With a serious labor shortage gripping the retail bakery industry, bakery equipment and new technologies have become more important than ever to sustain growth and profitability in a challenging environment.

Paul Baker, founder of St Pierre Bakery comments that one of the impacts of the pandemic was to speed up the digitalization of the baking industry. “Especially for St Pierre, because we are America’s number-one brioche brand, but we were operating from Manchester, United Kingdom, and unable to travel for almost two years,” he explains. “Necessity is the mother of all invention, and we developed a number of new technologies to ensure that we sustained the growth of our brand and its presence in the US market.”

Throughout 2021, St. Pierre was busy steadily building a team on the ground in America. David Wagstaff, vice president in North America now has a team of 10 working across the United States – and all of them were hired remotely.

“Adapting technology at every level of our business made that possible, but we started using Microsoft Teams at the outbreak of the pandemic and it is now central to our operations” Baker says. “In fact, we have hired a developer in-house to ensure we are maximizing the potential of the program and its offerings.”

Hiring wasn’t the only way in which St. Pierre adapted processes to digitalize them. The company was presenting to retailers from Manchester, “so using our in-house digital marketing expertise, we revolutionized the way we deliver sales presentations,” Baker says. “Now, if we can’t meet in-person, we get as a close as we can to a face-to-face meeting. Instead of standard slides, we created animated, bespoke presentations, delivered in real-time to really bring the brand to life and keep our retailers engaged.”

Problem solving

Jane Tyler, founder and the original creator of Cybake, points out the Covid pandemic has created a distribution nightmare for some operations in the retail bakery sector, and the bakery industry has been quick to provide solutions. In many cases, retailers have witnessed a huge opportunity to accelerate online sales, but companies need help with implementation.

“To make distribution more efficient, the collection of online orders and how they are put into production needs attention too,” Tyler explains. “Much of our work with retail bakeries over the last two or so years has been about automating this part of the equation, eliminating labor-costs, errors and bottlenecks. Similarly, before the pandemic, many of the retail bakers that use Cybake had, in retrospect, very small-scale home delivery services, if they had them at all. Consequently, many added Cybake’s paperless driver delivery module to their subscription which we had originally developed for wholesalers. It works on drivers’ phones, tells them where to go and allows for photo proof of deliveries, which turned out to be very useful.”

Dawn Foods spokesperson Keely Siciliano outlines key challenges to deal with today. “The pandemic required bakeries to pivot toward online tools to reach customers. Many faced difficulties adding these new online platforms smoothly and quickly,” she explains. “While significant progress has been made due to Covid, bakeries are still adapting to a more digitized experience and incorporating services like online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery while maintaining and promoting a desirable in-store experience.”

Foodservice priorities

A few years ago, restaurants couldn’t have managed the level of off-premises demand during the pandemic. Technological advances are becoming table stakes for this long-term business channel, with more than eight in 10 operators saying the use of technology in a restaurant provides a competitive advantage, and a good proportion of operators plan to ramp up investments in technology this year.

In February, the National Restaurant Association released its 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report, which measures the restaurant industry’s continued recovery and examines the status of current and emerging trends across key categories including technology and off-premises business, operations, workforce, food and menus, and more.
Fifty-four percent of adults say purchasing takeout or delivery food is essential to the way they live, including 72% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z adults.

Next generation

The Puratos Group recently unveiled a revolutionary remote customer support tool, the Digital AdvisAR. The app instantly connects bakers, patissiers and chocolatiers to Puratos experts via augmented reality (AR) to help with trouble-shooting and problem-solving. Digital AdvisAR is a fast, user-friendly and sustainable solution for all customers – artisan, industrial and in-store bakeries – seeking immediate expert advice on recipe, technical and quality challenges. The launch of Digital AdvisAR is in addition to Puratos’ technical support offering and plays an important role in the company’s digitalization strategy.

