Bakers Journal

Fresh Trends: Process innovation secrets

November 13, 2008
By Michelle Brisebois

If you ever meet someone from a large company like General Electric or Motorola who says their title is “Master Black Belt,” there’s no need to dive under the nearest coffee table.

If you ever meet someone from a large company like General Electric or Motorola who says their title is “Master Black Belt,” there’s no need to dive under the nearest coffee table.

These folks are trained experts in a field called process innovation. At its core, process innovation is about eliminating defects by understanding, measuring and improving processes. In shorthand, these companies are able to make better products at a lower cost, which in turn leads to enhanced profits.

Never before has the bakery industry needed to embrace this philosophy more. Costs for ingredients are rising, the minimum wage is always inching upwards and a tight economy means customers aren’t going to be looking for prices to go up … au contraire. When the top line is being squeezed the only place to go is the bottom line and streamlining your business operating systems is one area worth focusing on. But wait – aren’t these fancy programs just for Fortune 500 companies? How can small businesses even know where to begin?


General Electric is a conglomerate – a large company comprised of many different smaller companies. Most conglomerates traditionally struggled under their massive inefficiency and weight while GE thrived. It’s largely believed that GE’s success came because it operated like many small companies and remained nimble and able to adapt to changing markets. As a small business, you already have flexibility as an advantage, so view this as giving you a leg up over the big guys.

A form of process innovation known as Six-Sigma (a statistical term referencing 99.9997 per cent efficiency) has already been implemented in the baking industry by Maidstone Bakeries of Brantford, Ont. In a November 2007 press release Maidstone declared: “By identifying areas of production waste and leftover dough and oil, Maidstone eliminated 80 per cent of the waste, improved its environmental efficiencies and saved significant dollars in the process. While many companies avoid changing their quality management methodologies because of the perceived investments in time and money, Maidstone has proven that the transition has already paid for itself tenfold.”

Production is a logical place for you to begin as well. Take one product per day and review the production steps with a fresh eye – watch your team as they go about their work. Are there multiple trips for ingredients? Is the staging area close to the mixer? Could similar base dough be used in different products? How much waste do you get in an average week?

Bakers by nature take pride in making everything from scratch but ask yourself if everything on your product list must be made from scratch. Perhaps lower volume products that still sell fairly well, but aren’t signature items, could be produced using a top-quality frozen dough? This might lower ingredient spoilage and waste. It might also free up valuable mixer time and power to make products that truly define your business as unique.

Perhaps another bakery owner in a different market would let you observe how they do things in case there are “best practices” that can be shared. Any professional Six Sigma Black Belt will tell you that SWIPE stands for “steal with integrity and pride from everywhere” and best practices are supposed to be shared.

Your team, merchandising and point-of-sale (POS) systems can provide other areas of “found money.” Is pricing clearly displayed to the customer and the team member? As Bakers Journal online reports, Marc Tilkin, general manager of La Baguette & L’Echalote on Vancouver’s Granville Island, says that with his new POS system, “because correct prices are now charged each time, the store collects $600 more per week selling exactly the same products in the same quantities to the same customers. This is literally ‘found money’ that we did not collect before because of errors. This improvement alone has paid for the price of the system.”

This is process innovation in action. While investing in a brand new POS system may not be in the cards immediately for you – ensuring that staff are ringing up correct prices by creating a cheat sheet with pictures of the products and pricing will go a long way toward ensuring you get your deserved profit. You will also want to make sure that you have your strongest team on deck when it really counts. Those long Saturday morning queues need to be served by staff who can take care of them quickly and confidently. Sometimes the more seasoned team members will want to avoid working weekends – they may reason that they’ve earned it after years of service. Make sure that these veterans understand how important their experience is to the efficiency of the operation especially at peak traffic times.

Your brand is your reputation. It’s what customers say about you behind your back. Call it process innovation, Six Sigma or efficiencies – it’s all about providing better service and that’s your true and most profitable point of difference.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands and can be reached at

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