Space in grocery store bakeries is always at a premium, and labor issues have provided challenges in staffing them. At the same time, consumers still desire fresh, high-quality baked goods at their grocery stores as a part of a one-stop shopping experience.

Fortunately, new innovations in bakery ovens can play a critical role in solving the complex challenge of producing more product with fewer staff members and less available space.

As is the case in many manufacturing industries, companies developing bakery ovens are using automation throughout the process as a way of helping end users overcome challenges finding labor.

“Labor is a big concern, especially for retailers looking to simplify processes at the same time as expanding revenue streams,” said Tami Olson, director of national accounts for retail with Alto-Sham, Menomonee Falls, Wis. “Operators want to know that their staff will be able to keep up with demand across multiple food programs while also being able to provide customers with quality service.”

Olson also said their ovens use programmable recipes to help eliminate steps in food production and ensure bakery items will turn out the same each time no matter who prepares the item.

Given the fact that many working in grocery store bakeries are not experienced bakers, consistent results not dependent on the operator are essential. To this end, Javier Velez, president of MIWE America, Hillsborough, N.J., said the company’s ovens have indicators to let operators know when the oven is ready to bake and when the product is finished.

“MIWEs technological centerpieces of baking are the climate control processes, meaning mastering the perfect regulation of the interaction of temperature and moisture not only in terms of the baking process but also with proofing, chilling and freezing,” Velez said.

MIWE offers the Fresh Bake Center, an electrically heated convention oven with two baking chambers that can accommodate up to 16 trays loaded and unloaded with the help of a loading trolley. It has a control system to help with ease of operation. Additionally, an automatic cleaning system is offered along with connections to the MIWE SBS software, which allows for central management of an entire equipment fleet, Velez said.

Such software from MIWE allows an operator with stores in multiple locations to have the ability to be in an office and know what is being baked in different locations, and this is a feature other companies are looking to offer as well. To this end, Michael Mathis, sales development manager for Baxter Manufacturing in Orting, Wash., said in the future his company plans to add an application for remote oven monitoring, expanded recipe controls and loT functions that will enable managers to manage recipes as well as monitor baking operations and utility usage remotely.

Troubleshooting is also becoming user-friendly for less-experienced workers.

Mathis said one of the current features on the Baxter OV520 rotating rack oven is error code reporting. He said when an error happens, a warning screen will appear displaying the message and code. If it is an error the operator cannot correct themselves, they can contact a service provider with the code, and the provider will be familiar with the issue and can come with any necessary repair parts.

Mike Baxter, marketing coordinator with Belshaw Adamatic Bakery Group, Anburn, Wash., said instore bakeries need a mix of rack or deck ovens along with smaller-capacity convection ovens, and the company’s BX Eco-touch convection oven has a touch-screen control that allows operators to choose images for up to 240 bake programs.

Mathis said other features of their ovens include energy savings and recipe management functions. Additionally, they have recognized the diversity in the workforce and incorporated a multilingual display with a choice of three languages – English, Spanish, and French – operators can choose from. The OV520 oven also offers animated virtual training that allows the operator to look up operation instructions without referring to a printed manual.

Velez said his company’s products also offer programming in multiple languages and the ability to choose a program from an image.

“We worked with some of our larger customers to design a rotating rack oven and control that would fill their needs including ease of use, productivity improvement, and one that delivers greater energy savings,” Mathis said.


Saving space and increasing efficiency

Olson noted many bakery operators are looking to ventless cooking equipment as a way of adding design flexibility because it can be placed anywhere outside of a traditional kitchen hood to maximize floor space and improve efficiency and workflow. The company’s Vector H Series meets these needs.

“To achieve a greater return on investment, it’s crucial to identify ways to save on operating costs with ventless, multi-functional equipment,” Olson said.

To this end, Alto-Sham’s Vector works well in stores where the bakery shares space with the deli because the ovens can be stacked with other equipment and are multi-functional with the ability to cook other hot prepared food.

“This enables a retailer to execute a bakery program where bulky, traditional bakery equipment is unable to be installed,” Olson said.

The Vector products also come with Structured Air Technology to deliver optimized and focused heat that provides for faster, more even, and consistent cooking than other cooking methods, Olson said. She said this ensures staff can focus on customers and other tasks by eliminating the need to rotate pans and constantly watch the oven.

Harry Jacoby, sales manager at Philadelphia-based Gemini Bakery Equipment Co., said his company offers the S Series, which combines a convection oven with a deck oven with or without a proof box. It has two footprints, one 39 inches wide and one 45 inches wide. With both footprints being 37.5 inches deep, two or three ovens can fit into the space of a traditional supermarket oven.

Velez also said MIWE is working to receive approvals to show that their ovens use 12% to 15% less energy than others on the market. He said one energy-saving element is an eco-mode that saves energy while still being ready to bake when needed.

In terms of new oven products to be introduced in the future, Baxter said Belshaw Adamatic is currently working to produce convection ovens with self-wash capabilities as well as deck ovens with a deck loader.


Purchasing considerations

Overall, Mathis said ease of use, performance, reliability, and after-sale support are among the biggest considerations for bakery operators looking to purchase ovens. He noted other important considerations for a grocery retailer when purchasing ovens includes the company’s domestic manufacturing capabilities. If the oven manufacturer has operations in the United States, it can react faster and will not need to ship parts from overseas.

Jacoby also noted the continued use of frozen products for bake-off as opposed to making fresh-baked goods on the premises is another trend in grocery-store bakeries that factors in as a consideration when purchasing ovens. He also said availability of space, the types and quality of products being baked, the best baking method, venting, and the ease of operation and programmability of the ovens are all factors in purchasing as well. Additionally, he said the opportunity to bake fewer items more often is another consideration as bakeries seek to offer fresh product throughout the day.

“Oven systems as they are used today will develop further in ways of digitalization, connectivity and intelligence,” Velez said.