Our award-winning columnist, Jeff Dearduff, says the baking world has become more and more competitive.

New Development

The baking world is becoming more competitive than ever, especially with the economy in the tank. Bakers are finding themselves producing a higher quantity of products, but the consumers aren’t purchasing as much on the high-margin premium and specialty breads and rolls as in the past.
Instead, bakers are cranking out low-priced products that end up on “special” in the supermarket or can be double-bagged at the club stores for bargain prices.

Because we all know that our slumping economy is a temporary situation and it won’t be long before the new administration fixes everything (wink, wink!), we all have hope for brighter days and bigger sales in the near future.

As a result, some bakers view this downtime as an opportunity to reinvent their product lines by creating items that can hit the market when the tide turns forward.

With every new product, however, comes some level of process change. The time eventually will come when engineers and maintenance professionals will be responsible for taking ideas to the plant floor and making the vision a reality. Although this evolution may require installing new production lines or reworking existing lines that can produce high quantities at high speeds, it also opens doors for many operators to step up to the plate.

Historically, new products are created in the lab or on the workbench by a baker or a chef, and then approved for commercialization before entering a high-speed manufacturing process. However, in the meantime, there might be pricing discussions with customers before the process can be fully identified. This can change the whole dynamics to the situation.

For instance, some people involved in the initial product development process could be losing out on the opportunity to gain more information on how to produce the product. For everyone from R&D to the production floor, it could lead to how to deal with what have become sales and marketing issues that are now an operations problem as well.

To be better prepared for the hand off of duties, engineers and maintenance pros should find a way to become involved in the product development process from the start.

This is not to say that they need to get in there and throw around flour in the R&D lab, but they will benefit by the knowledge that can be harvested from just asking a few questions and making suggestions.
Sometimes products that are created in the lab by hand may undergo issues when taking them to a high-speed bakery environment. Being involved from the beginning enables engineers to at least predict and discuss foreseeable concerns or obstacles.

Once the product development process begins, it is helpful for all parties involved to understand the ingredients going in to a particular new product. Bakers and engineers can determine what other systems are needed to complete the project, such as additional bulk storage, special handling equipment or adjustments to the standard process in the mixing room.

They also should address product specifications. Will the product need a special baking pan or peel board? Will it need more heat than the current oven can deliver? Does it have an external feature that will require a special scoring or topping operation? Knowing these specifications upfront can jump start ideas pertaining to the surrounding processing parameters.

Every challenge has a solution, so the ability to share concerns with the development team only will help the process reach its goal, even if it requires adjustments along the way.

Start by thinking about the automated process you will have to “create” for the bakery. This might lead to an entirely new way of producing the new product because the existing options are limited or because the new product requires a different makeup system to meet the quality the customer expects and the speed to make it profitable.

Furthermore, you have to consider new infrastructure. Do you have enough electrical power available to run the new process? Will your gas supply handle another oven? Will you need to add lighting or make significant building modifications in order to fit the new line or component? Make sure to cover all the bases and keep all of the other stakeholders alert to any issues.

In these challenging times that require innovation, many bakers are diversifying their product portfolio, so there is more opportunity for engineers to work with new processes. This is the time to really dig in and learn something new. Maybe your career only deals with typical white bread and rolls, and all of a sudden you’re looking at sheeted dough processes. Shift your paradigms, put your mind and hands to work and become a part of the bigger picture in developing new products.

Who knows?

When the recession is over and people head back to the premium bread aisle, maybe your company will have the new “hot” bread item on the shelf.

    Jeff Dearduff