How automation is changing the face of bread production

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Advanced technology and innovative equipment are changing the face of the retail baking industry.

According to the 2022 State of the Retail Baking Industry Report conducted by Cypress Research for Sosland Publishing, 18% of retail bakeries are addressing the industry skills shortage by increasing automation.

For many, the push for improved technology is leading to a greater reliance on online ordering and website marketing.

Jory Downer of Bennison’s Bakery in Chicago points out that their new web ordering system is working extremely well and increasing their online presence with more customers.

On the supply side, Lesaffre, long known in the industry as a supplier of high-quality yeast, is making it easier for customers to navigate its growing portfolio of ingredient solutions with the launch of its new website, LesaffreBaking.com.

In addition to yeast, Lesaffre supplies clean label dough improvers, enzymes, bases, fortification, sourdoughs, toppings, malts, and more. To help customers find the best solutions to their baking challenges, Lesaffre’s new website features a robust product filtering tool that allows users to sort products by type, solution, application, process, and brand.

“From the artisan bakery down the street to the in-store bakery of the local grocery chain to the international wholesale manufacturer, all our customers need ingredient solutions that allow them to tap into today’s trends and solve their baking challenges,” said Bill Hanes, vice president of marketing and strategy. “We have been working to develop a complete portfolio of baking ingredients. Now, with the launch of the new website, we’re making it easier for our customers to find the right solutions for their specific applications.”

The website also includes information about Baking with Lesaffre, a baking solutions platform that supports Lesaffre’s global mission to nourish and protect the planet. Drawing on Lesaffre’s international baking network, Baking with Lesaffre offers solutions in the form of six commitments to the industry: Bake for Care, Bake for Smile, Bake for Good, Bake it Safe, Bake it Smart, and Bake it Easy. Website users can learn more about each commitment and filter Lesaffre’s ingredients by commitment category.

“Today, Lesaffre is so much more than yeast,” Hanes said. “We are your global baking ingredient supplier, your expert technical support, and your solutions-oriented partner in baking. We’re excited to have a website that showcases all the ways we support our baking customers.”

Key issues

Labor shortages are driving consumer packaged goods companies to adopt automated solutions, according to The Future of Automation in Packaging and Processing report released at PACK EXPO International, which took place Oct. 23-26 at McCormick Place in Chicago. 

The report, produced by show organizer PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, highlights how companies are looking to enhance and optimize their production, storage, and distribution processes using automated solutions including automated guided vehicles, industrial robots, collaborative robots, and mobile robots, with some of these technologies being supported by artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced vision tools.

According to the report, e-commerce is fueling the automation trend, moving companies toward more responsive modes of distribution such as Direct-to-Customer, disrupting traditionally highly manual warehousing formats, and in some cases eliminating the need for warehousing.

Additionally, supply chain problems are impacting the availability and cost of raw materials and parts for packaging machinery. Over 90% of companies say these problems are either extremely impactful or somewhat impactful and while most companies expect them to be resolved over the short term (within three years) at least 25% of companies anticipate them persisting over a longer time span.

Corporate responsibility

Another driving force for major companies is corporate social responsibility.

Ardent Mills, the premier flour-milling and ingredient company, announced the release of its Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report. The report outlines the company’s progress toward transforming how the world is nourished, including advancement against commitments aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“Despite another year of challenges for our industry, we remained resolute in our commitments to our people, customers, suppliers, consumers, communities, and the planet,” said Dan Dye, chief executive officer of Ardent Mills. “By continuing to invest in our shared future, we are living out our mission to nourish what’s next – each and every day.”

The report reflects the company’s goals, initiatives and progress across three core pillars: Sustainability, People and Nutrition. Ardent Mills’ initiatives aim to protect the long-term viability of the food system, propel employees and communities forward, and improve access to nutritious ingredient solutions on local, national and global scales.

FY22 highlights include sustainability initiatives:

  • Enrolled 250,913 acres in regenerative agriculture initiatives intended to help ensure productive and profitable farmland by improving soil health and conserving water. This year, the company expanded on its 2025 goal to work towards 750,000 acres enrolled.
  • Measured 145,129 program acres utilizing no-till farming practices.
  • Achieved 30 percent of total operations powered by renewable energy, up 7 percentage points over FY21.*
  • Added eight additional facilities to the organic material waste diversion program, totaling 15 locations, one-third of the way toward the company’s goal to have all 45 facilities participating.
  • Saved 4.8 million gallons of water through wash cycle maximization.

Altering distribution channels

At TMB Baking headquarters, located in South San Francisco, California, Martin Boyd, vice president of equipment sales and CFO, points out that one focus point could be that during the pandemic, many bakery owner-operators experienced a tight labor supply which put them in a hard spot.

“Many strived to stay in business any way they could think of, given the market conditions and the change in consumer behavior,” Boyd said. “Some solutions included altering traditional distribution channels and changing packaging of baked goods to both reach a consuming public and being ‘safe’ to consume.”

Another workaround during the tight labor market included learning about and investing in process equipment like dough mixers, dividers, molders, sheeters, and other specialized mechanical machinery that complements artisan dough process, he said.

Today, TMB Baking remains a full-service baking equipment, small wares and accessories, and consulting company that has been proudly serving the global artisan bread and baked goods industry for decades.

The TAG™ Gas Deck Hearth Oven has been the company’s primary workhorse of wholesale and wholesale/retail bakeries for nearly 20 years. Designed by world-renowned baker, consultant and educator, Michel Suas, the TAG is built to bake for up to 20 hours a day and features the most thermal mass (between vapor tubs, concrete and masonry) of any oven in the world.

