March 1, 2005
By Maria Pilar Clark
Bäckerhaus Veit Ltd. offers a breath of fresh air to the baking industry with more than 80 innovative varieties of artisan bread and is as strong and steadfast as the edelweiss dotting Germany’s snow-capped Alps.
Germany is renown for its Old World artistry, such as handcrafted cuckoo clocks, hearty beers and thick, salt-covered brezels. Now, artisan breads are claiming a place among such German favorites as the Bavarian oom-pah and Christkindlmarkt, courtesy of Bäckerhaus Veit Ltd.
Deeply rooted in German tradition, Bäckerhaus Veit takes the best of artisan baking and combines it with some of the latest in modern technology. In fact, its Woodbridge, Ont.-based plant houses three automated bread make-up lines and a hand-crafted line that par-bakes traditional bread, artisan flatbread, rolls, brezels and baguettes.
In many ways, it’s taking a “bitte” of the Old World and bringing it to consumers throughout North America.
“Our breads are a nice mix between the European and the more hard crusted sort of bread,” explains Sabine Veit, president and CEO who founded the Canadian family-owned company.
Veit has found the Chicago marketplace to be accepting of artisan bread, due to its largely populated ethnic communities. In addition, the company has a large presence in retail supermarket chains throughout the country, featuring its product in in-store bakeries and under private-label brands.
“We have found that diverse marketplaces that have many consumers with a European background would rather have an Old World-style bread,” she adds. “That’s what people eat in Europe. Over the last year, the best-selling product has been the sliced multigrain Panini bread, which is heavy on grains and seeds.”
As Bäckerhaus Veit experiences growing success with its artisan bread products, it has expressed a desire to move beyond its in-store bakery and private-label ventures. The company will be unveiling its own brand name, Bäckerhaus Veit, later this month.
Knead for Change
Like many intermediate wholesale bakers, Bäckerhaus Veit started in North America in 1987 with only a 7,000-sq.-ft. facility and three retail shops specialized in selling freshly baked goods. Overwhelmed by the demand for her traditional breads and rolls, Veit decided to uproot in 1991 and move to the wholesale side of the business.
Today, the bakery fills a 32,000-sq.-ft. facility in Woodbridge, Ont., and bakes more than 80 varieties of artisan bread. Veit decided to venture into the par-baked format due to its ability to provide much-needed flexibility while avoiding the peaks and valleys that many bakers experience. In addition, this gave Veit the opportunity to expand the company’s distribution to the entire North American continent and beyond.
“I was [producing] one-third of the volume at the beginning of the week and two-thirds toward the end of the week,” Veit recalls, “but was kind of overrun by the business. I decided I needed a shelf life for our products and researched the frozen end of it.”
As such, the company moved to a larger facility in order to create presence in a retail supermarket, wholesale club chain and foodservice environment.
“We installed freezing and makeup equipment and then started exporting,” says Veit. “We reached volume quickly and got into the retail chain store environment.”
Bäckerhaus Veit flowered with the results to prove it. At one point, 80% of product was being exported to the United States. Since then, Veit notes, a better balance has been achieved — 50% stays in Canada, and 50% is exported to the U.S.
“We’ve grown up in a big way in terms of our products over the years,” she says. “We have a very interesting selection of multigrain and rye [bread] which we started out with, and then we introduced more crusty white bread. Now we are expanding the multigrains and ryes due to high levels of consumer demand.”
As consumers gravitate toward health and wellness, they are eating a diet of more wholesome, traditional baked goods similar to what their parents or grandparents might have eaten in decades past. As a result, Veit says, educating consumers about grain-based foods, consuming more fiber and eating fewer products with added sugar is becoming paramount for many specialty wholesale bread bakers like Bäckerhaus Veit, which is focusing on more value-added items that command a higher price point.
Consumers are moving into the “grain age,” and Bäckerhaus Veit is finding itself head and shoulders above the rest.
“It’s like the rest of the market is catching up with the philosophy that Sabine has always had,” notes Farhad Pochkhanawala, chief financial officer. “She was into the healthy attitude well before the rest of the industry.”