Most recently, Puratos’s new branding represents the company's purpose “to move the planet forward by creating innovative food solutions for the health & well-being of people everywhere.” Encompassing everything Puratos stands for, Food Innovation for Good encapsulates the company’s ongoing ambition to continue and further increase its positive global impact for future generations. In the new logo, industry professionals will recognize Puratos's familiar unicorn – a symbol of courage and integrity – now faces forwards, toward an exciting future. Another key change in the company’s identity is the more widely used house color of red which represents Puratos’s passion, commitment, and determination.

“Our new identity underlines our unwavering commitment to our customers, employees, partners and consumers, and to further accelerating the growth of our business and our customers,” explains Sophie Blum, Puratos chief marketing officer. “As the implementation of our new identity begins, our worldwide community of modern marketeers will leverage data, digital and artificial intelligence tools and techniques to engage and support our customers, helping them successfully stay ahead of the curve by collaboratively creating innovative food solutions for the health and well-being of people everywhere.”

The company’s new identity will help reinforce the message that Puratos is a trustworthy, progressive and ethically minded brand. As such, Puratos aims to continue tackling some significant issues within the food industry and remains dedicated to creating change that matters to move the planet forward through sustainable actions.

Blum also emphasizes that “Sustainable entrepreneurship has been high on our agenda for many years. We believe that, as a responsible food business, it is important to deliver life-changing social contributions wherever we operate. We already have a range of initiatives in place to support this. Our Bakery Schools provide youngsters with quality education and create the skills needed within the industry, while our Cacao-Trace program is helping cocoa farmers worldwide increase their income, thanks to the production of superior-tasting chocolate through the mastering of the fermentation process.  These are just two examples of how we are fulfilling our deep-rooted ambitions to implement and adhere to a sustainable, respectful and balanced operating model and we will continue working towards this in 2022 and beyond.”

Bakery equipment

Bakery equipment plays a significant role in the future success of bakeries. Carolyn Bilger, marketing director, Hobart Food Equipment Group, explains that Hobart recently introduced the Legacy+ mixers, which provide up to 30% more capacity in the same size bowl — depending on the application. This allows the baker, who might be short on staff, to mix large batches and meet production levels. The VFDadvantage variable frequency drive puts more power in the bowl and offers superior ingredient incorporation. The Legacy+ PLUS System also provides for less downtime with maximum capacity overheat protection.

“The 80- and 140-quart Legacy+ mixers provide peace of mind for the operator in busy production kitchens due to the FastStop feature. This technology brings the planetary to a full stop in less than three seconds,” Bilger says. “The ability to do more in the same size bowl allows for larger batches to be mixed. Depending on the application, as much as 30% more dough can be produced. This improves throughput and saves time. Additionally, the Hobart Legacy+ maximum capacity mixer can mix batch after batch — all day long — for the best productivity support in the bakery.”

All Legacy+ mixers come with swing-out bowl technology and single-point bowl installation. These features make adding ingredients easier and save time in loading and unloading the bowl from the machine.

Investing in a high-quality mixer that is easy to maintain, and repair when necessary, can reduce the total cost of ownership of the equipment. When bakers don’t have to face downtime due to equipment failures, that means they don’t lose profits for products they can’t make during that time. It also means they can focus on increasing production and sales.

“Labor is one of the biggest challenges we are hearing from our customers,” Bilger says. “Demand for quality baked goods is increasing and having fewer workers makes keeping up with those demands difficult.  Inflation is also a concern with many bakeries and retailers. As equipment prices increase, being confident in purchasing a product for the long haul is critical. Hobart Legacy+ mixers deliver the highest quality in the industry and provide technology that allows the baker to mix more; and our PLUS System with the VFDadvantage drives power and reduces downtime.”

Given the labor shortage, many employees may be entering the baking industry for the first time. Establishing efficient training practices that can be adopted for all new employees (or as a reminder for existing ones) is important. Knowing how to use a mixer properly and letting the equipment do the work, for example, can save time in the kitchen, she explains.

