International baking expo highlights automation

Every three years, anyone who is anyone in the baking industry converges on Munich for the iba, the international bakery exhibition/conference. This year there were more than 1700 exhibitors, 76,000 visitors and about $3.4 billion in trade completed at the event.

One person hitting the stands and looking over the event was Total Construction’s general manager for its food and beverage division, Tony Tate. It’s an industry he’s been involved with for more than 30 years and is deft at spotting upcoming trends and where the industry is heading. He thinks the next big thing to hit the baking industry will be “Indulgence Individual Creation”. The Universal Bread production is focusing on sourdough long fermentation and process Quality.

Walking around the show clearly is showing Automation of artisan breads, is happing now which will mean they take the step from being a specialty product to becoming a commodity.

He believes that there will be an uptake in both national and multi-national bread bakers opening up new premises, or converting current ones into those that will meet the demands of consumers who no longer go after traditional white and brown breads – in other words, traditional tin-baked breads.

“In the 60s bakers were trying to get the baking of white loaves automated because white bread was part of the staple diet of Australians,” said Tate. “You look at it now, it is in decline. It is only added value breads like grain breads or low GI breaks that is keeping the tin bread market open. You look at the large bread companies who are shutting down bakeries and consolidating manufacturing to survive the large supermarkets low price strategy.

With artisan and sourdough loaves now becoming popular, bakers have to shift gear and start producing facilities that will cope with influx of demand.

“In the 1970s and 1980s they developed mechanisation and made white bread more competitive. The Chorleywood bread mixing process was invented and started bringing in 3000-loaves-an-hour lines, then 8000-loaves-an-hour lines. In the late 2000s they brought in 10,000-loaves-an-hour lines. Now everybody is going for the sourdough. If you go around the show it is all about artisan, sourdough and French baguettes, Vienna’s etc.”

And the building of plants based around these breads has already begun. French-based artisan bread specialist, Laurent, has just invested huge amounts of money on building an Artisan plant in Victoria. Their first plant in 2009 they could bake 3000 baguettes an hour now over 8000 baguettes an hour.

Early demand of Sourdough bread sold for premium $8.49 per loaf now they selling them in the supermarkets at $4.99.” per loaf.

Tate believes that baking will go through an interesting transition over the next 10 years due to the expectations of not only consumers, but what bakers will be capable of doing – the hard part is to gauge is what that will entail.

“White bread rose and then declined, sourdough will follow because of the automation of mechanised plant cable of mass producing Artisan bread available now but couldn’t do artisan 10 years ago.

Tate see an opportunity for individualised, indulgent artisan creations made to order same day. Order in morning pick up or get delivered the afternoon.

The process equipment automation will struggle to try and automate these kinds of products. But you have to start somewhere and start chipping away.

When it comes to automation, Tate said there was a demonstration at the event that could be a precursor to what the future holds for some fast-food outlets and how their food is served.

“There was a booth with a robot in it,” said Tate. “It grabbed a bun. The robot put a knife through it and sliced the bun. The robot turned the bun over, put butter on it, it then changed its arm to pick up a piece of salami, then put on some lettuce and then some cheese. It then put the bun into a wrapper station, folded it over, then put a stamp on it that said ‘freshly made for you’ or something like that. But it took 15 minutes. So somebody who works at McDonalds has still got a job at the moment, but the technology will eventually come through.”

One of the main drivers for attending the event was about building relationships, and taking those associations a step further.

“It was more than just about building relationships, it was about understanding the relationship all the way through,” said Tate. “It’s that relationship building and being consistent to the industry that means if anybody has a referral then people’s first port of call will be Total Construction. We have the knowledge. We know the industry. We know about bakeries and we can build it.”

One more key take out from the iba for Tate, was some of the oven technology coming through whereby several types of products can be baked at once.

“Mecatherm has designed an oven to encompass flexibility. The oven itself can cost up into the thousands depending on specification and flexabliity” said Tate. “This allows the entrepreneur baker to have the flexibility to take several format such as sourdough breads, tin breads, batch soft rolls or cakes. For this investment bakeries can get into the market and say, ‘by the way I have the flexibility to do my tin bread in the morning, I can do my artisan in the afternoon and do my cakes whenever.’”

With his final thoughts on the exhibition, Tate has some definitive ideas on where the baking industry is heading, but is a little unsure when it will get there.

“Is automation here? Yes, it is,” he said. “Artisan and sourdough are the main drivers going forward, and it is the level of automation as to whether it will become a commodity. The next phase I believe will be indulgent products that are being created whether it is chocolate, whether it is bread, whether it is a work of art and those processes will eventually become automated robots, but it’s a long time away.”

With another three years before the next iba comes around, it will be interesting to see if Tate’s predictions come true.


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