For bakers wanting to take a quantum leap when it comes to dramatically enhancing plant efficiency, packaging remains one of the final frontiers — especially for producers of breads and rolls.

Certainly, other operational challenges such as reducing changeover times rank high on the quest for continuous improvement. However, the packaging department still holds some of the greatest, untapped opportunities, according Joe Turano, president, Turano Baking Co., Berwyn, IL.

“The industry has been so focused on production equipment — not only for producing new varieties but also for creating greater efficiencies. But now there is a need for packaging to catch up to what we’ve done in other parts of the bakery,” he observed.

Baking & Snack editors ran into Mr. Turano a few years ago during a PackExpo show in Chicago. He noted back then that he was taking his search outside the baking industry for innovative packaging technology. His need? Systems that could allow the company’s four bakeries to operate more efficiently while reacting more quickly to a wider array of requests from foodservice and retail customers.

“We’re looking for any type of idea or technology that maybe our industry isn’t addressing,” he added during a recent visit by the magazine’s editors to the company’s bakery in Orlando, FL.

“We’re looking for those ideas that haven’t come to our industry yet that we can bring to the table to further advance our packaging, whether it’s a different bag type or carrier type of packaging or even other automation within the packaging department,” he explained. “Our industry is now learning the need for advanced packaging technology. Also, packaging is traditionally the most labor-intensive aspect of the bakery.”

Many baking companies like Turano Baking are seeking the perfect balance between high-speed automation and versatility. At the Orlando bakery, a second line started up in mid-2014 in the 82,000-sq-ft facility, and it cranks out 4,000 doz soft buns and premium rolls per hour. That’s slightly fewer than the 5,400 doz an hour on the original line installed in 2009. But the line’s packaging options are far more versatile.

“We chose the path of flexibility and variety on a line that’s still considered a high-speed system,” Mr. Turano said.

That answer then sparked a slew of other inquiries about how to ensure the bakery could quickly respond to its customers’ needs in the years to come.

“We put a lot of thought into future use,” observed Jeff Kozloski, chief engineer. “When we designed the line, we did a lot of ‘what ifs.’ What if we want more topping equipment? What if we want different packaging?”

A top priority involved engineering flexibility into the packaging operation to scale up artisan-style products or place buns and premium rolls in new formats. Specifically, the bakery expanded bulk packaging and added bagging capabilities for foodservice and retail customers as well as for introducing Turano branded products to new markets.

For contingency reasons, Turano Baking installed a fourth, identical Stewart P-1000 pillow packer, which can serve either production line. After slicing, large packages of soft rolls then pass through indexers and aligners to make sure the pillow packers are evenly fed.

Some of the key pieces of technology on the four bulk packers are the heat sealer systems that separate larger packages into smaller compartments. Those tear-apart sections allow foodservice operators to open only a portion of the larger pillow pack. That allows them to serve their customers with the freshest buns or rolls available while the remainder of the buns stay enclosed in other departments of the pillow pack.

“We can take a 30-pack and heat-seal it into three packages of 10 buns, or we can take a 12-pack of brioche and seal it into two 6-packs,” Mr. Mitchell explained. “Because foodservice operators open up only six or 10 buns at a time, the smaller packs help them maintain freshness at the store level.”

Mr. Turano noted the investment in new packaging equipment allows the company to better serve a more diversified customer base. “We’re producing a product for different channels of the marketplace — that’s why we need different packaging,” he observed.

As it looks to the future, Turano Baking continues to search for new, economical ways to provide fresher bread, buns and premium rolls. Looking for a challenge? Take Mr. Turano’s thought to the bank: “Maybe the long-term answer — if you want to go back to making 30-packs — is to have resealable packaging to keep the products fresh,” he suggested. “We have customers who are asking us for smaller and smaller packaging [and we need to answer those requests] without losing efficiency.”

In the end, Mr. Turano noted, “The bottom line is we’re trying to serve our customers’ needs better and more effectively.”

For more information on Turano Baking’s new line in Orlando, check out the July issue of Baking & Snack magazine.