Midsized bakeries and creators of premium muffins, cakes and other baked goods find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. With wildly fluctuating ingredient costs, raising prices is a tricky proposition, and bakers risk losing consumers who are trading down.

To control costs, bakeries are turning to automation to bring more predictability into their operations with strategic capital spending that captures the highest return-on-investment (ROI) in the shortest amount of time.

That’s what’s driving the move toward the latest advances in depositing, icing and glazing systems, which significantly reduce waste, labor and downtime in more ways than one, according to exhibitors at last year’s International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE). They’re also the main forces leading into this year’s iba trade show, which will be held Oct. 22-26 in Munich, Germany.

“The main points discussed at IBIE included the depositor’s speed, changeover downtime, product format flexibility and product recipe storage-and-retrieval functions at the HMI,” said Rod Gregg, executive vice president of Middleby Cos., Hinds-Bock and Inline Filling Systems.

Workforce woes also emerged as the omnipresent issue at the show.

“We spent much of IBIE talking to customers about labor reduction,” noted John McIsaac, vice president of strategic business development for Reiser. “Small and medium-sized bakers flocked to displays that saved labor. Our ‘mini-hit’ — the XY table panning system for smaller bakers — was a big seller in combination with our Vemag 500s and Vemag HP1Bs.”

He added that depositing onto a smart shuttle conveyor can remove manual labor and workers from the panning process. Likewise, filling muffin or gluten-free pans with multilane depositors can boost production.

Depositors now come with components that make it easier to turn a new hire into a productive employee.

“While experienced operators can maximize the potential of the equipment, even less-skilled operators can quickly learn to use depositors with user-friendly interfaces and clear instructions,” said Sonia Bal, director of global marketing, Unifiller Systems. “Bakery depositors are designed to enhance efficiency and productivity in the production process. They can deposit icing or glaze quickly and accurately, reducing the need for manual labor.”

To resolve labor shortages, bakeries could turn to cobots that can handle both skilled and repetitive tasks commonly associated with depositing and decorating, suggested Jamie Bobyk, marketing manager, Apex Motion Control.

“It’s no secret that many bakeries are trying to automate non-value-added jobs such as tray handling, but we also heard from many people that the older generation of craft bakers and decorators are not being replaced by our current workforce. They need solutions that will do everything,” he observed. “It’s sad to see the baking industry struggling with these issues, but in my opinion, it is only going to get worse. Do you want to move trays all day or squeeze a pastry bag all day?”

This article is an excerpt from the July 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Depositing, Icing, Glazing, click here.