Veit explains that innovation is the true key to success. Preserving the company’s time-honored sourdoughs, European-inspired rye and artisan breads, which have always been staple products for the company, she adds, has fueled its growth.
Pochkhanawala notes that the company is targeting consumers who are raising the bar in terms of the quality of breads they consume.
“We’ve been fortunate in not having to catch up … with the market,” he notes. “We are the bandwagon. And we find it to our advantage when the rest of the market is so much more aware of what’s good nutritionally. We’ve had it all along, which is good for the efficiency aspect of it.”
Moreover, Bäckerhaus Veit has kept a sharp focus on long-term trends, which has helped it avoid the pitfalls of fad diets. For instance, despite the fervor over the past year, it never launched a low-carb product. That idea simply did not resonate with the company’s ideology.
“We toyed with the idea of a low-carb product but never created it,” says Tobias Donath, director of marketing for Bäckerhaus Veit. “Bread and low-carb don’t really make sense.”
Rather, Bäckerhaus Veit focuses on promoting lifestyle changes for the long run, Veit explains. “It makes sense to cut out highly processed flour when you’re diet-conscious, but just stick with multigrain,” she says.
“In our opinion,” Donath adds, “Atkins actually helped us a lot more than hurt us in the sense that people became educated about artisan breads and discovered that complex carbohydrates are very healthy and essential for the body.”
The company’s products are baked using simple, natural recipes dating back to Veit’s grandfather’s time and do not contain preservatives or additives, unless a customer specifically requests them for their private label offerings.
At Bäckerhaus Veit, new product ideas are often driven by customer requests. Veit notes that the company makes a point of studying industry trends — the movement to ban trans fat from food products is a current hot-button issue.
“Luckily enough, our European style products are trans fat-free,” says Veit, “but a couple of our products do have trans fatty acids in them, due to specific consumer requests for a chocolate bread product.”
Bäckerhaus Veit does not employ a conventional research-and-development program with lengthy market-testing sessions. Instead, the company has found that it has never had a “flop product” because, as an in-store and private-label baker, every new product is developed with the customer’s specifications in hand.
“If we develop something and it doesn’t work out, it’s pretty much an in and out,” says Veit. “It happens, but no one really loses anything.”
The company continues to make its presence known among bakers with its cautious-but-confident business practices, promoting a “gold standard” of artisan bread baking. The company was recognized recently for its dedication to this “gold standard,” and received “gold medals” for its award-winning premium quality artisan bread, from the prestigious German Agricultural Society.
As a result, Bäckerhaus Veit has been growing at a constant 35% year after year.
As it expands, the company is focusing its energy on added growth into the foodservice channel with a wide array of “signature” products that are distinctive for specific customers.
“We really like doing these kinds of products,” says Veit. “And we’ve found that it gives our customers great control on portion sizes, especially for our Panini bread.”
The popular Panini bread has a long-lasting shelf life and is sliced into equal lengths from front to back so that foodservice operators can utilize the entire loaf. Additionally, the product comes in multiple flavors including multigrain, white and savory varieties.
“We have a fine selection of retail loaves and foodservice offerings that can satisfy all needs from the breakfast table … to sliced packaged sandwich breads, to Ciabatta and focaccia, to soft rolls and dinner rolls,” Veit notes.
In the foodservice arena, Donath adds, all the trends are pointing to sandwich items becoming the new hamburger. “We’re having customers asking for interesting products to try and separate themselves from other sandwich chains and delis,” he explains. “They want things like cranberry sandwich buns or multigrain buns and are looking for something where they can say, ‘we have an artisan bun,’ and then can command a higher price.”
Although the company is already familiar with the foodservice channel, it would like to expand to producing specialty sandwich breads and buns. Currently, it’s working with various foodservice chains in order to develop a multitude of upscale artisan sandwich breads with traditional and exotic inclusions.
“We can add elements that speak to ‘artisan’ because [the bread] is different and has something different,” says Donath. “We’re offering olives, cranberries, unique shapes and sizes … something more sophisticated.”
