set premium breads apart from conventional products; therefore, many of these breads will pass under a topping unit after proofing but before baking. Burford Corp., Maysville, OK, offers the Smart Seeder, which can apply a wide variety of toppings to premium breads from chopped nuts to oats to bran. Mark Hotze, operations manager, Burford, said the Smart Seeder has several advantages. First, it only applies toppings when products travel under the unit, saving on material costs. Also, it is much more energy efficient than other models because it eliminates the use of pneumatic air and is electric based, he added.
Premium breads can be baked in any oven used on conventional high-speed bread lines, but bake times will generally increase by 5 minutes for these products.
"Depending on the size of the oven, the extra required bake time may not be significant; then again, this one piece of equipment will reduce your pounds per man-hour output," Mr. Cipriani said. Turkington USA’s tray and tunnel ovens such as its 970, 935 and 960 series have proven to be excellent choices for baking premium breads, he added. "As bakers decided to invest in new lines that included premium breads, oven sizes increased so that production of these products could be maintained at 140 to 165 loaves per minute," he noted.
Quite often premium bread products will bake at a different temperature than standard loaves, and today’s highly automated lines can assist bakers in adjusting oven temperatures in a timely manner. "We look upstream. If the proofer is full of one product and that product starts transferring over to the oven, then as we get last product out of proofer into oven, we can sense that gap and start to change the oven temperature," Mr. Rodarte said.
Stewart Systems has built many conveyorized ovens for baking premium breads, according to Mr. Rodarte, and its ovens are a good choice for lines baking different products because they are "capable of moving the air and changing the environment variables quickly."
C.H. Babb Co.’s two answers for lines baking premium breads, according to Charles Foran, president of the Raynham, MA-based supplier, are impingement and dead-heat ovens, which he said are the company’s response to thermal-oil ovens. Its impingement ovens can use recirculated air and reduce baking times by 30%.
Also, impingement ovens give the processor the ability to control the core moisture of the product. "You don’t want the product to be either too wet or too dry, and processors are able to target in on exactly the moisture content they desire in their end product," Mr. Foran said.
Although Stewart Systems does not design a special depanner for premium breads, Mr. Rodarte said bakers must use the proper size vacuum blowers and the right style of vacuum belts. "We use a fairly rigid cup on our depanner belts for standard bread, but we use what is called a super soft cup on premium bread lines. It has the ability for the lip to form around a seed so you maintain a good vacuum and can pull the loaf out of the pan."
COOLING AND PACKAGING.Premium breads require uniform atmospherically controlled cooling to improve their quality and increase their shelf life, according to Peter White, president of I.J. White Systems, Farmingdale, NY. The supplier introduced the Multi-Path spiral cooling conveyor with Pure Air cooling system to help bakers to control the cooling process by maintaining proper temperature and humidity throughout the year. "To reduce your energy costs, Pure Air is also capable of using highly filtered outside air during cooler months of the year or even at night for multi-shift operations," Mr. White said. "This can dramatically reduce your plant’s energy consumption, while improving your product’s quality."
Loaves travel single file in the Multi-Path at rates up to 200 loaves per minute. After depanning, loaves enter in a continuous flow before exiting single file and entering the slicing and bagging area.
Some premium loaves with fruit such as raisins are better suited for reciprocating slicers such as the Dowson high-speed bread slicer from Turkington USA. "The fruited breads cause the slicer blades to gum up and get dull," Mr. Terry said. "The Dowson can be fitted with a new set of blades in minutes."
Premium breads are generally double bagged, which sets them apart from conventional bread products on retail shelves. Whether premium bread sales grow as fast as they have during the past five years remains to be seen, but if consumers continue to opt for healthier and better-tasting products rather than value, there is room for the category to expand.
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, Feb. 1, 2009, starting on Page 93. Clickhere to search that archive.