Wenner Bakery
Automatic scoring of baked goods allows Wenner Bakery to streamline production and produce a wide variety of breads and rolls.

RONKONKOMA, N.J. — Wenner Bakery’s New Brunswick bakery, which opened in 2015, reflects how the company transfers a craft approach to baking onto a high-efficiency production process. For instance, the line for its hand-twisted garlic rolls, Knots, required a combination of international ingenuity with extensive collaboration and equipment from seven different countries.

“We had a group of European engineers working with our American engineers to develop the most automatic line for garlic knots,” said Alberto Alvarez, marketing director, Wenner Bakery.

Overall, the bakery runs three shifts, five days a week, and its three lines turned out 27 million lbs of Knots, bread, hoagies and frozen dough items in 2016. There’s plenty of room to expand. The existing lines take up about 150,000 square feet — or half of the building — with the rest allocated to storage at this time. Another three lines — possibly for Dots or European-style croissants — may be added over the next three years.

Wenner Bakery
Large volumes of baguette pieces travel from makeup to the proofer at Wenner Bakery’s New Brunswick, NJ, facility.

“It all depends on consumer trends, our customers and how we expand in the market,” said Oriol Tey, president, Wenner Bakery.

In many ways, the operation is a SQF Level 2 bakery inside a warehouse. The bakery’s towering prefabricated steel walls and ceiling enclose the mainly straight-line production operation and ensure food safety from the warehouse and outside elements. Such construction also streamlined the start-up because it minimized — in some cases, eliminated — the modifications necessary to bring the warehouse up to food-processing standards.

All mixing and makeup is compartmentalized in a separate temperature-controlled room set at 75?F with proofers and ovens housed in a second ambient room. Because it’s a frozen dough and baked foods facility, a third packaging room is set at 60?F. The bakery also has a fourth room for proprietary seasoning, coating and retail packaging of its garlic Knots.

Currently, flour is stored in two 180,000-lb silos with a concrete slab designed to add two more as capacity expands. Pfening bulk ingredient handling systems and scales transport flour to a battery of mixers.

Minor ingredients are batched in a pre-scaling section that also provides the first stages of lot tracking and serves as an allergen-control point, said Nelly Margolin, director of R.&D. and quality assurance, Wenner Bakery. Following production, test kitchens in the New York and New Jersey plants bake off representative samples from each batch to ensure product performance prior to shipping. Ms. Margolin routinely collaborates with her counterparts in Europe on myriad quality assurance and safety initiatives, compliance, questions and protocol. 

Wenner Bakery
Gently mixed doughs are dumped into a trough before being elevated to the makeup line’s hopper.

On the Knots line, two 2,000-lb horizontal mixers alternate to drop dough into troughs that are lifted to continuously feed the hopper of a stress-free extruder. A makeup line is outfitted with reduction stations, cross rollers, gauging stations and a final reduction system that ensures the proper thickness of the dough sheet. A circular cutter slices the sheet, and onto finger conveyors that spread them into individual lanes before they’re guillotined into pieces.

Next, a synchronized team of 12 to 18 skilled workers manually twist-tie the Knots, noted Larry Evans, the plant’s general manager. A retractable conveyor then drops the precisely aligned pieces onto boards that travel through two tray proofers. Mr. Evans said the double proofing process creates the soft, New York-style pizza dough taste and texture that characterize the popular Knots.

After baking on a mesh band in a tunnel oven, the Knots travel up a conveyor to a spiral cooler before blast freezing, garlic coating and retail packaging — six Knots to a bakeable retail bag. The Knots also can be bulk-packed for food service establishments and served warm as part of the bread basket or a creative component of an appetizer with melted cheese, marinara dipping sauce or a host of other accompaniments, according to Mr. Tey.

To create baguettes, hoagies and an assortment of artisan rolls, the second line relies on three vertical spiral mixers that feed twin makeup systems — a Mecatherm operation that produces French-style baguettes and rolls and another makeup operation for softer, rustic European-style items. Because it has only one oven, a single makeup line operates at any one time.

During Baking & Snack’s visit, baguette production began with a bowl lift that traditionally dumps the straight dough into a two-pocket divider. That system feeds the Mecatherm line to create two rows of 12- to 14-inch baguettes at a rate of 5,000 per hour. The baguettes also may be cut in half to produce specialty rolls at twice that amount.

After intermediate proofing, the pieces travel through a sheeter, curling chain and four moulding plates that gently stretch and lengthen them. The pieces then drop into 48-piece pans, that transport the dough pieces to the proofer. Next, an automatic water splitter scores the products. Mr. Evans said using water is not only safe and accurate, but the system also can control the depth, length and shape of scoring.

After passing through a high-temperature initial baking chamber that provides the necessary oven spring to the products, they enter the Mecatherm modular oven with four individual chambers where operators can adjust steam and temperature throughout the process prior to cooling and blast freezing.

On the third line, a divider and rounder system produces about 40,000 pieces of frozen dough per hour. The versatile line comes with two hoppers and inclined conveyors to provide substantial rest for the dough before it enters the divider, which can be adjusted to between 6 and 10 pockets, depending on the product size. After intermediate proofing, dough balls may travel through a stamper, long roller, sheeter roller, forming station and even a setting roller prior to entering the freezer.

Wenner Bakery
Fresh baguettes stream out of the tunnel oven at the New Brunswick, NJ, bakery.

Mr. Evans noted the plant’s freezers use a CO2 system that’s safer and more environmentally efficient than traditional ammonia. That said, ammonia initially chills the CO2 that subsequently cools the three spiral blast freezers and 1,500-pallet storage freezer.

In the temperature-controlled packaging room, all products receive Loma or Mettler Toledo metal detection. For bulk packaging, Wenner relies on Ryan Technology slicers prior to freezing some buns and rolls. The department bulk packages items into plastic-lined bags with Kwik Lok closures that are then casepacked using Loveshaw Little David automated systems.

“To ensure we are competitive, we will continue to invest in our U.S. facilities, installing new lines for our most successful products,” Mr. Alvarez said. “We have 150,000 square feet still available in New Jersey that we plan to use very soon.”