VAIL, COLO. — In high-SKU bakery production, where changeovers happen quickly and often, it’s a common conception that flexibility typically comes at the sacrifice of efficiency.

But during the BEMA annual convention, being held June 17-21 in Vail, one panelist suggested that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

“The most challenging issue we experience at Clif Bar & Co. is how can increase variety for not only consumers but also for our customers,” said Jeb Sloan, engineer, CLIF Bar & Co., Emeryville, Calif.

When seeking equipment that can run multiple products at high speeds while being able to change over to a variety of product types, bakers are seeing less room for compromise than they once did.

At Downer’s Grove, Ill.-based Hearthside Food Solutions, flexibility is key, along with cleanability, especially when producing a wide variety of items, many of which contain allergens.

“I think it’s a bit of a misconception that flexibility and efficiency are inversely related concepts,” Mr. Sloan said. In 2016, Clif Bar built a plant in Twin Falls, Idaho. When designing the processing and packaging, the team asked itself how to build lines as fast it possibly could and still produce the variety of bars its customers needed. “I always struggled with having to pick one,” he recalled. “I would consider one piece of equipment because it could give me the rate, but it also had to come with flexibility. It’s a struggle because for me, those two are not mutually exclusive. I need both.”

Does that solution exist off the shelf? That’s the burning question every high-SKU baker wants to know. Perhaps not. But the goal of bakery engineers is to search for the answer. And they’re seeking equipment suppliers who can work with them to bring speed and flexibility together in harmony.

“My challenge to suppliers is that as we think through needing both of these, how do we work together to make it happen?” Mr. Sloan asked.

According to Joe Owad, director of plant engineering for Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, Conn., the solution isn’t as elusive as one might think. It just takes a lot of strategy. “In terms of flexibility, when done right, you’re not necessarily sacrificing efficiency to achieve it.

The thing to focus on, he suggested is the complexity of production. Once those specific areas of complexity are identified and addressed, it’s possible to develop a high-speed, flexible production line.

BEMA welcomed nearly 40 bakers to its convention this year, where the association hosted discussions on other topics including cannabis production, facility design and pet food processing, among others. Baker attendance was the highest turnout on record.