While gluten-free may be a small part of the cookie category, many bakers see it as the next step to expanding their product offerings. Many of the challenges posed by these products often exist on the formulation side, but automating production is not without its hurdles.

“For our machines, gluten-free isn’t challenging,” said Martin Riis, product manager, Unifiller. “What we find is more and more gluten-free producers are trying to firm up their recipes so it is more ‘dough-like,’ and therefore our Dopositor is the perfect machine to produce gluten-free products on since it can handle a wide range of dough consistencies.”

Reiser’s depositors also run the gamut of dough consistency, portioning anything from cake batters to standard cookie dough. The company’s dripless valves, rotary depositors and double-screw technology can adapt to gluten-free dough’s consistency. “With gluten-free, there is a lot of air entrapment,” said John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser. “If you have air in the dough, the finished products end up with a lot of holes. The double screw disperses that air.”

Gluten-free dough is also very sensitive. Mixing must be done ­gently, said Kevin Wilkinson, Tonelli Group. The company offers variable-speed drives on mixers to provide multiple phases that handle gluten-free doughs with care.

Shelf life poses another challenge. So far, the solution has been to sell gluten-free products frozen, but more and more companies want gluten-free varieties sitting next to their conventional counterparts on the fresh shelf. Reiser offers modified atmosphere packaging to meet that need. This packaging deters mold growth, giving gluten-free ­products a longer shelf life.