As the baby boomer population continues to exert its buying power on the marketplace, dense, seed-filled premium breads have moved to the top of many consumers' shopping lists. Although white bread is still king with most of the U.S. population, premium breads have been eating up market share in the fresh bread category.
Unfortunately, manufacturing premium breads is a far cry from traditional pan bread processing. And, many bakeries are learning this the hard way. "A high-speed bread line is not recommended to turn into a premium bread line," Doug Wimberly, Butterkrust Bakery's president, says. "It took six to eight months to convert our old bread line into a premium bread line that baked at desired speeds."
Butterkrust Bakery, Lakeland, Fla., converted one of its traditional pan bread lines to accommodate premium bread production after noticing continued softness in the white bread market. Today, the company produces a line of premium breads under the Rich Harvest name to complement its Country Hearth and Sunbeam soft variety breads.
In a perfect world where capital investments are plenty and sales are ever increasing, launching a premium bread would simply be achieved by installing a premium bread line. However, investing huge sums of money into a new line amid a volatile baking environment may not necessarily make business sense.
For those bakers looking to jump on the premium bread bandwagon with a traditional bread production line, several processing parameters must be considered.
Although every bakery in the country has its own definition of premium bread, a few commonalties standout between these definitions. Compared to traditional pan breads, premium breads are generally smaller in length, wider, denser and contain an array of inclusions and toppings. These characteristics alone may make manufacturing premium breads a foreign process to traditional pan bread bakers.
For starters, manufacturing premium breads requires a significant capital investment in bread pans that will accommodate the wider loaves. For example, Butterkrust Bakery's first step in retrofitting its bread line was purchasing $100,000 worth of new bread pans.
With the new bread pans comes the task of retrofitting any pan handlingequipment to accommodate the pans. This task encompasses minor conversions to conveying systems and oven loaders and unloaders.
Perhaps the most significant change to the overall production of these breads is the time it takes to produce them. From mixing and makeup to proofing and baking, premium breads generally take more time to manufacture. As a result, conveying drive systems and PLCs will have to be reprogrammed to handle the slower production speeds. By slowing down the line, bakers also will naturally decline yields and suffer volume loss compared to traditional pan breads. However, these adjustments will pay off in the long run because the margins for premium bread products are significantly higher than traditional pan breads.
Mixing premium dough
Producing premium bread takes time and a gentle approach to preserve the integrity of the dough and any inclusions or toppings that the bread may contain. Similar to all production lines, the first step, and perhaps most important, is the mixing of the dough.
"If you do not mix the product properly, and you do not have the equipment to mix properly, everything downstream is irrelevant," one manufacturer of mixers says.
"If you do not mix the product properly, and you do not have the equipment to mix properly, everything downstream is irrelevant."
Choosing the ideal mixer for premium bread manufacturing hinges on two factors: control and temperature. Regardless of what style of mixer a bakery employs, without these two elements, premium bread production is impossible.
When Butterkrust Bakery began retrofitting its traditional pan bread line, the company replaced its old sponge mixer with a horizontal mixer that was fitted with a cooling jacket and automated controls.
Another mixing consideration is dough inclusions. Premium breads typically have particulates, such as seeds, raisins and oats, and these ingredients are susceptible to breakage when mixed with high-speed mixers. As a result, one mixer manufacturer suggests that bakers use spiral mixers because they apply slow, gentle strokes and reduce damage that can be caused by high-speed mixing.
Makeup systems should be monitored to ensure nuts, seeds and other inclusions remain intact.
Premium dough makeup
Depending on the style of premium bread a manufacturer wants to create, dough makeup is one area that can use standard equipment or employ highly-technical makeup lines that preserve the quality of the dough.
Bakers must take a close look at their product characteristics and decide if their existing makeup systems can accommodate premium dough that may contain multiple inclusions.
For bakers looking to enhance their makeup systems, a new wave of nostress dough feeders and sheeters have flooded the marketplace with claims of eliminating dividing oils and intermediate proofers. One advantage to these systems is their ability to process both traditional and premium bread doughs.
One manufacturer's stress-free dough feeder flattens dough into a continuous sheet at a controlled width and thickness. The system applies little damage to the dough, and does not need chemical additives or dough recovering agents to improve texture, the company says.
When the dough departs the feeding system, the company's multistretcher degasses and stretches the dough to a thickness of several millimeters. One of the main benefits of this system is its ability to incorporate inclusions, such as nuts, seeds and fruit, after the mixing stage. The system's rolling mechanism, located inside of the multi-stretcher, keeps particulates inside the dough during processing. This eliminates contamination concerns that can occur when adding inclusions during the mixing phase, the company says.
For bakers confined to using existing makeup systems, many manufacturers agree that premium bread dough can be processed on standard volumetric dividers. However, these systems should be monitored closely in the testing phase to ensure that inclusions remain intact, and the dough quality is up to standards for a premium bread.
One makeup system supplier has created a divider that combines the speed of extrusion dividers with the quality of volumetric dividers to satiate demands for high-speed, lowstress dividers. The extrusion divider uses a double-screw pumping design to pump dough through the divider.
Unlike other extrusion dividers, this system's design only pumps the dough once through the system, which reduces dough stress. The double-screw design produces 10,800 dough portions per hour, and allows bakers to produce white, rye, wheat and premium bread. The divider can produce both open and tight crumb structures, and the dough quality is similar to that of dough processed with volumetric dividers, the manufacturer says.
It's a wrap
When retrofitting production lines to accommodate premium bread, adjustments must be made to the slicing and packaging systems. Because premium breads have a denser gluten structure than white bread, slicer blades tend to dull faster. To maintain blade sharpness and improve bread loaf cutting, one manufacturer recommendsapplying oil onto the blades. The manufacturer says that slicer blades should be coated with oil when bread loaves have less than 2% of oils in their formulation.
The final step in converting a traditional pan bread line into a premium bread line is installing a packaging system to produce double-wrapped breads. Unlike traditional pan breads, premium breads are typically doublewrapped to protect product quality, extend shelf life and give the appearance of an upscale product.
Generally, bakers can use their existing bread baggers for the outer bag of the premium bread. However, bakers will have to purchase a packaging system to wrap the inner-packaging around the loaf without disturbing the bread's toppings.
Converting a traditional pan bread line into a premium bread line is not an easy task. It is costly, time consuming and still a relatively new task for many equipment suppliers. However, premium bread's high margins can ensure a baker's profitability in the volatile bread market.