Four baking decks, each with either two or three baking chambers per deck (8 or 12 baking chambers/oven)

Baking chamber window width of 750mm (29.5”) matching up with standard sheet pan width (26”) for optimal load configuration. The 2250mm wide oven can be configured to two 1125 doors when being served by a fully automatic loader. Hearth stone depths of 1600mm (63”) to 2800mm (110.2”), covering the gamut of baking capacity requirements and available space.

Two steam generators per deck, each located along the left and right walls of the oven, providing instant and evenly distributed steam to the baking chamber upon demand.

The TAG™ oven is also available in a configuration called the Elletrovapor™, with the top deck in electric and the four lower decks in gas/vapor tube construction, allowing for temperature and baking flexibility in the top electric deck. The tube baking decks (1-3) guarantee the traditional baking of any type of bread with excellent results in terms of output and quality, while the top, electric deck permits the maximum versatility and the possibility to bake any type of bread or pastry product.

The tube baking decks (1-3) guarantee the traditional baking of any type of bread with excellent results in terms of output and quality, while the top, electric deck permits the maximum versatility and the possibility to bake any type of bread or pastry product.

Bread-baking robot

Wilkinson Baking Company, creator of the world’s first fully automated commercial bread baking robot, announced the close of its fully subscribed $3 million seed round. The round was led by prominent Washington investor Ken Peterson of Columbia Ventures Corporation, along with Rich Product Ventures, according to the company. Several angel investors also participated. Funds will primarily be used to build and deploy additional BreadBots.

“In an era of high transportation costs and staffing constraints, I immediately recognized the potential for the BreadBot,” said Ken Peterson, chief executive officer of CVC. “The company required capital to unlock its next phase of growth and I was excited to partner with WBC and the Wilkinson family to build more BreadBots and see them deployed in grocery stores.”

In July 2022, Wilkinson Baking Company deployed their first commercial-ready BreadBot into Andy’s Market in College Place, Wash. This is the company’s first permanent deployment, moving beyond initial test deployments. The company is manufacturing and assembling additional BreadBots and expects to have 20 units deployed by early 2023.

“We are having engaging conversations with grocers who see our vision for changing the way bread is manufactured and distributed,” said Paul Rhynard, Wilkinson’s chief executive officer. “This is just the beginning of our journey with a highly disruptive solution that brings truly fresh bread to consumers, thanks in part to our incredible new partners.”

RPV, the corporate venture arm of Rich’s, a $4.5 billion family-owned food company, also took an equity position in WBC. Dinsh Guzdar, managing director of RPV, stated “Wilkinson is uniquely positioned to meet the many needs of grocers, bringing better bread margins, fresher product, and an improved in-store experience all through automation that does not require additional labor.”

Prior to the series seed raise, WBC funded the company through founder contributions, angel investors, and convertible debt, which was converted into preferred equity at the close of the round.

With a humble start in Walla Walla, Wash., WBC perfected the commercial bread-baking robot aptly named the BreadBot. After several years of in-market pilots at seven grocery stores, WBC launched its commercially ready model the summer of 2022.

The BreadBot was specifically designed for grocery stores. It allows customers to know exactly where, when, and how, their bread was made. Freshness and transparency in food production are our aim.

After rigorous in-store testing, we’ve found the optimal production for a typical grocery store to be 10 loaves per hour. This implies a total daily capacity of 230 loaves—far beyond the needs of most grocers—while still reserving an hour for cleaning.

Because of the autostart option, stores can schedule the BreadBot to start baking up hours before the store opens. This allows for a head start — if necessary — to meet daily production demands.

The BreadBot is constantly adjusting production throughout the day to achieve the optimal bread inventory. Smart production determines exactly how many loaves of each variety are needed in any given moment and immediately adds them to the queue.

The BreadBot will ask for help throughout the day when necessary. It might request: “Please empty the cabinet of bread”, “Please add more mix”, or “Finished baking today”. This communication allows store staff to focus on their other tasks and only tend to the BreadBot when truly necessary.

After baking for the day, the BreadBot will immediately start its auto-cleaning cycle to clean out the mixing pot. After that’s finished a store employee will finish cleaning by wiping down surfaces and refilling ingredients for the next day.

Immersive experience

At the IBIE convention in September, WP Bakery Group USA featured the innovative “Big Black Box,” enabling industry professionals from around the globe expected to digest the latest advances in bakery technologies.

“Together we go farther,” noted Patricia Kennedy, president, and chief executive officer of WP Bakery Group USA. “Smaller bakers want to be medium-sized bakers. Medium-sized bakers want to be industrial bakers. Everybody wants to move up. We make all types of equipment and provide guidance on how to implement automation with an open structure.”

For instance, WP Bakery Group USA features the Kronos Digital Mixer, an intelligent spiral mixer. Digital mixing is now a reality. Add your processes to the mixer’s computer and press start. The Kronos Digital Mixer stops at the exact mixing time and delivers consistent, identical, completely reproducible dough qualities.

Good raw materials are essential for good dough, as the water and flour quality affects the dough quality significantly. Besides the quality of the raw materials, an optimal mixing process enables best product quality. Thus, for example, a quick mixing of the ingredients increases the water absorption. To the type of dough adjusted mixing tools additionally increase the dough quality.

WP Kemper mixers are optimized for a flexible use in bakeries. They meet the highest demands of versatility and ease of use. Mobile and wheel-out models facilitate the daily work. The daily use of mixers requires extremely robust material and a high manufacturing quality. WP Kemper Mixers and Mixing Systems fulfill the necessary requirements for this operating area. All models are constructed with the renowned Kemper 3 Zone Mixing Principle (Spiral and Guide Bar), which is distinguished through the exceptionally light and easy to process doughs, as well as a high-water absorption and excellent blending effect.



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