As Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., smooths out the details in all of its bakeries, it’s implementing its Bakery of the Future program to standardize quality and production efficiencies across its 46 bakeries. At the time of Baking & Snack’s visit to Flowers Baking Co. of Henderson, Nev., Bakery of the Future had only been implemented five weeks prior. 

“It’s all about standardization,” said Jesse Bonner, production manager at Flowers Baking Co. of Henderson. “It ensures that we’re hitting all of our standards at all the locations across the production room floor — that the dough temperatures are consistent in the mixer, that the oven is baking at the right temperature — which is the key factor in knowing whether or not we’re putting a quality product out.” 

Bakery of the Future compiles data from all the PLCs in a facility and tracks it over a period of time. This allows the bakery team to see issues in production that may be affecting product quality. In a lot of ways, it’s what many in the bakery have been doing all along, just brought into the digital age. Mr. Benton noted that the leadership team at Henderson, many of whom he personally mentored, have been doing this work for years with a clipboard. Today, they track the same data on a tablet instead. 

What Bakery of the Future really brings to the table is the trending data over time. By storing data and organizing it historically, operators can go back and find trends that could point to production inefficiencies. 

“Before Bakery of the Future, an employee might call maintenance to report that a bagger was failing, but then the engineer watches it for 10 minutes and nothing would go wrong,” Mr. Bonner explained. “But if we can look back for a 24-hour period and say, ‘That bagger stopped 100 times over this 24-hour period,’ we can see that something is wrong. It shows you where the problem areas are.”

Although they believe in the value of data, Robert Benton, executive vice president of network optimization, Flowers Foods, and the leadership team at Henderson also believe in the value of being on the production room floor and the expertise of the people working the line. While the quality assurance team leads efforts to ensure every loaf of bread is safe and delicious, the operators on the floor are the eyes and ears. 

“They are the biggest contributors to whether or not we’re putting out a quality product,” Mr. Bonner said. 

The principles of Bakery of the Future have always been around, Mr. Benton said, but it’s interacting with the people on the floor that tells the real story. 

“We used to use a pencil and clipboard and walk the line to go through our checkpoints, but what you were really doing was being on the floor interacting with people while doing those checkpoints,” he said. “And that automatically told you where you were at, which is what the goal of Bakery of the Future really is.”

As Mr. Benton looks to the future of bakery design, he sees sustainability and worker conditions are at the forefront. While this new production line may have reduced the amount of labor needed, he sees improving the workforce side as the industry’s next challenge. 

“The focus right now is making these bakeries an even better place to work,” he said. “The reality is that bakeries will always be a tough place to work because of our schedule, but making the working environment better for our employees is the next great frontier.”

Mr. Benton pointed to the oven as an example. While today’s ovens may be insulated and keep as much heat in as they can, he looks forward to enclosing the oven and proofer in a separate room to really cut down on the heat in the bakery. 

“Then address the air exchange for that area, and that’s a much better climate for the employees inside the building,” he said. “Our vendors are doing a better job of insulating their ovens, but we’re also working on layouts that contain those two pieces, the proofer and the oven.” 

Mr. Benton also pointed to robotics as the future, especially in the packaging department where so much of the work is repetitive and heavy.

“We use robotics here for a three-man job, and now we have one person that works three lines and has multiple jobs. The future for us is a focus on robotics. We have to,” he said.

With all the space and automation that could be mustered, is this the epitome of a Dave’s Killer Bread (DKB) production line? In some ways, yes. Mr. Benton said he’d love to have the space to replicate this design again, not only for DKB but also Nature’s Own. However, nothing is ever perfect.

“It’s always a constant journey,” he said. “There’s always more to be done.”

This article is an excerpt from the July 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Flowers Foods/DKB, click here.