KANSAS CITY — Bakers of artisan bread in commissaries, central kitchens and other offsite facilities that supply foods to retail grocers face hurdles that other bakers don’t.
But, if done correctly, artisan bread production also offers enormous opportunities for commissaries and other producers to provide value-added products in a rapidly growing category.
Shelf life can be a challenge for artisanal bread distributed from central commissaries, said Troy Boutte, bakingHUB and innovation director for St. Louis-based AB Mauri. Depending on logistics needs, bread made in a central commissary is typically either frozen par-baked or frozen finished.
“That’s especially hard on artisan breads that typically contain few or no additives, resulting in negative changes in both texture and flavor of the end product,” he said.
To alleviate that, AB Mauri provides a full range of label-friendly bakery ingredients that can help maintain eating qualities of artisan baked foods made at the commissary or central kitchen level.
Artisan bread baking is also labor intensive, Mr. Boutte said. One key way to reduce labor and expand product offerings is to use mixes, thereby eliminating the need to scale multiple ingredients. Use of mixes, he said, reduces scaling errors and can greatly reduce both inventory and workload within the quality control department.
A good example of this is high-protein grain bread production. Not only is it difficult to formulate, it requires many ingredients and must meet certain nutritional requirements. Ultimately, mixes are a more convenient way to produce these products while reducing risk, inventory and labor, Mr. Boutte said.
AB Mauri’s Burgen brand of mixes, bases and concentrates is convenient for producing a variety of artisan bread for instore bakeries or commissaries. They’re perfect for high-quality artisanal bread with multiple, better-for-you attributes that are on-trend with what today’s consumers desire, Mr. Boutte said.
AB Mauri also offers Aromaferm, a portfolio of natural cereal ferments in powder form that provide an authentic sourdough flavor in a concentrated format. And the company’s line of enzyme-based products, sold under the Qualitase, Softase and Fermentase labels, improves stale-free shelf life and volume.
All, Mr. Boutte said, are ideal for producing clean label and organic baked foods as well as traditional products.
“We continue to evolve our product portfolio, which currently is filled with hundreds of items from yeast to baking powders to everything in between,” he said.
AB Mauri’s iconic Fleischmann’s Yeast, more than 150 years old, has always been popular, but it enjoyed a surge in popularity during the home-baking craze phase of the pandemic, Mr. Boutte said.
AB Mauri also has a full lineup of yeast in various convenient formats. Ultimately, using the proper yeast can help determine an artisan baker’s success or failure with a particular item, he said. Also, certain yeast products are much more suitable for frozen dough or even high sugar applications.
Rising to new challenges
The pandemic has made it more important than ever to provide bakers with solutions to extend the shelf life of artisan bread, given the possibility of supply interruptions and consumer stock-up behavior.
Lenexa, Kan.-based Corbion helps bakers meet that challenge with products that improve the consistency and tolerance of product formulations, said CJ McClellan, senior manager of global marketing at Corbion.
“In order to create the freshest possible product, we use functional ingredients like emulsifiers to help bakers extend shelf life while lowering costs,” Mr. McClellan said. “The technology delivered by our functional dough conditioners, shelf-life enhancers and Ultra Fresh solutions helps artisan bakers create products that have higher tolerance, quality and robustness, while staying fresher throughout freeze/thaw cycles and cutting.”
Consistency is also important, Mr. McClellan added. Corbion offers a wide variety of mixes and bases that address the challenges bakers face most often. These products, he said, enable bakers to create premium products reliably, using a minimal amount of skilled labor and fewer ingredients.
Bakers always are looking for new and delicious ways to incorporate ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, spelt, millet, flaxseed and chia in their artisan bread, Mr. McClellan said.
The problem is, these grains need to be soaked overnight in order to keep the kernel intact when they’re added to bread, which requires a large time commitment for bakers already strapped for time.
To help them, Corbion offers a wide variety of presoaked grains that are easy to incorporate into formulations and onto bread. These premixed grains give bakers a convenient method for customizing the flavor, texture and appearance of baked foods, with up to eight different grains in a single blend.
“They’re easily added during formulation or sprinkled on top of bread dough before baking to enhance the look and feel of any baked good,” Mr. McClellan said.
A number of technical challenges are involved in working with the whole and ancient grains that are common in artisan bread. Flours made from whole grains, for example, tend to absorb more liquid, which can require additional liquids, increased time for the dough to rest and more proofing time. In addition, many whole grains are naturally gluten-free. Gluten provides the necessary texture and structure to dough, and without it, bakers have to find the optimum water and mix time.
To help bakers solve these challenges, Corbion offers products that address everything from dough strength to extended shelf life and freshness, Mr. McClellan said. And the company provides both traditional and clean label solutions, so bakers have convenient, effective solutions that help them meet the demands of their customers.
Quality, taste and freshness are top of mind for consumers when shopping for premium baked foods, especially when it comes to artisan bread, Mr. McClellan said. Consumers see them as handcrafted and assume they’re made instore daily, so they’re associated with a higher level of freshness.
