CANTON, MA. - Improving a bakery’s operations starts with asking the right questions.

As one of Reiser’s bakery specialists, Jim Fontaine knows how to do just that. By asking insightful questions, everyone involved becomes more educated, and processes improve.

If there is a production judgment error on a line, Mr. Fontaine has a short conversation with the operator to probe into why the line is not working. What’s the consistency of the product? How is it reacting over time? Does the dough get drier, harder or stickier? What adjustments have already been tried?

Sometimes, getting the answers isn’t so easy. Other times, it takes some convincing to help bakers improve their operation. That’s where Mr. Fontaine makes a difference. He not only helps bakers determine the proper equipment but also helps them get the most out of their current machines.

“We will ask many questions such as current needs, future needs, and how many hours a day or week do you wish to make this product, sanitation requirements and maintenance capabilities, and so on to help the baker make the correct decision,” Mr. Fontaine said.

This may require a visit to Reiser’s Customer Center for additional testing, or Reiser can work with the baker to do it on site. Beyond initial testing, Reiser also offers factory acceptance tests (FATs) and educational workshops, which help bakers more thoroughly understand how to properly optimize formulation and batch size to make a line run at peak efficiency.

“Reiser bakery specialists are on-site during FATs so they can provide guidance on formulation, mixing procedure and so on,” Mr. Fontaine explained. “We also will be on-site during startup to run initial production tests and help bakers meet their product specifications.”

There are other instances when Mr. Fontaine has worked with bakers to increase production and decrease manual labor to simplify processes. He’s also helped bakers install equipment to improve ergonomics for employees, and he’s showed them how to manage the current skilled labor gap in the industry.

All the things Mr. Fontaine does as a liaison between bakers and Reiser’s engineering and sales department stems from his curiosity and desire to educate the industry.

Mr. Fontaine began working in wholesale baking in 1983 at the age of 16. He volunteered to work a doughboy stand at a church festival one summer for a local bakery, now Calise Bakery, Lincoln, RI. This led to a job at the bakery itself while he completed high school and continued through college while he pursued his business degree. These formative years of hands-on work with Italian and Portuguese bakers helped shape Mr. Fontaine’s future career. At the same time, Mike Calise, the company’s president, wanted him to learn everything from proper plant sanitation to maintenance to production to packaging and sales. Eventually, the bakery offered Mr. Fontaine a job as production manager, with the caveat that he study the science of baking at American Institute of Baking (AIB), located at the time in Manhattan, Kan.

“So, I signed a five-year contract with them and off to AIB I went,” he said. “As I look back, it was one of the best decisions I made to further my career in baking.”

After Calise, Mr. Fontaine went on to work in managerial roles at several bakeries, including Superior Bread in North Grosvenordale, Conn.; Superior Cake in Southbridge, Mass.; and Diana’s Commonwealth Bakery in Agawam, Mass.

He joined Reiser in 2013, when, for the first time, he sat on the other side of the sales table as a supplier, not a baker. But his perspective gave him the ability to see every business interaction from both sides.

“What I learned is if you want things to run smoothly, you must listen to the customer and communicate constantly with sales and the engineering department,” he said. “There is never such a thing of having too much information.”

Mr. Fontaine’s mission now is to understand what bakers are asking for and then — along with Reiser’s engineers and sales staff — help them choose the correct piece of equipment that best meets their needs.

As a bakery technologist, Mr. Fontaine assists baking companies in many ways. Whether it’s adjusting formulations to enhance efficiency on a line, or improving shelf life of baked goods, he can do it. With a background in baking science, he can show bakers how to reduce overall R&D time and get products to market faster.

“Many smaller to intermediate bakeries do not have an R&D department, so they can rely on Reiser to provide these services,” he said. “Customers want to see new items or improve existing ones that are not hitting their sales targets, and if you can address them in a timely manner, this can only improve your relationship with your customer.”

The old saying of “you never stop learning” is true for Mr. Fontaine. He continues to ask important questions and provide solutions that allow bakers to improve their operations. He also enjoys educating the next generation of bakers and engineers.

“It’s very rewarding when you can share your experiences in helping people build their baking company,” he said.

Whether it’s been a mom-and-pop corner bakery or a large wholesale operation, helping companies succeed has been one of most rewarding aspects of Mr. Fontaine’s job. Every day is a new line, a new bakery, a new challenge.

Mr. Fontaine enjoys this daily quest for new information.