Exclusive: The Bakery Academy Talks NPD Processes

The founder of the Dutch specialty consultancy, the Bakery Academy, talks NPD, product reformulation and innovation in an exclusive interview with World Bakers.

The Bakery Academy was founded by Jos Vast in Winsum, the Netherlands, in 2009. Having started with desk research and providing support for artisan type bakers, the consultancy had its first industrial clients in 2011. A test 12sqm bakery/test kitchen followed, which was later upgraded to become the current Bakery Academy Application Center, at 400 sqm. Since 2013, it has been working outside Europe as well, starting with giving bakery R&D training in Chile, Mexico, and Peru, and later in Algeria, China, Iran, India, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi-Arabia, Uganda and Zambia.

 How do you work with manufacturers and/or ingredient/technology specialists to assist in NPD?

Jos Vast (JV): Our principle is that to spend as little time as absolutely needed on the line and in a factory of our client (the manufacturer) because every hour of downtime due to testing is affecting their operating cost.

Part of our weekly routine is that we investigate all kinds of different ingredients and trends and research how they all can make a difference and in what way with regard to various processes. As it is a very complex matter, we discuss with different raw material suppliers and their technologists about how their ingredient is being made and what kind of functionality they target. When we are developing applications for ingredient manufacturers, we sometimes even come across new functionalities they later start investigating.

Due to the nature of our experts’ work, they work with all different kinds of lines and various technology bases, some easier to grasp then others; and, if required, we will involve the technology manufacturer ourselves, to discuss their working and how we can use it into the benefit of the product(s) at hand. If this is not possible, we have developed some basic tests to assess 80-90% of the equipment’s functionality and to decide how to apply this in the whole trajectory.

What testing stages are part of the NPD process, and what equipment, process, and product formulation tweaking can occur to perfect product manufacturing?

JV: Generally, we build our projects on the following:

  1. Analysis and starting formulation
  2. Proof of concept
  3. Prototype development
  4. Fine-tuning prototype before factory trial
  5. Optional: flavor variation development
  6. Implementation
  7. Remote after implementation support
  8. Final fine-tuning

During implementation, we mostly see small fine-tuning steps in formulation due to a slight difference in processing (being either more or less efficient than on lab scale), or because the handling after baking is slightly different than briefed, requiring sometimes a bit more or less stabilizing. If we haven’t worked with the particular oven before, this will take the most time – to get a baking process which gives the targeted end result. For the most part, we have a slightly different approach to baking compared to currently baked products.

Custom Solutions

What developments will help speed up the pace of NPD in the future?

JV: We are currently working on parameterizing various aspects of ingredients, doughs/ batters, and finished product and developing prediction models in which some basics can already be analyzed upfront, before the actual baking starts. In this way, we have already reduced 25-50% of our baking trials in various conditions to high water activity products by combining science with practical experience.

How do you support manufacturers who are working on developing new products, or updating recipes?

JV:  We consult our clients in various ways. When improving or solving current product base, we exchange data (mostly based on an NDA). This data contains things like formulation(s), ingredient specifications, process descriptions, equipment type, and manufacture, etc. Based on the formulated goal(s), we can assess with our formulation software the level of improvement achievable. Depending on the skill level [of operators], we either give advice and coach the R&D team remotely or we are invited to come over and implement and train the staff along with it. New projects which are more ‘greenfield’ developments are predominantly project-based, with a clear set of constraints: once our prototype(s) are improved, one of our experts comes on site to do an implementation.

How do you customize solutions you can offer them to support new product development (NPD)?

JV: As every client has their own sets of ingredients and equipment, we always have to adapt our solutions to local circumstances. This is one of the reasons all our developments start from scratch: only by fully understanding the role of each ingredient in the processes applicable we can optimize the solution for a specific line and product.

The Work behind Innovations

How does the work of experts from different relevant areas coordinate the technology parameters and custom solutions when manufacturing a new product?

JV: As bakery experts, we understand what the food chemists of the ingredient suppliers intend with the ingredient(s) and what effect is reported on sensorial, structural or textural if combined with certain processes. That implies that we often start with a theoretical hypothesis which needs to be proven by doing the trials; if a different result comes out than expected and can’t be explained by the ingredient, we need to rethink and sometimes re-discuss with the suppliers to improve our understanding and creating result backed by science and experience.

What are the product specifications that deem it a viable product ready for launch on the market?

JV: That depends on the briefing, but mostly it includes the shelf life and price with taste.

What training can you provide in accomplishing successful NPD creations?

JV: In all our courses, we cover several basic formulations and processes, relate them to past and present and describe the role of ingredients and processes in it. By understanding them well, combined with being able to steer on independent parameters like residual moisture, pH and if applicable water activity (Aw), we give our trainee a model of the product to be produced and ways in which they can influence the outcome, and with that how to correct if anything is out of tolerance.

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