3 people in lab coats working on bread paste
  • AgroFood

NOM Spotlight - Bakery Sweets Center builds future together

With the Bakery Sweets Center, the bakery and confectionery sector in the Northern Netherlands has an inspiring example of powerful cooperation. The growing partnership actively tackles challenges around influx, innovation and image. This results in meaningful projects that also contribute to food innovation.

Take the bread paste project - not to be confused with Italian pasta - in which residual streams of unsold bread are turned into a paste-like sugar substitute. To give you an idea: it is reminiscent of caramel custard in terms of its sheen and lumpy fluidity. Students from various courses are enthusiastically working on applications of bread paste in products such as sugar bread, chocolates, cookies and ice cream. They do so in the Food Application Centre for Technology (FACT) at Van Hall Larenstein, one of the education partners within Bakery Sweets Center. The findings are so promising that the pilot plant at FACT is being scaled up. About which more later.

'The further development of this bread paste project shows beautifully where good teamwork can lead,' say Hilco Wagenaar and Koos Oosterhaven. The pair enthusiastically dedicate themselves to Bakery Sweets Center: Hilco is the club's project leader, as part of his job at Royal Steensma; FACT manager Koos fulfills the role of secretary on behalf of Van Hall Larenstein. Moreover, both men are involved in almost all five working groups of BSC. Their commitment is typical of the partnership's practical approach. 'We really want to achieve something together. Create clout. That's why no one can become a member without actively contributing. We immediately make concrete what participants come to bring, because only if we all put time, energy and expertise into Bakery Sweets Center can we make strides together.'

"We really want to achieve something together. Create clout. That's why no one can become a member without actively contributing."

Hilco Wagenaar, project manager Bakery Sweets Center

Awareness of urgency

That the bakery and confectionery sector in the Northern Netherlands is willing to commit itself to common goals is evidenced by the growing membership. In five years, more than 30 companies have already joined, from artisanal bakers to industrial wholesalers. What is the reason for this? 'Mainly the sense of urgency,' states Hilco. 'The sector is seeing an increasing loss of manpower due to an aging population, while the influx from training courses halves every year. This worrisome trend already brought several parties from the sector together in 2018, after which in 2020 the forces of business, education and government were combined in Bakery Sweets Center. Instead of talking about each other, we started talking with each other. That brought recognition, understanding and above all the insight that we can best tackle the challenges in the sector together.'

Conviviality at meetings is a bonus - "we speak each other's language" - but the focus of this business association is on serious matters, such as: training and agile craftsmanship, communication and image, research and innovation, plus achieving funding. Themes that are all interrelated. 'We see, for example, that students respond enormously to such a bread paste project,' Hilco and Koos tell us. 'Innovation makes the profession attractive, especially if you use it to combat waste or reduce the ecological footprint. That's why we as a sector are also hooking into the protein transition, curious about the use of plant-based milk products. Our partner Avebe develops vegetable proteins and through the short lines within BSC we can organize that companies and students experiment with them in good cooperation.'

Scaling up bread paste project

In addition to combating waste and the protein transition, the network organization also focuses on issues such as energy consumption, alternatives to gas ovens and working with local baking wheat. 'Furthermore, reducing or replacing salt and sugar in products has been a trend for some time,' says Hilco. 'Bread paste can also play a role in this, because enzymes convert the starch into glucose. We are therefore very pleased that we have succeeded in securing a large grant for the next four years, which will enable us to scale up the breadpaste project. This circular trajectory can really make a difference. Not only for us in the North, but within the entire sector it is interesting to bring residual streams back into the chain as raw materials.'

Koos complements him nodding, "In the Netherlands, 150,000 tons of fresh bread products are returned every year because they have not been sold. That's why with the bread paste project we're really onto something big. In the test set-up here in the FACT, students can now produce twenty liters of liquid bread paste from residual streams. We are going to scale up that quantity further, so that not only students but also a number of companies within Bakery Sweets Center can start using bread paste in products. In addition, students - both Aeres graduates and Van Hall graduates - will work on challenges such as food safety, allergens, water and energy consumption, logistics and packaging. In short, we are developing this project into a serious scale-up.'

Hilco wagenaar, project manager bakery sweets center

Equal ownership

The men are proud that Bakery Sweets Center produces this kind of innovative development. 'This is what we do it for,' says Hilco. 'This brings movement to the sector and to education. Because that basis remains essential: training people for the future. We have already achieved concrete results in that area as well, such as a shortened baker and operator training and leadership training. In everything BSC is committed to, higher goals for the sector are leading. The continuation of the bread paste project is a good test in this respect: because a few companies will participate as forerunners, it raises the question of how we deal with ownership. We are striving for an equal construction and we are discussing this with each other. Then you notice how valuable it is that within BSC we have been committed from the very beginning to a solid basis of openness, trust and reciprocal efforts. All members realize: together we get further than alone.