The bread and snack aisles of the supermarket have changed dramatically in the past few years, and some of those changes have impacted the manufacture of those products. But perhaps more significantly, bakery processing is being pushed further than ever by concerns about food safety and sanitation. Additionally, manufacturers of bakery and snack products are finding plenty of opportunities for improvement in the areas of energy consumption and environmental impact.
Even before the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementation process came upon them earlier this year, bakers were seeking a higher level of sanitation — through best practices and more hygienic hardware. The segment seems to seek that higher level of sanitation that has been associated with the dairy and meat segments of food processing.
Saving energy and reducing environmental impact was once considered a luxury item (or perhaps a gesture of altruism) that was difficult to reconcile with the razor-thin margins and steep competition of the food industry. In 2012, however, those goals have become an essential part of a company's bottom line and its brand-building efforts and public image.
While the twin priorities of food safety and energy savings have been the driving forces of innovation in baking operations, higher-value grocery products with at least whole grains if not multi grains have in fact led to some changes in technologies and practices as well.
Stainless and recovery
When bakers want new technologies, they turn to suppliers like Heat and Control Inc. (www.heatandcontrol.com), Hayward, Calif. Such equipment suppliers have been busy in recent years responding to the evolving needs of their clients in baking and snacks.
"Everything we are putting out now is primarily stainless steel with post-CIP capabilities," says Doug Kozenski, sales manager of Heat and Control's process systems division. "Our customers want stainless steel construction and they want to have clean-in-place sanitation incorporated into the systems."
Ovens and fryers consume significant amounts of energy and can produce excessive residual heat. In an effort to improve their green scorecard, many bakers have begun recapturing some of that heat and putting it to work.
Heat and Control’s FastBack conveyors are at work distributing cookies.
"Our clients are working to maximize the efficiency of the entire line, and energy efficiency is a big priority," says Kozenski. "Heat recovery from cooker and combustion exhaust is an inexpensive source of energy. We have systems for recovering heat coming off of fryers, ovens and heat exchangers. That heat can then be used for combustion air pre-heating, to heat water, to heat cooking oil or even to heat a building."
Marty Tabaka, director of Americas sales for Ashworth Bros. Inc. (www.ashworth.com), Winchester, Va., agrees that bake and snack manufacturers are seeking equipment with improved hygienic design and cleanability.
"Our customers are looking for designs that are easier to clean and more resistant to build-up. Our major R&D focus right now is on improvement to sanitation," he says.
While sanitation and green technologies have driven many of the changes on the bakery floor, the evolution of consumer preferences has had its own impact, says Karl Seidel, marketing manager at Cablevey Conveyers (www.cablevey.com), Oskaloosa, Iowa.
"Many more bakeries are producing things like 12-grain breads and breads made from whole grains, and people actually want to see those ingredients in the bread," he says. "Because of this, the ingredients and the products can require gentler handling."
More value added-products often mean more expensive ingredients, which can mean different considerations in terms of efficiencies and waste and how they both relate to the bottom line.
Cablevey's solution is a unique conveyer system that is similar to an auger. It uses rotating discs on a central cable to gently pull products or ingredients through a vertical or horizontal tube.
It doesn't rely on air pressure or the rotation of auger blades. At the end of the day, this leads to less ingredient loss and degradation, Seidel says.
Productivity and flexibility
A baking line begins with a mixing and blending step. This is typically achieved with the aid of ribbon mixer or a high-speed rotor-stator mixer. Equipment in that portion of the line has evolved to provide more effective and more efficient mixing and blending.
As is the case elsewhere in the bakery, mixers are more hygienic and easier to clean than ever. Properly-sized motors with new motor technologies allow for greater throughput and lower energy waste.
The chief aim of the mixing process is to efficiently combine the ingredients. For bakers, that usually means flour, sugar, water, salt and yeast. Mixing of dough ingredients also helps develop the required gluten strength to capture, maintain and disperse gas bubbles in the dough.
There is a variety of designs of mixing machinery, and each has its place in the efficient production of dough at the capacity required. The selection of mixer style relates to the product range the baker wishes to produce, and the size relates to the capacity or production output required.
Dough mixers can be categorized into three groups — low-, medium- and high-intensity mixers. Intensity is related more to the degree of kneading, folding and stretching. The goal at the end of the mixing process is to have a fully developed dough mass ready for the next stage of the bread process.
