At Aspire Bakeries, it’s all about making dough in more ways than one.
“We make dough both literally in our bakeries and ‘figuratively’ in the numbers by leveraging trends and providing baked goods solutions that customers and consumers are seeking, from sourdough to frozen cookie dough,” noted Christine Prociv, senior vice president, marketing, innovation, and R&D, for the Los Angeles-based company.
Ms. Prociv, along with Jonathan Davis, culinary innovation leader, Aspire Bakeries, will present their IBIE 2022 session on How La Brea Bakery and Otis Spunkmeyer Earned Their Crust During the Pandemic — Raising Dough in Unexpected Places, on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 11 a.m., in Las Vegas.
Ms. Prociv will talk about the pandemic sourdough obsession and explain how La Brea Bakery launched six new Take & Bake items that boosted 2020 sales about 35% and continues to thrive. The pandemic need for comfort food also increased demand for Aspire Bakeries' Otis Spunkmeyer cookies.
Mr. Davis, one of the nation’s top sourdough experts, will share his sourdough bread making tips and provide insights on product innovations while sharing some on-trend bread insights and the challenges of scale/ commercialization of sourdough breads.
What is the status of new product innovation today and for 2023?
We noticed that there hasn’t been that much innovation during the past two years. One of the key factors is that retail customer operators didn’t take meetings during COVID so you could not go in to show your new products. Then with all of the supply chain issues over the past year, operators are focused on their core items, and really not interested in innovation. Innovation is in my soul, so I know how important it is and how long it takes to develop. Even though customers are saying “not now,” behind the scenes, you should still be working on innovation.
How did Aspire Bakeries keep innovation in the forefront during the pandemic?
Last year, we relaunched our La Brea Bakery Take & Bake line of artisan breads with six varieties that are very on-trend. They include three different types of rolls, two different sandwich rolls, and a new twin-pack baguette. We were right on point with Take & Bake solutions during the pandemic because the package was sealed. The insight we learned from consumers was, “We can use it now or freeze for later.” Consumers can buy it, and if they don’t use it in a couple of days, they put it in the freezer and keep it on hand for the future.
What’s your latest innovation?
New Decadent Classics Cookies. They are super indulgent, 3-oz., thick cookies with a light baked crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The name is ‘Classics’ because we took the classic flavors in the category, and we made them the best they can be. My favorite is the Chocolate Chunk Oat Pecan, and it truly is the best cookie. It has nuts, some oats for chewiness, and rich chocolate chunks. It’s all about comfort and indulgence and treating yourself. I would rather have half of the best cookie than have a handful of good ones.
How are bakeries like yours adapting to supply chain issues?
We’re trying to allocate our products fairly across the board. We’re condensing our SKUs, because it’s more efficient to run fewer products longer so that we’re not stopping and starting the line. We’re trying to maximize our throughput to adapt to labor challenges, too.
Why are supply chain issues so challenging?
The supply chain is like a four-legged stool. You have labor, ingredients, packaging, and transportation. In any given year, maybe you have one of those legs that is out of whack. In our current environment, all the legs are impacted. Any one of those alone is a major issue, so we are focusing on our priority SKUs in our core categories. If we need to let something go, it’s in a non-core category. With all that said, we’re doing increasingly well in terms of service levels.
How are supply chain challenges impacting the new product development process?
We’re reformulating to accommodate the supply chain shortages. If there’s no white chocolate, for example, what can we do as a short-term backup to keep that cookie in stock? The solution might be to use a different type of white chocolate, equally delicious, or it might be another inclusion. If there is a starch issue, which there is, we’re reformulating in the lab to use a different ingredient that acts like a starch. We don’t want to cut our customers’ orders.
How do you decide which ingredients are best?
We’re doing controlled tests to see what alternative ingredients we can use in case we cannot get our regular ingredients. Every few days, I get shipments of new products from our development team. Typically, we have a control product and two alternatives to taste. We may have to determine if a muffin with a different starch alternative is acceptable compared to the original control product. I have to decide which ones are the best alternatives or the most equivalent alternatives to the ones we normally use because of supply chain issues with starches or eggs or another ingredient.
What do you do if you can’t find the perfect alternative?
We look at it as a temporary or permanent change. If a permanent is rejected internally, the alternative could be a temporary solution. We might say to our customers, “If need be, we can use this formulation for a month or two to meet your needs.” We are very adaptable, and we act quickly. There are a couple of us on the tasting and cutting team, and we decide whether we go for it or not. If it’s too much risk to the brand, we say “no.”
Why should everyone attend your IBIEducate session?
We’d love everyone to come in and talk about their passion for baking. Aspire Bakeries knows bakery. La Brea Bakery knows bread. Otis Spunkmeyer knows cookies. Let us share our passion with you.