Waffle and wafer producers have a lot going on these days. These products can become the target for any number of consumer preferences or trends. Character-shaped waffles and sandwich wafers are stepping into the spotlight, and no matter the shape, consumers still want to take them on the go.

“Everything seems to be smaller, single-size portions, grab-and-go, and heat, serve and go,” said Lance Aasness, executive vice-¬president, Hinds-Bock.

From a creativity perspective, the sky’s the limit on what producers can dream up.

“We see some trends where customers are looking at unique integrated branding applications and alternate configurations,” said Larry Beck, general manager, TSA Griddle Systems, a division of CPM.

Appearance is just the beginning, as those health-­conscious consumers want their portable toaster waffles to be low-fat, whole grain and high-fiber to boot.

“That’s definitely what our customers and many consumers are focusing on,” Mr. Beck said. “Formulation and ingredients are increasingly important to consumers.”

A product that can appeal to so many consumers via any number of styles — and in almost as many dayparts, considering the prevalence of breakfast and snacking at all hours — requires a very specific process.

Precision matters

Even with niche waffles and wafers, they must still fit the mould … literally. This is an issue from both a physical and formulating standpoint.

“When you’re dealing with a product that could be quite runny, you need to consider nozzles such as drip-free because it can affect the shape and accuracy,” Mr. Aasness said.

Even just a few drips from a multi-piston depositor over a hot griddle could make or break the look of a product.

“The accuracy has to be spot-on, and drip-free nozzles are your best bet for that,” he added. “From the overall cost of the ingredients to the look of a product, accuracy is a top priority.”

Pieter Doornbos, area sales manager and specialists, waffles for Tromp Group, noted that precise deposits are an important part of Tromp Group’s Vander Pol waffle makeup line.

“It is important to have uniformity in depositing high volume for big lines where the baker is putting out the same product dimensions,” he said.

Hinds-Bock’s standard piston depositor is designed with servo controls for accurate timing. Mr. Aasness noted that, from a consistency standpoint, it deposits within +/- 1 gram.

“You could possibly get closer to within 0.5 gram of batter deposit weight, which is important to get a consistent-looking waffle,” he said.

For this type of batter, there are two things to consider for achieving consistency — viscosity and temperature — and the equipment plays a big role.

“If your batter gets too thin and you don’t change the griddle or depositing conditions, you’ll start splattering and end up with a different product than you were looking for,” said Mike Niemczyk, sales and business development manager, TSA. “If it gets too thick, you’ll have underfilled waffles that won’t spread or fill the mould as well.”

TSA also supplies batter mixing systems to match its griddles, and precision is always top of mind in the design.

Efficiency is everything

Specialty items, especially those in which the formulation is a factor, can often come with cooking considerations.

“A lot of these formulas can be more difficult to run,” Mr. Niemczyk said. “They don’t cook out as quickly, so that slows down the production rate.”

TSA griddles are natural-gas fired and have a serpentine design that folds back over on itself inside an insulated housing.

“This way, we actually get triple use out of the heat from the burners,” Mr. Niemczyk said, noting that the first pass goes directly over the burner at more than 3,000°F, and then the gas heat passes the plates two more times before heading up into the exhaust.

“It’s an efficient system,” he said.

Efficiency isn’t all about timing, though. Efficient baking for waffles and wafers can also provide energy savings. Franz Haas Machinery of America’s Eco oven is equipped with a modified heating system that’s designed with a single-burner zone and convection principle.

“The system can save up to 70% gas consumption compared with a regular gas-heated oven,” said Patrick Lamprecht, global business development sales, Franz Haas. The system also comes with remote-controlled heating adjustment to control individual zones via the HMI.

Griddle plates aren’t known for speedy changeovers, and bakers typically maintain their runs anywhere from one to several weeks at a time. To keep things moving as fast as possible, TSA supplies extra sets of moulds for certain designs.

“We also supply a small electric crane device that assists in changing out the plates and a system to store them safely when not on the griddle,” Mr. Niemczyk said.

To most effectively maximize heat circulation, Tromp Group supplies ovens heated by both gas and electric.

“This allows us to offer energy recirculation and reuse the heat,” Mr. Doornbos said.

Additionally, Franz Haas also offers a baking plate carrier system to allow bakers to easily change out the plates.

Traditional waffles and wafers are tried-and-true products. But if the opportunity arises for new varieties, whether in shape, size or formula, the right types of processing equipment can take them to the next level.