Emerging from the many deserving nominations Baking Management received, these three innovators are recognized for their ability to create a new product, policy or process effecting a positive change for the baking industry. Main Street Gourmet’s employee-empowering waste reduction system, Viitals Specialty Bakery’s blurring of lines between meal and snack to reach new markets, and Pattycake Bakery’s irreverent green challenge to larger wholesale bakers represent important innovations and ideas that could affect the industry as a whole.
Main Street Gourmet wages war on waste
Many of this bakery's cost cutting ideas are generated by its employees, who not only want to improve operations, but the company's standing in the community.
Bakery Award: Main Street Gourmet
Product: Viitals high protein muffins
Packaging: Pattycake Bakery's “green” packaging
Creative thinking has been pervasive throughout Akron, Ohio-based Main Street Gourmet (MSG) since its founding 22 years ago. Steve Marks and Harvey Nelson, co-C.E.O.s, founded the company after witnessing an innovative concept in California in 1986. Marks and Nelson noticed people lined up 10 deep at a muffin shop at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. After Marks acquired property on S. Main Street in downtown Akron for $5,000 at a real estate auction, these childhood friends took a risk and started a business that now produces about 15 million lb. of muffins and other sweet goods per year. And with an anticipated growth factor of 10 percent for the next few years, Marks projects annual gross sales in excess of $20 million in the near future.
While the business has undergone many transformations since its inception, it has found its strength and niche in custom manufacturing. With the acquisition of Isabella's Healthy Bakery in 1999, it has a strong focus in the healthful baking category. “We were one of the first to come out with fat-free muffins and one of the first to come out with whole grain muffins,” Marks says. “We think we've been on the cutting edge of a lot of things.”
One of the bakery's new cutting edge concepts rewards employees for identifying cost cutting measures by reducing waste. MSG is effectively waging a War on Waste. Its WOW program generated about $150,000 this past year, along with the intangible benefit of boosting employee morale because everyone's input is given serious consideration.
Reducing waste helps improve profits and impacts the company's bottom line. But, MSG isn't only interested in improving its own outlook. Several of its programs have helped enrich its local community through fund raisers and food donations.
“Since its inception, MSG has been proud to pioneer several creative community programs and processes that have demonstrated a deep desire to not only improve its own operations, but also strengthen the area where it resides and better improve the lives of its local citizens,” says Philip Plumley, human resources administrator.
A War on Waste
MSG's WOW program rewards employees for identifying cost cutting measures that ultimately benefit the company. Suggestions may be submitted for any area of the company, including production, shipping/receiving, purchasing, sales, etc. Ideas are submitted to the War on Waste committee. Any idea the committee accepts as a “master idea” earns the submitter $50. The employee with the most ideas accepted receives $250, second place gets $100 and third place $50. Once all “master ideas” are submitted, the process of implementation begins. If an idea is successful in accomplishing its savings goal at any month throughout the fiscal year, the submitter gets an additional $50. If the total annual savings goal is achieved, all people who submitted at least five ideas get another $100.
During the past year, ideas ranged from adding an alarm to the oven to alert the operator of temperature fluctuations to preventing cup and clamshell denesters from dropping cups and clamshells on the floor.
“We had a lot of waste with paper cups falling out of the cup denester on one of our primary production lines,” says Mike Braun, plant manager. “We worked with our cup supplier, who made a small adjustment in his production methods. Our cup usage has dropped by 25 percent, with no additional cost to the company.”
One idea submission suggested the need for a backboard or net for the dump table to avoid having product tossed on the floor. The solution resulted in an anticipated monthly savings of $3,800, yielding an annual savings of $42,000.
MSG's war on waste has been extremely successful so far. In the future, ownership of ideas will likely be given to employees, rather than the committee that currently reviews them. “With employee ownership, we think we will get even better results,” Marks says.
Enriching the community
“Community enrichment is and has been a staple of MSG's corporate culture since the beginning. We are in business first and foremost to be profitable so we can grow and be around for the long term,” Marks says. “While giving back to your community is the right thing to do, it also is a sound business principle that pays dividends in many ways.”
MSG's award-winning “Muffins for Mammograms” program began in 1992, and is one that raises funding and awareness in the fight against breast cancer. To date, more than $250,000 has been raised, allowing hundreds of women who otherwise could not have afforded to be screened for breast cancer, do so. Many bakery employees give hours of their own time to assist with the packing of baked products sold, the assembly of orders placed by various companies in the area, and/or the actual delivery of those orders to businesses that purchase them in support of the cause, Plumley notes.
MSG introduced its No Muffin Left Behind program in 2005. Off-spec products are donated to the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, which helps feed the homeless and others in need of assistance.
“We have attempted to exert control over most of our philanthropic endeavors, allowing us to put in motion our own ideas and concepts,” Marks says. “These endeavors are actually mini-businesses that can have lives of their own. Since we don't have the resources of the bigger players in our sandbox, we believe this approach gets us better results, as well as satisfaction gained from having bettered our local community.”
While bakeries must find ways of increasing their profits in order to remain viable, a bakery that saves lives and enriches its community through its charitable efforts benefits the baking industry as a whole.
And Main Street Gourmet has done just that.
Making a meal out of snacks
Viitals Specialty Bakery's new and growing line of health- and allergen-minded products takes aim at a new niche for healthful baked products.
Though it fits the description, Ivan Nikolov, founder and owner of Viitals Specialty Bakery, Tampa, Fla., doesn't like to call his line of ultra-healthy baked snacks meal-replacers.
“I don't like to use that term because it implies that the products are an alternative to a meal. They aren't alternatives to a meal, they are meals, just in the form of a snack,” he says.
