With a patented, one-of-a-kind production process for artisan breads, Tribeca Oven, Carlstadt, NJ, knows all about the fine line between artisan and "artisan-style." Marc Essenfeld, CEO, and George Erasmus, executive vice-president of innovation, provided Baking & Snack Operations Update readers with exclusive insight.

Baking & Snack: What processes did you automate, and where have you declined to compromise because equipment could not replace hands-on production?

George Erasmus: We do not compromise quality in any of our products, and we are using the same formulas, recipes and ingredients that we have used since our breads were created. The ingredient statements and nutritional information will remain unchanged. Generally, loaves that require hand shaping, toppings or extended proofing time are not fit for the new production equipment. Also, round rolls and buns will continue to be produced on our existing equipment, so anything non-sheeted was not converted over to the new equipment.

Specifically, the new equipment and bakery investment produces most of our higher volume sheeting breads such as baguettes, ciabattas, rustic club rolls and focaccias. Breads requiring significantly long resting time such as sourdoughs as well as any of our many hand-formed specialty breads such as harvest grain boule, oatmeal raisin crunch, Farmhouse wheat, seeded rye — basically any free-formed or hand-shaped loaves — are all still made on the original, less automated lines.

What distinguishes your company from other manufacturers of baked goods? Please describe your points of differentiation.

Marc Essenfeld: Since most other baked goods manufacturers offering artisan breads are mainly divisions of much larger global corporate companies, our point of difference is the agility from our small size and single-category focus. Within that, four key elements truly set us apart:

  1. Agility: Our overall willingness and flexibility to differentiate and provide truly unique artisan breads, collaborating with customers to customize for the right volume opportunity.
  2. Authenticity: Our commitment to staying true to authentic standards using 12 different pre-ferments, long resting and proofing times, and small-batch process.
  3. Clean Label: Using all-natural ingredients, no additives, no preservatives, nothing artificial, pure and simple.
  4. Customer Service: Our passionate team of dedicated people, willing to learn, with a keen attention to our customer needs.

What trends are you seeing in the baking industry?

Mr. Essenfeld: We have seen an emphasis on innovation with equipment manufacturers. The focus is balancing efficiency and less stress on the dough to improve overall product quality.

As far as new products, we’re seeing more whole grains and a desire for healthier options such as more wheat-based products, less white based, especially now with the release in 2011 of USDA’s MyPlate initiative. Specifically, within the retail segment, consumers are trading up from the commercial bread aisle to the fresh in-store bakery section to limit intake of preservatives. In the food service channel, it’s more about upscaling the burger within fast-casual. At finer dining establishments, it’s about high-quality table breads, such as offering signature dinner rolls to keep restaurant traffic coming back — quality and healthy has been the point of difference in our tough economy.

How have you responded to those trends when developing new products?

Mr. Erasmus: On consumer trends of demanding more healthful options, we have focused on leveraging the Whole Grains Council stamp as a nutrition claim on 20 products; whereas, two years ago, we only had two items that qualified.

Additionally, currently about 35 SKUs, or roughly half of our 70 artisan bread products, are vegan. We also now offer roughly 35 SKUs that qualify as a good source of protein and 20 SKUs that qualify as good source of energy based on carbs/serving, according to the government’s recommended daily allowance requirements.

As for meeting food service needs for better burgers and upscale sandwiches, we have launched a number of new buns and rolls to respond to those dining trends. For instance, we offer wholesome and hearty multigrain burger buns and a multigrain demi baguette, as well as a delicate and slightly sweet brioche bun, which is a true brioche made exclusively with milk and eggs, and one-third butter by weight with no oil or water.

How do you coordinate production and distribution? How does order-taking occur?

Mr. Essenfeld: After a sales rep closes the deal, and items are selected, the buyer places a purchase order based off projected usage via [electronic data interchange], email or fax with two weeks of lead time. Order requirements are basically their purchase order numbers, our bread item numbers and amount of cases being requested, usually in quantities of 45 cases/pallet per item. After the order comes in, our customer service department enters that into our internal IT system. That entry then triggers production planning, scheduling of labor shifts and adjusting future production plans and current schedule depending upon inventory management and forecasts. Order entry also triggers purchasing of our recipe ingredients, which is especially critical if the bread type requires perishable foods or spices to be procured, such as fresh rosemary, natural California almonds, imported Asiago cheese, hand-picked upstate New York apples and Australian ginger.

As for distribution coordination, the order impacts finished goods inventory being stored at a third-party cold storage warehouse. Inventory is selected for picking using a first-in-first-out method and staged in the warehouse in Pittstown, PA, until a freight carrier is booked to pick and deliver. We also have a third-party West Coast storage facility to ensure we have necessary product available in a timely manner for any of our West Coast customers and ship points.

Tribeca Oven’s logistics manager, Michael Weachock, arranges carriers from within a national trucking pool based on available rates and route pricing. He has been doing this for more than five years and expertly navigates all our freight activity. We typically ship a full truckload to keep from raising costs to our customers, and combining less than a full truckload orders whenever feasible. Upon delivery, we receive proof of delivery from carrier via email along with the invoice to ensure proper shipment and payment tracking.

How do you define artisan bread? What key attributes are essential to making a quality artisan bread or roll?

Mr. Erasmus: Authentic artisan bread to us is based on baking bread according to Old World traditions, without any preservatives, and only using dough that contains flour, water, salt and yeast. We only use natural herbs or fresh particulates such as olives, hazelnuts, flaxseed, garlic cloves and thyme — never anything artificial. Also critical is for the dough to endure a lengthy fermentation process, with long resting and proofing times before finally being baked in an oven. The rustic crisp outer crust is usually a key characteristic to identifying an authentic artisan loaf. Being hand-crafted also ensures optimal texture, flavor profile and complex interior cell structure.