La Brea Bakery, Van Nuys, Calif., is known for its artisan breads and its commitment to a 30-year-old mother starter and an artisan process. However, as the company has grown, automation has been necessary to keep up with the brand’s growth. Marcus Garcia, bakery director of La Brea Bakery’s Van Nuys facility, sat down with Baking & Snack to discuss how the bakery relies on automation to enable growth and what the future holds for La Brea Bakery.

How have you automated La Brea Bakery’s process while staying true to its artisan roots?

Marcus Garcia: With our manufacturing lines, there are always limits. Time is very critical to our process, and with expanding automation, we made sure not to lose sight and stay true to our legacy and tradition and our DNA of our artisan process. During the define stage of our projects, we spend time reviewing layouts with all of our stakeholders, including frontline employees, to ensure we maintain our flexibility. For example, we recently invested capital to install auto-scoring with Kaak Group on one of our lines here in Van Nuys. But with the new automation of six robots, we made sure to design the layout to not lose the flexibility to manually score the product. If we decide to manually score the product, we have that choice. If we decide to auto-score the product, we have that choice as well. Though our employees remain the most impactful for solving and accomplishing any planned and unplanned problems during the production process, there are several factors which we have considered when speaking on the disadvantages and advantages of automation. There will always be certain cases when manual work or keeping flexibility will be preferred over automation. Fortunately, we’ve been able to engineer both at Van Nuys. I believe Bill Gates stated that the first rule of any technology used in business is the automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify that efficiency and the second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. So, in preparation prior to automation, we had to stabilize our process and team before embarking on this journey and chapter for La Brea Bakery.

How is automation helping La Brea pivot to better serve its customers?

We must be willing to change and adapt and keep a pulse on the ever-evolving needs and preferences of our customers. By putting the customer at the center and optimizing and automating allows a strong customer and manufacturer satisfaction. As cost of manufacturing increases year after year if we don’t automate or optimize, we will not survive. We challenge everything we do to make sure we provide value added service to our customers. Meeting our customers’ satisfaction goes beyond just making a product; it is a relationship on how together we make each other successful. Once the trust and relationship are built, we can really be vulnerable with each other and become profitable together.

Are you hopeful that Lindsay Goldberg’s acquisition of La Brea Bakery will assist your team in reaching the next level of operations? 

We aspire to lead not only in people safety, food safety and quality, but also in the future of equipment technology. We’re hopeful that together with Lindsay Goldberg this will be how we achieve next-level operations. To really define what next level means, that is lean, reliable, flexible and versatile production lines that can produce very high amount of a value-added pounds per hour with minimum variation while improving our big three: people, safety and quality. The challenge we have is not to get complacent. We should always be searching for the next great idea and always striving to have the courage to be the first and not be afraid of being imperfect. To sum it up, next level usually means doing something we’ve never done before.