Bread in bakery

Picture this: You own a small commercial bakery that specializes in artisanal pita bread. Your brand recognition is growing and your products are enjoying success in the market. One fine afternoon, you receive a call from buyer at a national supermarket chain that wants to start retailing your bread. That means you need to ramp up your production, and quickly! But you don’t have the space or the money to transition to full industrial baking lines. Plus, you want to ensure that your products’ artisanal flair isn’t lost when you produce them at a large scale. What do you do?

This is a common situation, especially now as artisanal foods are all the rage, and especially in bakery, where artisanal bread is experiencing a boom time. There are plenty of examples out there of small producers getting picked up by stores like Whole Foods only to discover that it’s not that easy to go from local market favorite to national brand name.

These are exactly the kinds of challenges that Xebeco likes to solve.

Xebeco is a relative newcomer in the United States, opening their doors in 2012. However, they’ve been in the international market much longer and their parent company has been in the business here since 1948. Xebeco focuses on front-of-the-line baking processes, like mixing, transporting, dividing, and so on. They offer both commercial and industrial-scale products for applications including bakery, pizza, pasta dough, crackers, and biscuits. In short, if you’ve got dough, Xebeco has equipment to help you handle it.

To learn more about the Xebeco’s work with growing processors, as well as some of the new solutions they’re bringing to the American market, we spoke with Daniel Tsiakos, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Managing expectations by providing custom solutions

For a small local processor, getting a call from Whole Foods is undoubtedly thrilling. It’s the big time!

But if you’ve never been in the big time before, it’s tough to know what to expect in terms of production and equipment. “Everyone wants to grow,” Tsiakos says. “And as they grow, the expectations grow, the equipment grows, the pricing grows…everything grows.”

The challenge for many of these processors is that they often find themselves in a kind of in-between space — they need to expand their current operations, but they’re not quite ready to go full industrial. They’re want a middle ground, and there aren’t many companies providing middle ground solutions. “A lot of other companies do what we do, but only on a very large scale,” Tsiakos says. “Many won’t even work on projects in the medium range.”

Xebeco thrives on these types of projects because their specialty is creating customized solutions. “We can offer several options: manual, semi-automatic, automatic. We’ll typically put together packages at a couple of different price points to see what meets their needs.”

It’s the process of determining those needs where the critical role of expectations comes into play. Processors are looking for ways to increase production and cut their mixing time, but that’s not always possible without adding new equipment.

Then, there’s the matter of where to put it all. “A lot of times, space is an issue,” Tsiakos says. “Processors don’t think about how they’re going to get the equipment into the building.” Mixers and other front-of-the-line machines are different from equipment like ovens and assembly lines. These things can be built in place, but mixers need to fit through the door.

How does Xebeco solve this challenge? “We work closely with companies to discover their goals and expectations for the project. Are they just trying to increase production? Are they looking to be scalable in the next 5 years and they want machinery that will grow with them?”

By spending time with the customer, gathering information, and helping them set realistic goals and expectations, Xebeco can ensure that the solutions they propose will get the customer where they want to go…and fit in the building.

Increasing production and decreasing costs through premixing

Once processors prove their mettle in the big time and are ready to transition to full-scale industrial machinery, Xebeco can help them increase production and decrease costs through premixing. This specialty mixing process is common in Europe, but not yet widespread in the United States.

Xebeco’s premixer, the Idromix, sits between the system that dispenses flour and the main mixer. It’s a deceptively simple solution that can have a huge operational impact, especially in large facilities that easily go through thousands of pounds of flour a day. “It can save massive amounts of flour cost while not changing the quality or the product that you’re producing,” Tsiakos says.

The simplest use for the Idromix is premixing flour and water. When the product falls out of the machine, it’s basically dough already. All it needs is a final mix, usually just another 5 to 7 minutes in the mixer. This leads to cost savings by cutting the mixing time almost in half. Tsiakos explains: “Theoretically, it can immediately double your production because it halves the mixing time.”

Sounds good, right? And that’s not the only benefit.

Because of the way the system mixes the flour and water together, the ingredients can be joined at a more equal ratio. This increases the flour’s absorption rate, which allows processors to achieve the same quality of dough using more water and less flour. Tsiakos estimates that this can save processors 3 to 5% of their annual flour cost. Since flour is the more expensive component in the mix, this can translate into significant savings, “especially when you’re only talking about one piece of equipment.”

The future: Connectivity and automation

Finally, Tsiakos agrees with many of our other interviewees that the future will bring more connectivity and automation to food processing facilities.

“A lot of what we’re working on is with more connected machines,” he says. “In the future, you’ll be able to monitor your machines whether you’re in the facility or not.”

This means that plant managers and operators will be able to login to the machines to view mixes, recipes, and other information. It also means that they as well as service technicians will be able to better diagnose problems and, ideally, fix them before they cause a shutdown. Xebeco is planning to implement connectivity as widely as possible. For example, if a company has multiple machines at multiple plants, they would be able to login to a centralized dashboard to see the data across all locations.

Tsiakos also expects more automation, with plants running 24 hours with minimal people. But, that simply means that there will be a different kind of workforce. He notes an interesting trend in the bakery industry concerning the role of the master baker. Specifically, it’s fading out in large industrial operations, but gaining importance in smaller ones.

“The companies that are looking to ramp up their production are typically trying to modernize their artisan style without losing it. It’s difficult to mimic hand-style anything, but it’s possible if you understand the product and the process.” That’s where the master baker comes in. It’s also where Xebeco’s customized solutions can help. For example, Tsiakos notes, sometimes the mixing will be automatic, but then the proofing and transporting steps are manual. This allows processors to increase their production, while still providing the human touch that true artisanal products — like that pita bread — require.

Xebeco will be showing some of their meat and dough processing equipment at PROCESS EXPO in September. Visit them at Booth 2656.