Some newer developments in mixing technology allow shorter mix times, more precise control and multiple bowl arrangements. Some equipment includes pressure-tight covers that can incorporate pressure and vacuum cycles to develop gas bubble size for the particular product. Gas additions can assist with direct cooling of the dough, or water jacket cooling can be used.
While stainless steel contact surfaces have been in wide use for many years, some manufacturers are offering products made with stainless steel stands as well.
To some extent, baking relies as much on conveying as it does on mixing.
Beyond the mixer, bakery products are conveyed through proofers, ovens and other processing equipment by way of specially designed belts. These belts have surfaces and materials that conform to the rigorous environments and conditions that the food is subjected to transform dough into flavorful and sometimes healthful foods.
"Conveyor belts for food process applications are a lot different than in other industrial applications," says Ashworth Bros.' Tabaka. "And in baking, those belts can be used as a surface for baking the product, for cooking it, for frying and for cooling and freezing."
In each stage of the process, particular materials and design play roles in aiding the process. For example, "Ovens are wider and able to carry more product," Tabaka says. "A unit that would have been one meter wide now might be two meters wide. The equipment is getting bigger, so the conveyor belts are getting bigger."
Spiral coolers for example can now house up to 3,000 or 4,000 linear feet of belts, says Ashworth's Chief Engineer Jonathan Lasecki.
"Another thing we are seeing is desire for equipment that will fit into a smaller footprint," Lasecki says. "This not only saves on floor space and allows for a better floor plan, but it can also help save energy."
Inventure Foods (www.inventurefoods.com), Phoenix, Ariz., manufactures kettle-style potato chips for a co-packing client at a 60,000-sq.-ft. plant in nearby Goodyear, Ariz. With production at more than 90 percent of capacity and sales of the product line growing 30 percent in one year, it turned to Heat and Control last year for an expansion project.
The company added six new kettle chip batch fryers and a state-of-the-art product handling, seasoning and packaging line.
Efficient packaging of batch-fried potato chips proved more complex than simply installing new bagmakers. Unlike a steady flow of chips produced by a continuous fryer, kettle chip fryers deliver intermittent batches. And since seasoning applicators, weighers and bagmakers work most efficiently with a consistent supply of product, these "waves" of chips can cause inconsistent seasoning and poor packaging productivity.
Inventure's new system was designed by Heat and Control to moderate the product flow and maximize the run-time of all components for greater production efficiency. The increased capacity offered Inventure more flexibility in scheduling production to meet demand, while balancing inventories more efficiently.
Packing and wrapping
An artisan storefront bakery selling products straight from the oven can take a minimalist approach to packaging — to some shoppers, plain, brown paper adds a quaint touch. But for a large-scale producer, packaging is a much more complicated issue. First and foremost, the package must keep a perishable product in optimum condition for the duration of its shelf life. And as with any other food or consumer product, the packaging is a highly-visible extension of the brand.
For bread and snacks, new packaging technologies have offered new opportunities in both areas, says Scott Beckwith, marketing manager for Sealed Air's Cryovac Food Packaging (www.cryovac.com), Duncan, S.C. "All food processors want good shelf appeal, along with protection of the product. What we are seeing now is interest in additional shelf life for products that are preservative-free, elimination of foil, packaging that uses less material and convenience features."
Among the technical advances that have allowed such benefits are new filling technologies, gas flushing and materials that include oxygen scavengers and barriers.
"The real benefit is that you can extend shelf life and at the same time you can take out preservatives so that you can get that clean label," Beckwith says. "You can benefit from putting the burden for freshness on your packaging rather than on your formulating."
Just last year, Cryovac introduced an odor scavenging feature to its Freshness Plus line of films. Beckwith says this line is around five years old and has from the beginning offered barrier and oxygen-scavenging properties that are well suited for a variety of baking and snack applications.
Easy open and reseal features continue to evolve too, he says, and there is plenty of room for innovation here that could give bread and snack marketers a competitive advantage.
Controlling a modern bakery plant operation can be a complicated proposition, and bakery and snack makers rely heavily on software solutions that can be used for other types of manufacturing. At least one company markets a solution that is specific to bakers.
Industrial baking looks quite a bit different in 2012 than it did just a few years ago. With grain-based foods maintaining their place at the foundation of dietary recommendations, bakery and snack products should continue on a trajectory of offering more healthful products that present more challenges to the manufacturing process. With those incentives, it is expected that technologies will continue to emerge to help processors meet that challenges.