A walk down the cookie and cracker aisle at the supermarket proves that variety rules. Many new and exciting shapes, colors, flavors and varieties find their way to the store shelves to entice shoppers.

“The more creative the product is, the more it is capable of setting producers apart from competitors,” said Markus Lichtl, group communication and digital media, Haas-Meincke, Skovlunde, Denmark. “Funny-looking products seem to be of a special interest.”

Novelty appeals to consumers and propels many new products and line extensions by cracker bakers. “New toppings and spices play an important role to create savory snacks these days,” Mr. Lichtl said. “As a consequence, product changeovers are on the producer’s agenda now.”

Because cookie and cracker bakers face market demands for innovative cookie and snack products, the ability to get them to the market quickly remains a top priority. “Equipment manufacturers need to build equipment with flexibility for variety products and ease of changeover,” said Kevin Wilkinson, North American sales manager, Tonelli Group, Redwood City, CA.

Just-in-time mixing

A leading factor for future purchases will be lines with product flexibility, according to Shawn Moye, executive director of sales, Reading Bakery Systems, Robesonia, PA. “Many lines still have enough volume to run dedicated products, but for those that don’t, being able to run multiple variations of both cookies and crackers on the same processing line will be important,” he said.

Reading offers complete lines of equipment for cookie and cracker production including mixing, automated dough handling, and product forming using extrusion, wire cutting, moulding and sheeting. Additionally, the company manufactures a full line of continuous tunnel ovens, with direct-gas-fired, convection, recirculation, radiant tube and hybrid pairings of heating modes. 

Many new products use a primary ingredient other than wheat flour because they target the gluten-

free market. “Because of these new ingredients, many production systems must have the ability to control the temperature and moisture content of products all the way through the process,” Mr. Moye said. “Controlling these variables means just-in-time dough, and continuous mixing can offer a tremendous advantage in this area.”

In fact, using continuous mixing to develop the cookie and cracker soughs represents Reading’s most important innovation in recent years. “The continuous mixing of dough ensures all ingredients are delivered in just the right amount at just the right time in the mixing process,” he explained. “By doing this, we ensure that we can follow each ingredient stream for food safety purposes while at the same time delivering the same exact dough, minute by minute, to the processing equipment.” 

Because the mixer supplies dough with constant temperatures and moisture levels, conditions within the oven are more stable and thus more economical in gas usage, Mr. Moye observed. Packaging equipment also sees the same piece size and weight again and again improving efficiency of these systems.

Jim Warren, director of Reading’s Exact Mixing business, pointed out that continuous mixing reduces labor, improves product consistency and offers versatility for a wide range of products. 

Quick changeovers ahead

Cookie manufacturers’ greatest challenges involve the need for rapid changeovers and flexible equipment to produce a variety of product types, and they require easy setup and automated recipe management and ingredient batching. Tonelli offers automated mixing and dough feeding systems for volume producers of cookies that fully automate these steps starting with the ingredient batching.

The company’s planetary mixers permit quick changeover for most cookie doughs including soft butter cookies, hard biscotti and frozen chocolate chip doughs, according to Mr. Wilkinson. Operators can easily change the mixing tools, depending on the density of the product. Tonelli’s mixers also feature recipe management, ingredient batching and dough feeding to assist with the further automation of this process.

In addition to continuous and planetary mixers, single- and double-sigma horizontal mixers are often used for mixing cookie and cracker doughs. Double-sigma mixers are a little more vigorous than their single-sigma counterparts, noted Damian Morabito, president of Topos Mondial Corp.,

Pottstown, PA.

“Certain cookies are better for single; others are better for a double-sigma mixer,” he said. “Generally, firmer cookies use a single sigma, but people break the rules all the time.”

Mr. Lichtl also noted the importance of limiting changeover time as a decisive factor for processors. “It has huge influence on the return of investment,” he said. “The capability of producing a wider range of products without major modifications is crucial,”

To this end, Haas-Meincke’s latest offering handles more types of products than its predecessor. The V60 is a depositing, wire-cutting and extruding machine that is usually part of a full production line.

“For the customer, combining these technologies is useful, as is offering the highest possible weight accuracy during the production process,” Mr. Lichtl said. “It’s a matter of costs: You need less raw materials if depositing works accurately.”

Depositing dough accurately

After mixing, Reading employs temperature-controlled sheeting systems that have proved beneficial in processing cookie and crackers.

“After processing, we use ovens that can taper temperatures in any desired fashion to allow continuous and precise baking profiles,” Mr. Moye added.

Haas-Meincke manufactures equipment so that it’s fit for the future. “This means that instead of new machines, existing ones like the V60 will see upgrades,” he said. “There will be new tools available for new product shapes and combinations to handle new dough types, fillings and decorations. Furthermore, we will introduce new spare parts to extend the lifetime of our machinery. Wearing parts will become even more sustainable than they are today.”

To portion products such as gourmet cookies, scones, brownies, holiday cookies and energy bars, Unifiller Systems, Delta, BC, provides Dopositor extruders/depositors. Available in mini, standard and heavy duty sizes, Dopositors work at rates of up to 45, 60 or 200 cuts per minute, respectively.

The Mini-Dopositor is the most recent extension to this line. Martin Riis, the company’s product specialist for cookies, said that Unifiller noticed a need in the marketplace for a machine that could produce standard, gourmet and gluten-free cookies yet also met the space and budget requirements of smaller bakeries trying to grow their businesses.

Stewart MacPherson, Unifiller’s vice-president of sales and marketing, said the Mini-Dopositor provides consistency and quality, two key drivers for growth. By not overworking the dough, the compactly designed machine produces consistency, and it is available with a variety of nozzles or die shapes.

“We think the Mini-Dopositor truly serves this market,” he said. “It offers bakers simple installation and the ability to control their ingredient costs through portion control while helping increase their production levels.”

Reiser, Canton, MA, offers a base machine, the Vemag, to accurately portion cookie dough using a double-screw system. “Our latest double-screw machines deliver higher throughputs with greater portioning accuracy, while maintaining the integrity of the inclusions that makes our customers’ product unique,” said John McIsaac, Reiser’s vice-president, strategic business development.

From this base, the company developed attachments that provide form and placement. Therefore, the Vemag can run cookie dough pellets, sheets of cookie dough and break-and-bake cookie dough. It also can fill tubs and, of course, make single portions for freezing or bake-off.

“We also develop attachments based on what we see in plants,” Mr. McIsaac said. “For example, some of our customers were asking for the look of a ball or scooped product. For them, we developed a simple attachment to go on their Vemag to make hundreds of balls per minute.”

To help processors meet the demands of today’s consumers who want a variety of cookie and cracker products, equipment manufacturers have made machines flexible and able to quickly change from one product to the next. As a result, consumers should continue to see innovations both for healthy and indulgent foods in the cookie and cracker aisle.