Growing up in Italy, Paolo Betto’s grandfather told him to pursue a career in one of the two sectors with unlimited demand: food and funerals. The decision wasn’t hard for Mr. Betto, who joined the food industry and has never regretted it. 

Mr. Betto graduated with a degree in food technology from the University of Milan, which at the time was the only university in Italy for food scientists, he said. He joined the baking industry in 1985 and, other than a one-year hiatus in the pharmaceutical sector, has been in it ever since.

“That environment was not for me,” he said. “I quickly came back to the cookie and cracker area where I still very much enjoy the competence and the value of the international people I meet every day for my work.”

After 32 years of working in sales around the world, Mr. Betto joined GEA Bakery as application manager for cracker and hard sweet technologies. In this newly created role, he offers high-level process and technical support to customers. He also has more strategic responsibilities, such as spearheading technical development of equipment designs. 

The baking industry has allowed Mr. Betto to travel far and wide, something he says has greatly enriched his mind.

“Visiting so many different countries and seeing the same technical aspect or problem approached in many different ways depending on each culture, mindset and background, is unique for me,” he said. “Knowing and visiting countries for business instead of as a tourist gives me a privileged understanding of the genuine local culture of the people and of the place.”

Mr. Betto said the two main challenges he hears from bakers today are increasing line efficiency and reducing their carbon footprint. In the face of significant cost increases for ingredients and energy, bakers must find ways to maximize production while eliminating waste. This makes renewable energy and carbon reduction an especially important topic for the future, and one Mr. Betto doesn’t see going away.  

“I appreciate that most of the bakeries I come in contact with across the world are very keen on this topic,” he said.

What new technology has emerged that can improve the performance of ovens and provide a better-quality bake?

In GEA Bakery any project is never a simple replica of a previous one, not even when identical. Little improvements are always introduced, including new mechanical designs, new components or new electronic devices, for example. The latest most evident trend is the attention given by our designers to the heating sources process, especially related to the commitment to reduce CO2 emissions, a very hot topic nowadays. GEA is strongly committed to this. Our business unit has the target to design equipment that would reduce CO2 emission by 18% before 2030. 

Our technical team is currently engaged in exploring different mixtures of fuels (mainly electricity, as well as a mixture of gas and hydrogen) to the burners. This is already available to our customers, providing the opportunity to bake their products on a 100% electric oven, thus reducing their emission footprint to zero.

How can ovens improve efficiency and reduce a baker’s carbon footprint?

GEA Bakery has supplied many 100% electric ovens throughout the world in the past 40 years. This is not a new technology for us, and in our opinion, it is the right technical answer to reach zero emissions with a well-known and a well-proven technology that respects all the highest safety standards for the operators as well as for the environment. Recently, a few electric ovens have been supplied to bakeries producing rotary moulded or extruded bars. In the test center at GEA Bakery, our customers have the chance to test their current products manufactured on a standard direct gas-fired and convection oven first and replicate the baking profile on the same oven converted to 100% electric. 

With many bakeries facing capacity concerns, how can bakers bolster the throughput of their existing ovens?

I would think of three main actions: reducing the baking time, replacing the conveyor with a lighter one, if possible, and optimizing the pattern, i.e., the baking surface coverage of the oven’s conveyor with the dough pieces. The first two tips might not be strictly pursued as they could have an impact on the quality and texture of the finished product or could show a different pattern of the conveyor on the bottom of the product.

Studying a more efficient coverage of the oven’s band where the dough pieces are positioned closer to each other with the scope to increase the yield is a feature that is often neglected. Optimizing the design of the mould and curing the transfer of the dough pieces from one conveyor to the other are aspects to supervise with care.

What are bakers’ biggest requests and concerns as they relate to ovens? How do you address them?

The leitmotif of most of our meetings with our current and new customers at last year’s International Baking Industry Exposition was on how to reduce carbon footprint. Clearly all bakeries, big or small, are exploring technical ways to comply with their environmental commitments to the market. Consistent  bake quality and reliability are other main topics, as well as compliance with local legislation and operator safety.

After the first contact with a customer, GEA Bakery’s approach is to arrange a visit to our customer to discuss their problems deeper from a technical perspective, their concerns and to better understand their needs. After the pandemic, we noticed that most or our customers appreciated the use of video calls as a first point of contact. We appreciate this too as it gives us the ability to invite all the specialists within our organization and offer the highest level of technical response to our customers’ requests.

How do bakery concerns differ between North America and Europe when it comes to ovens?

The biggest differences between the North American market and Europe in respect to ovens is mainly the size of the equipment. While North America is more interested in high production rate, single-product type baking, Europe is more interested in shorter lines with higher flexibility. These are two different requirements GEA Bakery can accomplish, thanks to our broad range of ovens and equipment available and the strong know-how we possess on baking.