Bakeries find relief through warehouse automation

Bakery operators prefer to focus on the end product. Most bakery business strategies revolve around how to make it (production) and how to sell it (sales and marketing.) What happens in the warehouse, as long as ingredient and supply inventories are sufficient, seems of little concern to most small and mid-size bakery operators.

But, what happens when your raisin supplier recalls a specific lot of raisins? Can you tell if you used recalled raisins in your raisin bread? Further, do you know which loaves contained the raisins and where those loaves were sold?

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), enacted in 2011, has made warehouse management a more urgent issue for bakery manufacturers. The act reaches far beyond the bio-terrorism defense for which it was originally intended. Tracking allergens and contaminated ingredients is an every-day reality for bakeries, and customers have come to expect accountability.

“Small to mid-size companies have a lot of pressure right now,” said Tom Becker, NorthStar Automation, a warehouse management software company. “You’re the weak link in the supply chain if you can’t prove where you got the flour or other ingredient in question.”

One solution is to automate the warehouse, tracking everything that comes in and goes out of the bakery via bar code. The Northstar system, for example, allows users to track inventory using a wireless scanner. As an immediate asset, the data collected can be used defensively to provide traceability of ingredients. Over time, the data can be used proactively to track trends and aid purchasing decisions, ultimately improving business.

Automate Bakery Warehouse

Becker admits that most bakeries would rather invest in production equipment than software. “People that run bakeries tend to work in their operations, not on their operation,” Becker said. When it comes time to sell the bakery or pass it on to the next family generation, having automated systems in place that are easily transferrable is critical. Looking to future growth, having tools in place to prove traceability is a necessity to bring in new wholesale customers and keep the old ones.

“Implementing an automated warehouse management system correlates to the saying, ‘the pain to remain the same has to be greater than the pain of change,'” Becker said. He likens it to going to the dentist: how long do people with a toothache wait to see the dentist?”It’s like a toothache to most people in the baking industry,” Becker said. “They avoid going to the dentist as long as they can. When they finally go through the pain of a root canal and the toothache is gone, they say, ‘Oh, I should’ve done this years ago.'”