Cookies remain one of the most profitable items in the retail bakery business, and automated depositing is paving the way for even greater efficiencies.

In one recent example, Busch’s Fresh Food Market, a 17-store operator based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is installing a 1,400-square-foot freezer at its central plant in nearby Clinton, Michigan, to assist in the conversion to automated depositing.

Kelley Maynard, central kitchen manager, explains that Busch’s supermarkets currently order muffins, cookies and other sweet goods every other day from the central bakery. Once the freezer and a new Hinds-Bock depositor are installed this year, complementing the plant’s existing Vemag cookie depositor, the central bakery will shift to portioning almost all doughs and batters by machine. The expansive freezer will be used to hold cookie doughs, portioned muffins, sweet breads, brownies and cakes. Such added efficiency will lead to greater selection for stores. As always, products will be baked fresh to order.

“Our stores will be able to order anything they want any day of the week,” Maynard says. “We are hoping to expand our offerings and be more efficient. Bakery is very important to Busch’s as a company.”

Retail bakeries that produce good volume in cookies can benefit from a valuable lesson here. It will save you time and valuable labor to automate where you can — scooping doughs and freezing cookie doughs to use as needed in the future — so that you bring greater efficiency and profitability into your bakery production process.

Cakes and sweet goods play an equally integral role to the success of Busch’s central bakery. The push is on here to improve efficiency and create a more tailored mix of varieties and sizes that match more closely with demand.

“At one point, we had a very large selection of cakes: 6-inch to 12-inch, rounds and squares, one-eighth sheet to full sheet. Now we are focusing on more popular sizes,” Maynard says. “We began a 5-inch baby cake that has been hugely successful. Smaller sizes sell better today.”

Having a more efficient cake production system, in fact, provides Busch’s with a distinct advantage because producing more small cakes at a time adds efficiency and lowers production costs, enabling Busch’s to offer better deals on premium quality cakes than the competition. Maynard estimates that quarter-sheet cakes probably represent Busch’s highest volume of cake sales, along with 8-inch rounds. Carrot cakes remain a top variety.

“We’ve made carrot cake forever, and they are one of our biggest sellers,” she says. “We offer carrot cakes in baby, 8-inch and other sizes. They all sell really well. People love a good classic item.”

Along the same lines, blueberry is a mainstay of their muffin program, accounting for double the sales of any other variety. Busch’s makes 4-ounce muffins in other flavors such as chocolate chip, cranberry orange, apple cinnamon and lemon poppyseed. The central bakery typically makes five to six muffin varieties at a time, including seasonal flavors.

Their scratch-made cookie program (made with US Grade AA butter) includes two lines: 12-count packages of 1 oz cookies in multiple varieties (chocolate chip, peanut butter, snickerdoodle, etc.) and 6-count packages of 2 oz gourmet cookies in varieties such as salted caramel, oatmeal overload, and chocolate Andes mint. “For now, we are hand scooping the 6-count cookie doughs,” Maynard says. “With the new freezer, we could run them through the Vemag and eliminate hand scooping and make us more efficient.”

And as consumer demand shifts, especially with smaller household sizes and more people treating themselves to small indulgences while shopping the bakery department, Maynard says the timing is right to adapt to changing times. In the end, Busch’s will be even more successful, she believes.

“I think there is definitely a trend toward smaller portions, and everything we’ve done on a smaller scale has been more successful,” she says. “I think people are more apt to make an impulse buy than in the past. They can pick up a baby cake for $5.99. It’s more of an impulse buy that is not an excessive amount of cake and it’s not going to hurt their pocketbook.”

In the end, improved efficiency at the production facility leads to keeping retail prices from going up. “We are hoping to build more efficiencies to lower retails to our guests,” Maynard says. “We are so excited about what we have coming.”