La Petite Bretonne believes in simple luxuries and family values, and it carries out both in more ways than one. Most of its mini pastries, such as its Micro Croissants and Mini Choco chocolate-filled buns, come in 16- to 24-piece bags priced for consumption as an everyday snack or for multiple meal occasions
“Everything we do focuses on kids and the family,” said Dominic Bohec, vice-president of sales and marketing for the Blainville, QC-based company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “We package many of our products in family packs, and everything we do is focused on value,” he added.
Weighing just a tad more than 0.5 oz, the bakery’s top-selling Micro Croissants — micro not only in size but also in their microwaveability — are more than just croissants. “They’re a breakfast item for kids, an afternoon grab-and-go snack or even, when filled, a perfect small sandwich, not to mention they can be served as dinner rolls,” Mr. Bohec explained.
Since it began producing mini croissants in 1999, the family-owned business headed by Dominic’s father, Serge, invested millions in building today’s 86,000-sq-ft nut- and peanut-free facility. In 2006, La Petite Bretonne spent $7 million to start up the initial bakery with a single croissant line. The company spent an additional $1 million on what was back then the latest in packaging technology.
In 2012, to keep up with demand, the bakery invested about $13 million to expand the facility by 49,000 sq ft, add a second makeup system to the croissant line, install a chocolate-filled bun line and add robotics and other state-of-the-art systems in its packaging department.
Today, the dual production line can produce 52,000 Micro Croissants an hour, or up to 1,200,000 daily and a potential of 300 million annually. The second line turns out 24,000 chocolate-filled, croissant-style buns an hour or 48,000 mini-filled chocolate buns and other filled snacks.
The bakery’s highly automated packaging department, designed by La Petite Bretonne with the assistance of De La Ballina (since renamed Pattyn Bakery Division) can handle a baker’s dozen of packaging formats.
For the most part, La Petite Bretonne-branded Micro Croissants come in 24-count bags with a 21-day shelf life for fresh distribution on 49 independent routes throughout Quebec. They are also shipped throughout Canada or internationally with a 6-month shelf life in the freezer and 21 days after thawing. The mini pastries also come in other bag sizes, depending on the product variety and whether they’re being co-packed for private label accounts.
After manual inspection, mini croissants travel through a De La Ballina vision system that counts and measures the shape of each product before it gently tumbles them into a Manter bagger — one of a half-dozen such systems in the packaging department.
Once a Kwik Lok system closes the bags — the packaging department has a total of eight closure systems — they pass through a Fortress metal detector and are manually packed in baskets for fresh distribution or cases for further shipping. Wexxar systems erect and tape seal all cases. Frozen products are palletized and shrinkwrapped. The cases also include La Petite Bretonne-branded palletized shipping displays for easy assembly at retail outlets. “It’s much more expensive, but it’s what our customers want,” Mr. Bohec noted.
Three years ago, La Petite Bretonne invested significantly in labor-saving robotics to automate packaging of its more conventionally sized, 2-oz chocolate-filled buns. After cooling, the pastries pass through a De La Ballina laser vision system that serves as the “eyes” for quality control as well as for counting, locating and positioning the products as they enter the robotic pick-and-place system, according to Mr. Bohec.
Eight Schneider Electric robots comprise the heart of the system. They gently pick up and place filled croissants into plastic trays, which ride on a SpanTech conveyor along the side of the center belt. In all, the robots load six items into each 12-oz tray, which then enters one of two Formost Fuji horizontal baggers. Closing, metal detection and casepacking follow.
For La Petite Bretonne, it’s OK to be the little fish in the big pond in the highly competitive croissant market throughout North America. In addition to Canada and the US, the company also exports to Mexico and parts of the Caribbean.
“In the next five years, we’re going to double the size of the business,” Mr. Bohec said. “We plan to develop the US market further and build a bigger position in Canada. We’re going to do it through new products and being a leader in our niche market, but we don’t want to move too quickly.”
For La Petite Bretonne, being successful is all about doing small things in a great way.