“Commissaries and central kitchens that bake artisan breads have an opportunity to satisfy consumers looking for fresh, handcrafted and locally made products,” he said.
Artisan bread connects with consumers’ desires for fresh, unique, high-quality bread with rich, decadent flavors and textures, Mr. McClellan said. Corbion has seen this in the popularity of baked foods like brioche and Hawaiian-style rolls, and the company said it anticipates further growth in this market, as consumers look for more premium bread styles for the indulgent eating experiences and excellent health benefits they provide.
“When it comes to more indulgent products, consumers are more likely to repurchase items they love, and aren’t as quick to critique ingredient labels, compared with other bread products,” he said.
Other factors driving popularity of artisan bread include exciting global flavors and ingredients such as sprouted grains, ancient grains like chia, flax and teff; and the addition of fruit infusions and spices, Mr. McClellan said. In addition to becoming a fixture on restaurant menu items, bread featuring these ingredients has worked its way into the center aisles and perimeters of grocery stores.
“While the pandemic has restricted travel, it has also prompted consumers to seek out exciting eating experiences, international flavors and foods they may have tried had they been able to go on vacation,” he said.
A new level of popularity
Artisan bread’s ascent in popularity began at least 15 years ago, and has now reached a level the category has never seen before, said Rolf Tschenscher, baking business development manager for Lesaffre Corp.
“There are already indications that commercialized bread isn’t as favored by consumers as artisan bread,” Mr. Tschenscher said.
Part of it has to do with ingredients — health-minded shoppers, in particular, don’t like some of the unpronounceable words they’re more likely to find on commercial bread.
Education is another reason for artisan’s rise, and the explosion of social media has exponentially increased the number of people exposed to artisan bread, how to make it, what’s in it and other information, Mr. Tschenscher said. Organizations like the Bread Bakers Guild, founded in 1993, also have done a great job of getting the word out, he added.
From a producer’s point of view, there are financial advantages to expanding your artisan bread portfolio, Mr. Tschenscher said — namely, higher margins.
“Today (artisan is) more dominant than the commercialized aisle, which is shrinking,” he said. “And we’re also seeing, through social media, an explosion due to pandemic home baking of sourdough.”
Demand has gotten so high during COVID-19, many supermarkets have run out of yeast, Mr. Tschenscher said.
Fortunately for commissaries, third-party kitchens and other offsite suppliers of artisan bread to supermarkets, technological breakthroughs have made it much easier for producers to turn out artisan product efficiently while not sacrificing quality, Mr. Tschenscher said.
Thanks to new equipment, there is now, he said, “the capability to produce larger amounts and supply local supermarkets.”
And Mr. Tschenscher is optimistic about the artisan industry’s ability to scale up even more to bring artisan bread to more and more Americans.
On a trip to his native Germany, Mr. Tschenscher took some Americans who manage industrial bakeries on a tour of what he called an “industrial artisan” bakery.
“One of the visitors said, ‘I cannot imagine this on a large scale in North America,’” Mr. Tschenscher recalled.
The manager of the German bakery said “Yes, you can,” and Mr. Tschenscher concurred.
“You just need to assign a designated space,” he said. “And technology will help us get there.”
Lesaffre’s recent investments in its Cedar Rapids, Iowa, facilities, including a recently opened ingredients plant, shows the company’s commitment to scaling artisan, Mr. Tschenscher said.
Lesaffre is doing everything it can to get the word out about how it can help bakers of artisan bread.
“What not a lot of people know is that Lesaffre offers the biggest assortment sourdoughs,” he said. “We make starters, in powder and liquid form, and active sourdoughs without the use of commercialized yeast.”
First launched in Europe, these and other products are now finding homes in North American markets.
Commissaries, central kitchens and other offsite facilities that supply retail grocers are doing an excellent job with artisan bread, and their presence is growing, Mr. Tschenscher said.
For many such facilities, however, adding artisan can be a steep learning curve.
“It comes with challenges,” he said. “It requires a lot of skills and time to make sourdoughs. Fermentation tanks, other equipment, refreshing on a regular basis.”
Lesaffre offers significant support to help commissary-based and all artisan bakers find the right way to produce good sourdoughs bread with the right equipment.
“We support them to take the next step,” Mr. Tschenscher said.
The future for artisan is bright, Mr. Tschenscher said. Even with the success of the gluten-free movement, bread is “in” again.
“Gluten-free is still very strong, but even there, we’re seeing a big increase in gluten-free sourdoughs and will continue to see more and more of those,” he said.
From baby boomers on down, the demand for higher quality bread is strong, Mr. Tschenscher said. What’s happened with microbrews, chocolatiers and other higher-end food and beverage makers is happening with bread.
And after the pandemic, when home bakers go back to work, they’ll still crave the artisan bread they made during quarantine. Many won’t have the time to keep baking it; instead, they’ll start buying it at their local grocery store or bakery.
“We will see chains come up with better quality breads than they have in past,” Mr. Tschenscher said. “It’s a very strong movement, to go back to exploring new foods, whether artisan breads or craft beers or the butcher, or pastry products.”