Porto’s Bakery is no stranger to automation. As the retail bakery has seen booming growth, it has had to automate its processes several times, but as Raul Porto, the bakery’s president, said, “We’re always apprehensive that it might have a negative impact on the original product we’re making.”
That was critical when Mr. Porto was looking for a production line that could automate its roll operation, which until that point had all been done by hand. A thin skilled labor market hasn’t been able to match the company’s growth, and Mr. Porto was looking for a way to deliver consistent artisan quality on a larger scale.
Porto’s Bakery was started in 1976 by Rosa Porto, but in the past decade or so, her children, including son Raul, have taken the business to the next level with five storefronts.
“All the stores are beyond belief in how busy they are as well as their size,” Mr. Porto said. “The largest store is 28,000 square feet and opened a year-and-a-half ago. It is so packed, we should have done 38,000 square feet.”
He attributed the business boom to the diversification of the American palate. With baked foods such as donuts and croissants in its repertoire, Porto’s Bakery boasts a wide range of products that most Americans would recognize. The Porto family’s Cuban heritage shines through in its Cuban products and twists on European pastries. Instead of chocolate mousse, Porto’s Bakery might feature mango or guava in a turnover, Mr. Porto explained.
“In the past 10 to 15 years, I think people in the U.S. have opened up to all sorts of cuisines,” he said. “It’s become an enjoyment for most people to try different cuisines, and we’ve benefitted from that tremendously.”
As the business grew, Mr. Porto found Porto’s Bakery’s handmade process difficult to deliver the necessary volume of baked foods.
“It’s becoming difficult and expensive to find bakers or people with any knowledge of baking who want to work those hours,” he said. “If you’re able to find them, it gets very expensive.”
To meet the demand for volume and quality in an efficient way, Mr. Porto decided it was time to automate the bun and roll process. Maintaining the finished product quality was his first priority. He found that in a bun and roll line designed and built by WP Bakery Group in Germany.
Porto’s bun and roll line includes a divider/rounder, intermediate proofer, sheeting/curling and a long-moulder. The production line ends with an automatic panner.
“We don’t make the customer fit the machine; we fit the machine to the customer,” said Bruce Gingrich, vice-president, sales, WP Bakery Group USA. “We don’t want to automate at the expense of product quality.”
WP Bakery Group’s dividing and rounding system mimics the way a baker would do it on a bench. An operator on the line can control the pressure used to round the dough ball, which can be done slowly and gently. The process takes about seven seconds.
Critical to getting the machine adapted to a formulation is the testing process.
“Testing is an important part of our process, to be able to show the customer and demonstrate our machines can run very specific doughs,” Mr. Gingrich explained.
Testing equipment allows the baker and the WP Bakery Group to see how the formulation will run on the equipment. WP Bakery Group can then make adjustments to ensure that the production line won’t negatively impact product quality.
To produce Porto’s Bakery’s Cuban rolls, WP Bakery Group included the sheeting and curling step. The equipment flattens the dough ball, which is then run through a curling chain to roll the sheeted dough into a log. This is then long-moulded under a pressure board to create the signature Cuban roll.
Not only does the line deliver the same level of quality Porto’s Bakery was delivering before, but it also does so efficiently. Mr. Porto has been struck by how effective the line has been.
“The weight accuracy is great,” he said. “You can run it with someone who knows how to operate the machine but isn’t truly a baker. They don’t need to be, so that has been tremendously helpful.”
WP Bakery Group roll lines are capable of producing from 10,000 to 36,000 pieces per hour.
Porto’s Bakery’s new line was 100% designed and built by WP Bakery Group in Germany with the flexibility to grow with the business. Currently, the production line runs a wide variety of bun and roll products, including hamburger buns, rolls, Mexican tortas as well as the bakery’s Cuban buns and rolls.
Thinking ahead, Mr. Gingrich included a small section of plain belt near the end of the line, before the panning unit, that can be easily replaced with new capabilities such as seeding or stamping. This enables the bakery to expand into products such as Kaiser buns without needing to invest in an entire new production line.
“When you start automating, it’s difficult to find something that’s very versatile,” Mr. Porto said. “Most machines can do one thing and do it very well. This equipment can do a hamburger bun, a hot dog bun, a roll, anything shaped like a bun or a crostini, and it’s extremely efficient.”
Patricia Kennedy, president of WP Bakery Group USA, is proud of the relationship the company established with Porto’s Bakery and the way the line has exceeded Mr. Porto’s expectations.
“It is a true flagship installation for us as the line has provided the solutions they were looking for,” she said. “Our motto here at WP USA is ‘we create raving fans,’ and Porto’s is one more for the list.”
Mr. Porto’s only regret is that his father didn’t invest sooner.
“The first time I tried this machine, I wondered why my father didn’t buy this 20 years ago when I was making the bread,” he said, laughing. “I could have really used this machine.”