Nikolov, a decorated former natural body builder and nutrition aficionado, believes that people sometimes avoid snacks because they are worried about health or diet. His intent in formulating his snacks to include a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber is to transform the snack from an elective food to a necessary meal.
The Viitals line of products consists of muffins and crackers, each in a variety of flavors. They are all gluten-free, no wheat products are kept on the premises and none are allowed to come through the door. The line is also nearly devoid of the eight major allergens, save for whey protein. Only the muffins use this dairy component, but it is nearly lactose and cholesterol-free-a cross-flow microfiltered whey protein isolate that, at 0.16g of lactose per muffin, is hypoallergenic, though not vegan. The protein in the crackers is derived from sprouted brown rice, so they are fully vegan.
The product line also uses extremely low glycemic index, all-natural sugars as sweeteners. “I wanted people to be able to sit down and have a balanced snack/meal without being worried about allergens or anything else to raise blood sugar level, or cause energy crash” Nikolov says. “We don't even use sugar in my formulations, so as to keep my snacks offering steady energy levels. We don't want to go to the length of saying we are sugar-free, but I avoid high glycemic index. For instance, I use agave nectar as a sweetener for the crackers because of it's low glycemic index.”
A sugar alcohol- erythritol-is used to sweeten the muffin line. The sweetener is listed under total carbohydrates on the label, but Nikolov suggests that sugar is a misnomer for the sweetener. “The FDA insists that it be listed as a carbohydrate, but sugar alcohol is a grouping phrase used by the chemists, it doesn't cause any change in the blood sugar level. Also, each gram of the sweetener contains only 0.2 calories.
The company uses small amounts of high-oleic safflower oil to help with the moisture retention and flavor richness. There also are small amounts of fat coming from the flax used in the muffin formulas.
Nikolov doesn't want to stop at muffins and crackers. He is currently working on a gluten-free bread, feeling there is a dearth of choices in the market. He eventually wants to get into cookies and brownies, taking the indulgent snack 180 degrees into balanced meal territory. Also on the horizon is a raw snack bar. “Like the other Viitals products, the bar will contain a balance of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fat. The only difference is the products won't be exposed to high temperatures, so the natural enzymes in the ingredients will remain intact. That would be a product that's even one level up from what I'm offering now, in terms of health.”
Viitals Specialty Bakery is in its infancy, but has growing brand recognition among the health and allergy conscious in Florida. Still a small business, Nikolov faces difficulties sourcing his specialty ingredients. Some might even have only one source, and buying single bags of such products instead of pallets or trucks strains the pocketbook as well as supplier relationships. “People have accommodated me so far, though. Other than the higher cost because I use unique products, I cannot complain,” he says.
To ensure his products aren't prohibitively expensive to the consumer, Viitals Specialty Bakery is operating at a small margin, focusing more on brand development than profit. The Viitals line appears in 10 Tampa-area specialty grocers, and sells online nationwide. Nikolov hopes to work with a distributor to expand his products' reach, and plans on expanding his storefront and retail businesses in the form of ultra healthy bakery cafes, complete with organic coffees and teas.
Though certainly niche, Viitals Specialty Bakery has taken a proven healthy eating market and uncovered a new avenue-the snack as a balanced meal-to deliver it to health-minded consumers.
Pattycake Bakery's green packaging blazes new trails
This small bakery proactively pursued enviro-friendly packaging materials, taking the lead in the drive toward more corporate responsibility. Will larger bakeries follow suit?
Jennie Scheinbach, owner, Pattycake Bakery, Columbus, Ohio, recently converted the packaging on her wholesale cookies and whoopie pies to 100-percent biodegradeable materials.
Pattycake Bakery specializes in vegan baked products-a niche market with a customer following that strongly believes in sustainable practices. Still, a larger percentage of mainstream consumers are reportedly expecting consumer product goods manufacturers to be more conscientious of the environment.
“It was a founding principle of Pattycake's from our inception to do things as sustainably and ethically as possible,” Scheinbach says. “Our old petroleum-based packaging did not mesh with our brand and mission. I didn't just start Pattycake so I could make a livelihood; I started it so I could make money doing something I love with a net benefit to the community that supports me.”
The bakery uses 100-percent compostable bags called Terraphane™ produced by Atlapac, which are formed from a roll of flat cellulose-based film called NatureFlex™.
The bags Scheinbach is buying are truly compostable, says Paul Unrue, vice president, business development, Atlapac Corp., Columbus. They will literally disappear in 90 days. Although the bags cost 40 to 50 percent more, which is significant, “you're leaving a smaller carbon footprint, no doubt in my mind,” Unrue adds.
Because the cellulose film can disappear quickly if not handled properly, it is important for any baker to determine whether its product has the fitness to withstand shelf life. Unrue recommends accelerated shelf life testing and ship testing to verify its viability.
Printing is done by Weisenbach Recycled Products, also in Columbus, which uses soy-based ink that emits far fewer volatile organic carbons (VOCs)-a parameter the EPA uses to monitor pollution. Although soy-based inks cost more, operators can use smaller amounts than petroleum-based inks and still achieve similar functionality and quality, says Dan Weisenbach, president.
Weisenbach follows a triple-bottom line green business philosophy that considers people, profit and planet. “To be sustainable, we all have to earn money to keep our doors open, but a successful company also concerns itself with its employees, the community and the environment. At the end of the day, you know you've done some good,” Weisenbach says.
The process of switching from conventional to green materials was not without its challenges. “The cost was definitely an issue,” Scheinbach says. In the end, the environmentally-friendly packaging not only meshes with her bakery's mission and values, but satisfies her customers.
“I'd like to encourage and challenge other bakeries to make their packaging greener,” Scheinbach says. “In this day and age, it's doable and worth it, as customers respond to green practices with increased purchases and loyalty.”