Sliced ciabatta rolls enter a waterfall of garlic butter before the line adds cheese to create one of the many types of frozen products.

Rooted in foodservice

Such diversification comes from the bakery’s long history as a supplier to the restaurant and foodservice industry. That commitment is on full display at its innovation center, anchored by an Earthstone wood-fired pizza oven where the company’s certified chefs regularly bake its ciabatta pizza dough with a host of toppings to entertain customers and guests.

Located just off the production floor, the center features an open-air kitchen where Joe Dauria, R&D manager, took a cornucopia of fresh-baked breads and rolls and transformed them into gourmet sandwiches, hot appetizers, pizza and other alternative menu concepts during Baking & Snack’s visit.

As a reflection of its culinary expertise, Orlando Baking recently hosted 30 chefs at its innovation center to delve into ways to transform today’s everyday menus. Mr. Dauria and his product development team also meet one-on-one regularly with customers to explore menu expansion. “That’s how we’ve grown over the years,” Nick Orlando Jr. observed. “Whether our customers are two local restaurants on the same city block or two national chains, each wants to have its own different products, but we’re changing in that we realize we can’t serve everyone anymore. Now it’s all about customization or proprietary products for national accounts.”

That customization has transformed the business. Fifteen years ago, the company’s locally delivered fresh and nationally shipped frozen business each accounted for 50% of sales. Eight years ago, the percentage of national frozen items increased to about 60% of business. Currently, frozen production accounts for about 70% of volume — and it’s growing. In five years, the company projects frozen products will garner 80% of its sales through national foodservice accounts, co-manufacturing and a diversifying array of in-store ­bakery/delis and convenience stores. These channels continue to accelerate as a dominant part of Orlando Baking’s strategic plan.

In such an environment, product development can be portrayed as a juggling act, according to Nick Orlando Jr. Sometimes it can be done on the fly in a week or less if the bakery’s first attempts are spot-on. Other more complex concepts for larger clients can take six months or more to evolve.

“We have people showing us photos of products they want or just a rough idea of what they’d like,” he said. “At other times, our certified chefs on staff can go to customers and say, ‘Here are the ingredients you are using in your sandwiches. Have you tried combining them in a different way to create something new?’ ”

Overall, Orlando Baking now turns out more than 250 varieties with an expanding number of more mainstream baked goods. “We never thought we’d be making so many hamburger buns and specialty buns, including brioche and pretzel buns,” John Anthony Orlando said. “We make eight different types of brioche, including rolls, hamburger buns and our new packaged hot dog buns.”

The proliferation of hamburger chains drives the bakery’s product development initiatives. In fact, the company estimated the average American eats about three burgers a week.

“We’re making brioche buns and rolls with various amounts of butter and eggs in several sizes with sheen, score marks, no score marks, seeds or no seeds,” Nick Orlando Jr. explained. “Customers will ask us, ‘Can you make it a little sweeter? This is too dark, how about a little lighter? Or, we have a half-pound burger that’s too big for our buns; can we have a larger bun?’ ”

Moreover, limited-time offerings, such as a roll topped with Tabasco sauce that the bakery formulated, further fuel product development. Results both contrast and complement its heartland hoagies, Kaisers, rustic ryes and countless dinner rolls that support the menus in many parts of the Midwest, mid-Atlantic, Northeast and beyond.

Read on for more on the complexity of Orlando Bakery's operation.