Ever since he worked as an Italian tour guide in his youth, Victor Litinetsky admired the timeless works from the masters. That’s why he didn’t seek to reinvent the quintessential croissant with a time-tested fermentation process when he started Banneton Bakery.
Rather, the architect and structural engineer by trade wanted to develop an easier way to create classic, European-style gourmet pastries.
“In our case, we can produce the upscale croissants, Danish and other laminated products that are proofed, then frozen solid before they’re put directly into the oven at 350˚F for 20 minutes,” said the founder and president of the Swedesboro, NJ, business. “Those are the products that made this company grow from zero dollars just over 12 years ago to more than $100 million in annual revenues today.”The pre-proofed and pre-egg washed, freezer-to-oven (FTO) pastries come in 12 varieties and 80 SKUs ranging from top-selling sandwich and cocktail croissants to Danish twists and other handheld laminated baked goods with from-scratch fillings. Some, such as its wholesome multigrain croissants, carry the Whole Grain Council stamp.
“All of our products are made with clean ingredients, including our house-made fruit, chocolate and almond fillings,” noted Alex Litinetsky, Victor’s son and the company’s executive vice president. “We also use a lot of local ingredients, such as fresh milk and eggs from Pennsylvania farms that are delivered here several times a week, as well as local butter.”
One key ingredient not found on the label is the fermentation time during the two-stage process. The initial 20-lb slabs of laminated dough are created on two lines, then racked and retarded from 2.5 hours up to 24 hours.
The bakery then relies on a balance of automation and hand-forming from dozens of employees working on four more production lines that provide makeup and proofing before the individual products are frozen
“People keep telling us we should automate this part or that part of the process,” Victor Litinetsky said. “We prefer to stop automation exactly at the point where it interferes with the artisan craft of the product. There are tons of automated systems that we don’t use to ensure we are dedicated to the artisan-making process for these freezer-to-oven croissants.”
Another factor is the convenience that FTO pastries provide in-store bakeries and hotels, casinos, cruise liners and other establishments that are struggling to offer such high-end baked goods because of the skilled workforce shortage.
“We do all of the work so they don’t have to,” Victor Litinetsky observed. “We put the time and effort into making our products, which allow supermarkets to save a lot of labor and still have these beautiful, all-butter, consistent croissants day after day in their stores.”
Moreover, these pastries can be baked throughout the day.
“Now that they have a quality product that they can make fresh in a 20-minute turnaround, and never be out of stock, they’re seeing double- and triple-digit growth on existing sales,” Alex Litinetsky said.
Blending quality and convenience has been a win-win proposition for both the bakery and its customers for the past five years when demand for the premium FTO pastries blossomed.
“The buyers for the major retail supermarket chains have realized that they can charge much more for a top-quality croissant, and it will be totally accepted by consumers,” Victor Litinetsky pointed out. “Supermarket chains have seen their sales jump in just a couple of weeks of selling our FTO products as consumers try them and are willing to pay more to buy more.”
To keep up with demand, Banneton Bakery has bolstered capacity at its 90,000-square-foot bakery. In 2020, a $20 million project expanded the original bakery by 46,000 square feet that added new production lines and much-needed freezer space, and the company is planning to do more.
The bakery is installing a fifth makeup line this spring and a sixth one in June as a part of another 30,000-square-foot expansion that will also add a computerized, 12,000-square-foot storage freezer space to the facility.
“We don’t have any salespeople — just a few brokers and distributors,” Victor Litinetsky said. “We put all of our money back into the ingredients we use and in equipment to keep up with our growth. It’s just word on the street. Companies realize their businesses are growing with our products, and they’re ordering more because their consumers are dictating our success.”
For Alex Litinetsky, working for the family bakery wasn’t initially in the cards. But after joining Banneton Bakery, he quickly got hooked on the concept of FTO products and his father’s vision for the company.
“It surprised me, at first,” he recalled. “I love the business, and I love working with my father. He’s an amazing, driven character with lots of energy. We complement each other in every way. I’m more involved in the daily operations and somewhat in sales. My father is more involved in R&D and expanding the bakery long term. He’s been in this business for a very long time, and he looks at everything from a high-quality perspective. He’s always pushing the envelope with innovation. It’s also a family environment where we don’t have to go through layers of bureaucracy to make a decision. We get things done quickly.”
A 38-year veteran of the baking industry, Victor Litinetsky’s journey began more than 25 years ago when he developed a “true FTO” product with European experts in Paris and has refined the process over the years. At that time, he had been a partner in a Canadian baking business.
In 2010, the Ukrainian-born immigrant fulfilled a childhood dream of living in the United States when he and his business partner purchased a Cargill ingredient storage facility and converted it into a bakery using the original drawings for an FTO production line that Victor Litinetsky developed a quarter century ago.
He recalled his pursuit of the American dream wasn’t always easy, and sometimes required perseverance to defeat the odds against him. In the early days, Victor Litinetsky struggled even to afford groceries for his family living in a one-bedroom apartment. But after receiving financial assistance from a family member, he bought out his business partner and steadily grew the company with the support of a major foodservice customer.
Fast forward to five years ago, when sales of the all-butter FTO croissants suddenly began to flourish as Banneton Bakery diversified in the foodservice market. Then the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit.
“We lost 50% of our business in one day, but then a miracle happened,” he recalled. “We were able to replace most of that revenue within a month with retail, in-store bakery business.”
That transition, along with the most recent rebound in the foodservice industry, has allowed the company to move forward with its aggressive expansion plans. Banneton Bakery just purchased 7.5 acres of adjacent land that will allow the operation to eventually double in size over the next few years.
This article is an excerpt from the March 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Banneton Bakery, click here.