Water is critical to baking. It’s a major part of any bread formulation, particularly artisan breads. It also serves other functions in the bakery as well, from sanitation on the production floor to the sink in the office kitchen or breakroom. While bakeries can’t do away with water, they can improve their sustainability profile by taking steps to bring their water usage down. It’s an issue that some of the world’s largest baking companies are taking on.

“The use of water is a fundamental issue for our operation and its correct use allows us to have the quality and safety characteristics of our products,” said Alejandra Vazquez, global environmental management director, Grupo Bimbo, Mexico City. “Therefore, we have established within our operations guidelines and standards for its proper use and goals for reducing consumption and improving treatment processes.”

Grupo Bimbo has three action points to help the company reduce its water footprint across its global network of bakeries. They include reduction in the water consumption in the process, treatment and reuse of water to return it to nature in the best condition, and incorporation of alternative water sources such as rainwater harvesting.

For Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., reducing water comes with a global perspective in mind, taking into account the entire supply chain and not just the bakery.

“Because limited water availability can potentially disrupt production and affect the cost of ingredients, Flowers must continually assess and address water risks across its operations and supply chain,” said Margaret Ann Marsh, vice president of sustainability and environmental, Flowers Foods. “Through risk assessments, Flowers has identified bakeries and ingredient sourcing regions located in water-stressed areas. In 2020, Flowers joined the Carbon Disclosure Project’s supply chain program to further engage suppliers on water risks relevant to Flowers’ operations.”

There are several strategies, large and small, that bakeries can employ to reduce the amount of water they use. This means taking a hard look at where the opportunities are to either eliminate water usage or treat and reuse it.

Strategies to reduce water

First things first when reducing water, know where it’s being used in the facility and how. This is often in the production process such as the formulation itself, sanitation and other services that include restrooms and kitchens inside the facility. Once those usage points are identified, monitoring usage allows companies to see where the opportunities for reduction might be.

Flowers’ sustainability team evaluates water consumption at more than 900 bakeries, warehouses and retail locations for any major fluctuations.

“If there is an unusual change in water use, the sustainability team notifies on-site management and helps investigate and quickly resolve potential leaks or other water issues,” Ms. Marsh said.

[Related reading: Winning the war on water]

Flowers implements a three-part strategy to reduce water. The first is integrating sustainability practices into the bakeries’ existing processes. The company then ensures that all its facilities have the support and resources needed for continuous improvement. Finally, Flowers communicates its sustainability successes internally.

“There are a number of ways to implement water savings without extensive capital investment or significant behavior changes,” Ms. Marsh explained. “For example, simply replacing standard water nozzles with high-pressure, low-flow pressure nozzles has provided significant water savings at our bakeries. When upgrading other equipment, we look for models with enhanced water efficiency. Also, we have retrofitted sinks and toilets with aerators at our office locations to automatically reduce water usage.”

Meters on equipment that use a lot of water track its usage.

A major process in any bakery, sanitation historically uses a lot of water. To combat this, bakeries are streamlining sanitation so it’s done as effectively as possible. Grupo Bimbo standardized dry and semi-wet cleaning processes as well as steam cleaning. This enables the company’s bakeries to reduce water use without compromising food safety.

“Today, we already have 93 plants using this practice,” Ms. Vazquez said.

Dry cleaning refers to removing any debris from the production equipment before using water to clean. However, Ms. Marsh said that phrase has led to some confusion, so Flowers Foods has altered its course a little.

[Related reading: With no time to lose, Grupo Bimbo takes the lead on sustainability]

“That term was consistently misinterpreted by our bakery teams, so we have started calling the process ‘sustainable cleaning’ to better describe best practices to conserve water and improve wastewater quality,” she said.

To support its teams, Flowers offers company-wide training on efficient water usage and best practices through an online training platform.

A return beyond the dollar

Closing the water cycle — that’s the goal. Reducing water usage not only helps bakeries save on a water bill, but it also has an impact across the supply chain.

“Since 2015, we’ve been able to reduce water usage and estimated costs by a little more than 6%,” Ms. Marsh said of Flowers’ water reduction efforts. “More importantly, by conserving water, we’ve been able to reduce demand and lessen the strain placed on community water supplies.”

Through Grupo Bimbo’s commitment to water reduction, the company has cut consumption in Mexico, Central America, South America and Spain by more than 10% compared with the company’s baseline in 2016. Measurable KPIs across business, environmental and social impacts have been encouraging, but so have the changes that have occurred inside the bakeries.

To achieve those KPIs, the operators have become more efficient in the use of water, which has led to changes in cleaning and new technologies. This extra efficiency has trickled down to improve productivity throughout production — a win-win for the company’s bottom line.

“The best use of water impacts us in many ways, and we are all a part of this effort, which benefits us all,”
Ms. Vazquez said.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on water reduction, click here.