“When it comes to investing in a new mixer, bakers need to understand what they are going to do with the equipment before they buy it. What ingredients are they planning to mix? And in what size batches? Buying too much or too little can be a problem, so always size it correctly,” Bilger says.

Keep your equipment in tiptop shape by choosing a partner that provides preventative maintenance programs (PM). Buy the right size mixer for the job you are doing. In other words, calculate the total batch size and the absorption rate and understand mix speed to choose the right product for the job. 

“The cost of provisions is constantly changing. Bakers need to be agile in their business to account for that, whether it’s reducing the number of menu items being offered, changing the menu less often or adjusting sizes and quantities,” Bilger says. “Or they may find that introducing new ingredients to the mix works for them and still meets their customers’ expectations, which always needs to be a consideration.”

Online solutions

Tyler explains that the crisis speeded up the adoption of cloud technology by a huge factor and, what’s good about the cloud is that it gives bakeries a choice of mix and match solutions.

So, for example, retail bakers have been quick to adopt retail shopfront apps like Shopify and WooCommerce over the last couple of years. As another cloud solution, Cybake happily interfaces with these apps to process – and deliver – the orders that they bring in.

It’s the same for deliveries. Some Cybake customers may choose a different app to handle their deliveries, and that’s fine for Cybake to work with too.

“In fact, we are working with a brilliant company right now called Stream right now on exactly this type of nice and easy integration,” she says.

At a time of labor shortages, there is much pain to be had in having staff doing repetitive administation tasks. Not only is this expensive, but it is also error-prone, which leads to inevitable problems down the line.

Cloud adoption, and the ability to mix and match applications, mean that it’s now easier for retail bakers to automate as many admin tasks as possible and cut out the errors. 

“To say that both retail and wholesale bakeries rose to the occasion would be a huge understatement,” Tyler says. “Whereas many would have been forgiven for, essentially, mothballing their bakeries, they quickly tuned themselves into community front-line services instead. It is also worth noting that very many wholesale bakeries also turned themselves into hugely popular home delivery services during this time. I can’t think of one that plans to give up this newfound retail channel.

“The pandemic proved to all communities that their local bakeries were hugely essential stores that sold superior products and that put themselves well out of their way for their customers. This turned retail bakeries into more cherished places. Let’s keep it that way.”

Social media tools

Siciliano at Dawn Foods points out that “if you can dream it, it probably already exists.” There are several systems and apps available to bakers, and many are free or low-cost, she adds. Specific online tools and technologies include online ordering through a bakers’ website, delivery through third-party food service apps and curbside pickup. On the supplier side of things, bakeries can leverage online ordering platforms, such as Dawn Foods eCommerce platform, to ensure retail bakeries have 24/7 access to the products they need to serve their customers.”

Social media is also a great avenue for bakeries to update their customers in real-time on hours of operation, new products, recipes and more. Social platforms, particularly Instagram, are enhancing features to help business accounts better promote their offerings. For example, Instagram recently updated their features to allow unverified and smaller business accounts to add links in Instagram Stories, Siciliano explains.

If you have an active social media presence, consider adding social commerce to your selling plans. Instagram, Facebook and TikTok’s built-in ‘Shop’ technologies allow customers to place online orders directly from your store’s profile, removing the friction of requiring your social community to leave the app to place an order, she says.

Online tools cater to the consumers’ increasing preference for a digital shopping experience. With online ordering and curbside pickup, bakeries can improve order accuracy, reduce order processing time, and allow bakery staff to spend more time on other important tasks

“The past two years of the pandemic have shown the industry that the consumer habits created during this time will stick, even when the pandemic is behind us,” Siciliano says. “Bakeries are seeing that customers still prefer convenience in the way they shop, such as online ordering, delivery and curbside pickup.”

It takes time and troubleshooting to seamlessly integrate new technologies into a bakery’s business. As bakery owners work to overcome these logistics, Dawn recommends that bakeries hold training for their staff so that everyone is up to speed and comfortable with the new technologies available to them.