We’re on the cusp of the end of all traditional definitions of what a retail baker – or a retailer of any kind – is. This leaves bakery professionals thinking, how does all of this affect my bakery business?

The notion of mobile availability is increasingly viable and has the potential to disrupt retail bakers that are stationary and require customers to come to them.

The new business model is, How do I get in front of people where they are, instead of attracting them to me? This is the strength of mobility where food trucks, delivery services and even meal kit services all benefit.

One stand-out to me relates to bakers’ plans for capital spending. I’ve heard the buzz about semi-automating to compensate for ongoing business challenges with the lack of employees.

A recent visit to St. Louis offered a glimpse of the future. Companion Baking’s new palletizing robot – affectionately called Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk) by the staff – enables this innovative St. Louis bakery the ability to achieve a higher level of production efficiency and equipment sophistication.

Companion’s latest projects have allowed them to carve out a unique niche as a mid-sized bread distributor with vast customization capabilities. Through semi-automation and tools such as Redzone, the baking company is able to produce around 150 different SKUs, five days a week, in an organized and efficient manner – all in a floor space of 42,000 square feet.

As a part of her role in overseeing and training new team members, operations manager Suman Shekar has made it a goal to bring new technologies and production processes to the bakery floor. She has found that semi-automation allows for members of the Companion team to have personal interaction with the greater production process, all while making their lives easier and safer.

“In order to help grow the company, we needed to open our ears to what technology was out there,” Shekar says. “With all the technology that is now around us, we are capable of creating opportunity every time we move forward.”