Bäckerhaus Veit continues to bloom and grow, flourishing as it preserves its famed Old World-style creations while adapting its artisan bread to meet the tastes of bread lovers in North America.
On the Productionlein
Bistro-inspired, customized, high-end bread products, are what consumers-turned-gourmands want these days, with seeds, nuts, fruit and whole grains kneaded right into the dough.
Bäckerhaus Veit, which is inspected by the American Institute of Baking (AIB), prides itself on its ability to customize any product within a seven- to 10-day timeframe and has had a “superior” rating from the AIB for the past three years.
Siegfried Heilemann, operations manager and master baker for Bäckerhaus Veit, explains that the bakery follows six simple steps in the production process — receiving, mixing, handling and ingredient inspection, proofing, scoring, and baking.
The company has an exterior silo, which holds 160,000 lbs. of bulk flour. Its loading dock area has one main receiving door to ensure proper flow and quality assurance within the facility.
First, raw materials and ingredients come through the loading area and are prepped for inspection. Before baking, ingredients and materials proceed to the mixing area where more than 4,000 tons of unbleached bulk flour are used every year.
All minor and micro ingredients are inspected as needed. For example, ingredients with pits, such as Spanish olives, cherries and raisins, are thoroughly rinsed and hand-inspected for pits and other imperfections in the company’s Ingredient Inspection Area.
In the mixing area, employees keep a detailed log, which includes a production code and a record of dough temperatures for each loaf. This allows the company to monitor the process for production consistency and trace any loaf should it encounter a problem down the line.
Flour and other ingredients are measured into spiral mixing bowls. After adding chilled water, which can vary in temperature depending on the type of formula, the dough is mixed between 10 and 20 minutes. Once mixed, the dough goes through one of four production lines.
The first line processes dough with less resting and fermenting time. Once divided, the dough travels into an overhead proofer and rests. During SF&WB’s visit, this line was producing caraway rye bread. After make-up, the loaves are racked. To monitor production, every tray in the rack is identified by a detailed, accompanying record.
The second line is a handmade line, designed for products with a long resting and fermentation time. After fermenting for three to four hours, dough is divided, usually into 24 pieces depending on product and size. During SF&WB’s visit, Rosemary bread was in production.
The third line produces a variety of soft pretzels, soft pretzel sticks and cocktail buns.
The fourth line is the semi-automatic stress-free line, which is designed for products that have a long resting and fermentation time. This line mainly produces Ciabatta and Panini bread, which are baked in various sizes and shapes, including round, oval, rectangular and more. Product can be adjusted for cut, height and weight, and can even be cut into shapes such as a bunny, oval and diamond.
The company’s “bunny bread,” Ciabatta bread cut into the shape of a rabbit, is a popular item around Easter. In addition, Bäckerhaus Veit has designed some custom-cut shapes for customers.
Among its most popular products are black-and-green olive sourdough, Tuscan Panini bread, Focaccia and Ciabatta buns, Rosemary loaves, potato scallion loaves and sliced multigrain Panini bread.
The company is innovative, continuously developing new products including its latest creations — chunky chocolate Maraschino cherry loaves and golden flax-and-honey loaves. A bow-tie Ciabatta bun is another one of the company’s newest products and is adding to the company’s rising sales.
Other varieties such as raisin Muesli boules, Sardinian sesame sourdough, brezel twists, Black Russian pumpernickel boules, Schwarzbrot, roasted onion baguettes and flax-and-oats sliced bread add to the delicious list of products to choose from.
“Our strengths are flexibility and product innovation,” says Veit.
“We have master bakers here 10 hours out of the day, and I really think that shows in our selection and creations and new products,” adds Donath. “Everything from our bunny bread to fruit breads to twisted, bow-tie Ciabatta.”
Bäckerhaus Veit has three walk-in proofers where various bread products rest between 30 and 150 minutes. After proofing, each loaf of bread is hand-scored and toppings are expertly applied by hand.
