Baking industry trade show puts focus on innovation, technology

Industry adapts to consumer demand for more health and wellness products

From high-tech ovens to packaging that keeps baguettes fresh for days, innovation is on display at the Baking Association of Canada's annual congress, taking place Sunday and Monday in Montreal.

"Innovation through tradition'' is the theme of this year's congress and trade show, which brings together bakery industry professionals checking out the newest ingredients, equipment, services, technology and, of course, baked goods.

Many of the seminars focus on adapting products to meet changing consumer demand and an increased interest in health and wellness.

"People are looking to consume healthier foods, and more natural and nutritious foods,'' said Paul Hetherington, president and CEO of the Baking Association of Canada.

For bakers, that can mean switching to organic or natural ingredients, thinner or lighter products, a simpler ingredient list and fewer chemical preservatives.

"You don't always need to put something in the product; taking something out can be just as innovative,'' Hetherington said.

The showroom floor was filled on Sunday with booths promoting alternatives to traditional ingredients: organic, GMO-free khorasan wheat, palm oil, natural sugars and gluten-free bread.

Technology was also on display.

Albert Cinelli of the Woodbridge, Ontario based baking equipment company G. Cinelli-Esperia showed off the computer programming capabilities of the company's newest oven.

For example recipes can be entered in so the oven can automatically control the baking -- all with the end result of reducing human error, Cinelli said.

Sanitation is another selling point, and Cinelli said there is a big demand for machines with new, easy-to-clean materials.

The baking congress is a chance for industry members to socialize, get ideas and conduct business. It's also a chance to see what others in the industry are doing.

The baking association estimates the industry is worth $5 billion in Canada, and there are a lot of players out for a slice of the proverbial pie.

Shawn O'Shaughnessy, senior VP of marketing for Upper Crust industrial bakery, says that better freezers and packaging and high-tech ovens mean that the gap between the freezer-to-oven products and made from scratch is shrinking.

"Baking is a science,'' he said. "The technology has advanced to where its possible to make these products with zero skill.''

Most importantly, he said, is consumers have become more discerning, and more interested in knowing what they're eating.

He says that means bakers are increasingly making products with smaller portion sizes and less bulk, but with higher-quality ingredients such as real butter.

"People want smaller portions, but something very indulgent,'' he said.

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