Bakers Journal

There’s More to Frozen Than Convenience

November 6, 2007
By Michelle Brisebois

Taking a second look at making more dough from frozen goods.

frozenAre you starting to feel the pinch of the looming labour shortage? Is it harder to find and retain skilled bakers? If you’re running a business in Alberta, you’re probably knee deep already, into the challenges around growing a business in the midst of a shrinking labour pool. It appears as though there can be too much of a good thing in this case. A booming economy means most people are working and landing better jobs. Fewer workers means retail operations are running lean, and lineups escalate while service standards decline. It also means that owners and management are required to work on the front lines more often – diverting their attention away from strategic business issues. If you’re in a leadership role, and you’re doing more and more of the actual mixing and baking, perhaps it’s time to find a way to alleviate some pressure. Take a second look at frozen dough and par-baked products.

Running a business of any size is not for the faint of heart. According to American Express Canada Inc. and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 305 small-business owners surveyed indicated that most of them worked 50 hours a week, and 30 per cent put in 60 hours. Only 13 per cent worked 40 hours or less. It’s believed that this “owner fatigue” plays a huge role in the failure rate of many businesses. Let’s face it, the hockey team probably wouldn’t win many games if the coach had to keep jumping onto the ice and playing positions that were empty. Ships need captains to reach their destinations, and your business is no exception. Some operators don’t consider frozen dough and par-baked products a viable option because they don’t believe that the quality of the products will meet their standards. 

Today’s value-added format manufacturing plants are well positioned to ensure that the product coming off the production line is consistent in size, shape and performance.  Rich Products of Canada has continuously invested in its manufacturing equipment.  From frozen breads and rolls, to a state-of-the-art par-baked line, investment in technology has been a priority at the Fort Erie, Ont., plant. “There are fewer scratch bakers available, especially for smaller operations,” confirms Kevin Spratt, business development manager, Rich Products of Canada. “If a bakery is relying on part time employees who possess varying degrees of comfort with baking from scratch, product consistency will be a challenge. Frozen dough and par-baked products will ensure a consistent product, without the waste associated with mixing from scratch.” 


You may argue that while consistency is an advantage associated with this format, innovation and creating signature products are what you’re known for. Doesn’t frozen dough limit your options? Actually – not really.

Frozen dough once thawed, lends itself beautifully to customization. Try scoring the top of white bread dough and brushing on some olive oil with herbs or sprinkling some shredded cheese on top. For those operators who are concerned that portion sizes may be restrictive, there are many ways to purchase one product, yet yield many different sizes. General Mills offers Pillsbury Place and Bake™ pre-portioned muffin batter, sized in 1.5 oz. pucks. One, two or three pucks can be deposited into prepared muffin cups, to offer mini muffins, all the way up to jumbo-sized. Pucks of different flavours can be combined to create a signature fusion of tastes. Place and bake muffins go right from freezer to oven, eliminating the need for skilled labour. A large dough ball can become a pizza crust, focaccia, or two smaller loaves of bread. It can be rolled and braided into beautiful artisan loaves. Roll dough can be flattened and topped with tomato sauce and cheese for a kid-pleasing pizza bun. Even frozen cookie pucks can be portioned into smaller sizes to tap into the “bite-sized treat” trend that’s being led by companies such as Nestle, Cheesecake Factory and TGI Fridays. OK, so one SKU can provide a few different menu options. You may still need to make core signature items from scratch.  How do you decide where and when to use frozen dough instead?
“We find that operators can use frozen dough to introduce products with more expensive ingredients,” confirms Kevin Spratt. “If a cookie uses an expensive type of nut or chocolate, it can make much more sense for an operator to buy the frozen dough instead of purchasing the ingredients to make from scratch. They won’t have to worry about expensive inventory sitting for long periods of time. It’s also the perfect solution for seasonal items such as hot cross buns. Products with sales at the lower end of the range are great candidates for value-added formats. It allows you to keep them on the menu, while freeing up the equipment for higher volume items. It’s more efficient to do it this way.” 

Allergens may also play a role in how frozen dough fits into your operation.  Consider the consequence if a mixer has just blended a batch of peanut butter cookie dough, and it isn’t cleaned properly. It makes more sense to purchase the frozen dough to bake off as needed. Your ability to control the processing throughout your operation will be easier if you only have to worry about the baking and holding steps. Chances are, you would love to have more square footage for your operation, but perhaps it’s not in the cards right now. Are there mixers currently dedicated to specialty or second-tier products that aren’t really part of your core offering? Could you use a value-added format to serve this segment, and reclaim that space for other activities that might contribute more effectively to the bottom line?  Could you turn production space into seating or merchandising space? You also may wish to consider how a value-added format can let you serve your customers better.

“When it comes to sweet goods, the big opportunity is in the pm with afternoon and evening coffee breaks,” says Keith O’Neil of English Bay.  “Operators can bake more regularly throughout the day with our cookie dough.  Many bakeries still only bake early in the morning, and their shelves are empty when the customers are looking for a fresh-baked product later in the day.  Our cookies can go right into the oven as pucks, and be melt-in-your-mouth fresh within minutes.” 

Rich Products has just launched a pre-proofed pizza dough called “Oven Rising Sheeted Pizza.”  This innovative product includes yeast as a leavening agent, and is aged on the production line to ensure great flavour. It also goes from freezer to oven, or can be held until it’s time to bake. “If pizzas aren’t part of your plan, this dough still lends itself beautifully to flatbreads, calzones, and artisan sandwich carriers,” says Stuart Bolton of Rich Products Marketing. “Flat breads are very popular in food service right now,” confirms Bolton.  “It’s just a matter of time before consumers want more flat breads for home consumption.”  Par-baked breads and rolls offer the same benefits outside of the sweet goods category. There are a plethora of artisan breads and rolls that simply need to be “freshened” and finished in the oven for a few minutes. You get the benefit of the baked bread smell, and customers will potentially see the product coming out of the oven. That’s “bakertainment.”

In his best-selling book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber says that it’s a myth that all business owners are entrepreneurs.  Our businesses are born by the entrepreneur in our hearts, but it’s usually the technician (in our case the baker) who shows up every day to run it. If our businesses succeed, they grow beyond the point where we can personally control and touch everything that goes on. Our potential for growth lies in our ability to create systems that make it easy for our employees to run the tactical side of things, while we focus on the strategic side of things. We need to work on our businesses, not in our businesses. Value-added items, such as frozen dough and par-baked products, can be an important tool when you wish to improve operational efficiencies. Consistency, inventory control, reclaiming operational space and serving your customers fresh baked products throughout the day are just some of the advantages these formats can bring to the cash register. Use these products to strategically augment your core product offering, and free yourself to get back to the helm of the ship.

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