The bread is then baked in a variety of rack and deck ovens.
Labor of Love
Artisan baking is labor intensive. Although Old World-style baking takes hard work, Bäckerhaus Veit holds fast to its strict, traditional processes. The bakery closely adheres to the philosophy that it is an artisan bakery where the formulas and technologies that keep the integrity of its philosophy intact are the priority as opposed to commercialized bakeries where throughput rules.
“Master bakers like my grandfather and my father, they never changed the dough [formula],” Veit recalls. “They went to the industry and said, ‘This is my bread, this is my dough, make me a machine that will fit it.’ Sometimes bakeries lose sight of that and tweak the dough to fit the machine. You can’t do that with dough. It is alive. It is warm; it has its own bubbles and changes weight and shape. We like to remember that. Yes, we are working with more than 4,000 tons of flour every year, which is a lot of dough, but we remember that the product quality and integrity comes first, and we respect that.”
Once baked, the bread is frozen. Bread is blasted and “shocked” until it reaches 19°F at its core. This locks in moisture and avoids drying out the product and freezer burn.
Once frozen, products move to one of two packaging areas where they pass through a metal detector. All bread is bulk packed unless a customer specifically requests individually wrapped product.
Employees regularly conduct spot checks on outgoing products, and a detailed log is kept and checked every two hours. Product is then cartoned, sealed, palletized and prepared for shipping.
In addition to unveiling its own brand name this month, the company will be making some investments in the bakery including the addition of 20,000 sq.-ft. of freezer space no later than early April. This will give the company much-needed storage space. Its 8,000-sq-ft. holding freezer, kept at a constant 0°F, currently can’t keep up with demand.
Bäckerhaus Veit prides itself on being an innovative company and keeping ahead of consumer trends in the industry. While staying true to tradition, the company continues to dot the marketplace with fresh ideas and flavors — the “sound of Munich” lives on.
At a Glance
Company: Bäckerhaus Veit, Ltd.
Headquarters: Woodbridge, Ont., Canada
Brand: Bäckerhaus Veit
Products: Par-baked traditional bread, artisan flatbread, rolls, brezels and baguettes.
Plant: 32,000-sq.-ft. facility. A new 20,000-sq.-ft. freezer will be added in late March.
No. of lines: 4 — 3 semi-automated lines and one handmade line.
No. of employees: 135
President & CEO: Sabine Veit
VP, Sales & Marketing, Canada: Jerry Chizick
CFO: Farhad Pochkhanawala
Dir. of Marketing: Tobias Donath
Mgr., Business Dev. & Compliance: Peter Ganko
Account Mgr.: Karen Reissmann
Controller: Arun George
Operations Mgr., Master Baker: Siegfried Heilemann
Operations Mgr., Logistics: Marcin Bancerz
Quality Assurance Mgr.: Farhad Mehrabi Nejad
Sound of Munich
A love for European bread-making dates back more than seven decades on the Veit family tree to a simple family recipe developed by Albert Veit.
“My grandfather opened a bakery in the small village I grew up in … about 20 kilometers from Stuttgart, [Germany], which is south of Munich,” says Sabine Veit, president and CEO of Bäckerhaus Veit.
The small bustling village bakery housed a store, bakery and living quarters, explains Veit.
“My grandparents baked during the night and delivered fresh baked goods to customers every morning,” adds Veit.
In 1965 Veit’s grandfather retired, and her father took over the beloved bakery — renown among its patrons for quality hand-crafted artisan baked goods — learning to bake in the European tradition and adding to its German operations with a larger baking facility and more than 70 retail stores today.
“He is still in the business,” says Veit. “When I came to Canada at [age] 16, I was married and had no intention of opening up a bakery, but eventually decided that I needed to do something with my life. My dad helped me get the company started, and that’s when I started this bakery.”
The art of traditional bread making has been passed down from generation to generation in the Veit family along with a love and genuine respect for the product. Veit sums it up best, saying: “We believe that bread is the staff of life and therefore should stay true to its wholesome origins!”