The premium bread category represents one of the few bright spots in the bread industry. While volumes of white bread continue to decline, premium products are proving popular with consumers. These products not only stand out from traditional pan breads by their taste, appearance and perceived health benefits, but they also differ from traditional pan breads in their presentation on supermarket shelves.
One of the true marks of a premium bread is packaging. Upscale loaves of all type are usually double bagged. This double bagging provides two benefits: it adds value to products and reduces stales. However, double bagging requires high-volume bakeries to modify their existing packaging lines with new equipment and systems. These added packaging modifications can cause production hiccups, including slowing down production speeds, increasing cripples and changing bag sizes.
Modifying an existing packaging line to accommodate double-bagged breads requires bakers to purchase a system to apply the inner wrapper. Several equipment suppliers manufacture these systems, and it is important to find one flexible enough to handle a given production schedule. For example, if a bakery produces both premium and traditional pan breads, it's essential for the bakery to buy a wrapping system that can be easily bypassed when the product calls for only a bread bag.
It's also important to purchase a bread wrapper that properly seals the inner wrap. Sealing the inner plastic film reduces or eliminates air movement between bread slices and keeps bread slices standing firmer, which makes bagging the product easier.
Sealing the inner plastic film also eliminates the need for oversized bags. According to one bagging manufacturer, bakers sometimes use oversized bags to compensate for inaccurate wrapping systems.
"More and more plants are using oversized bags, and this is a waste of money," one packaging system manufacturer says. "Packaging film is paid for by the pound, and premium breads require great presentation in order to be purchased by consumers."
Another potential issue when wrapping breads is the proof time. If a product is over proofed, the bread volume will not match the predetermined bag measurements, leading to product jams.
After applying an initial wrap, premium breads must be bagged. Generally, bakers can use their existing bread baggers to bag premium loaves. However, bakers must under-stand the various issues that could arise when bagging wrapped loaves.
The most significant change in bagging premium loaves is speed. According to one manufacturer, capacities for packaging premium loaves hover at about 50 loaves per minute at top speeds. This is a far cry from traditional pan bread throughputs.
To ramp up speeds, one manufacturer created a system that uses dual lanes to feed premium loaves into the system. Each lane accommodates 45 loaves a minute, and operates independently. This minimizes a complete production stoppage if one lane malfunctions. "It also keeps the packing end of the production line running if one lane runs out of bags," the packaging system manufacturer says. After packaging, the system's two lanes feed a single dis-charge conveyor.
Besides ramping up production speeds, the system also avoids damaging the loaves during handling by using overhead paddles to gently push loaves into bread bags. To eliminate plant space restraints, the dual lane packaging system can be set up to accommodate right or left product flows. If the system is running smoothly, it bags 90 to 100 wrapped loaves a minute.
Cripples occur when bread bagging systems are stretched to their production limit. When producing slow-moving premium breads, bakers can be tempted to run their baggers at full speed. When a problem does occur, packaging line operators must manually adjust system speeds, which increases the potential for human error.
One packaging system eliminates human error by incorporating technology that imparts production information to packaging systems. The packaging system automatically sets packaging speeds by monitoring upstream production flows. If there is a gap or clutter in bread output, the packaging system acts accordingly.
The system also can integrate an entire packaging system, lessening the effects of a buildup or breakdown. If a bagging system or wrap-per becomes disabled by a breakdown or discharges its last sheet of film, the packaging technology takes command and speeds up other packaging systems to compensate for any processing interruptions.
"Instead of packaging operators focused on manually adjusting their other packaging systems or pulling bread loaves, they can concentrate on resolving the stoppage issues with the disabled packaging system," one packaging system manufacturer says.
This system, along with a variety of new packaging innovations has allowed bakers to retrofit existing pan bread lines to accommodate premium loaves. Although changing the setup of a packaging line is not easy, it is possible. And the increased margins garnered from premium breads will make up for the headaches induced by double bagging.
Club stores demand special packaging
Buying in bulk is the central theme that draws consumers to warehouse club stores such as Sam's Club and Costco. This theme is not limited to buying large quantities of soup cans and soft drinks. Bakers also can take advantage of bulk buying by placing two bread loaves into one bag. To accomplish this task, bakers must modify packaging systems to accommodate this packaging addition.
One equipment manufacturer produces a bagging system that uses a paddle to move bread into larger bags. According to the company, the bagging system should be placed after the closing systems. To improve bulk bagging efficiencies, "the system should have a good hold on the packaging film and adequate control of back pressure because bread can be crushed," one bagging equipment manufacturer says. "Polyethylene bags have a friction coefficient when rubbed together."