Lean Bakeries

Lean Bakeries

Project Name:

Applying Lean Management to a Bakery Franchise Group


Food Production Management


  • application of Lean techniques across the production platform
  • revolutionizing the approach to bakery management

Although village bakeries have been a staple of towns for centuries, little attention has been given to the efficiency of the process. Most local bakeries do a mediocre job of displaying their products or refining the procedure. A small chain of franchised bakeries across Belgium took on the responsibility of upgrading the process using lean methodologies. They turned to Zerwaste for assistance.

For food production, especially in a bakery where different products are prepared at different times of the day, just-in-time delivery of baking supplies is critical. Together we devised a plan that focused on five key elements:

  • The physical ability for suppliers to reliably deliver materials to a tight schedule
  • Relationship management across the supply chain
  • Enhanced communication in all directions
  • Regular training and professional development
  • Inventory management

Supporting positive and deep personal relationships with suppliers is vital to ensuring the reliability of delivery. Many organizations focus solely on products and schedules, but we were able to impress upon the steering committee the importance of the human element in any business efficiency process.

The head of the steering committee said it best when she stated how progress appeared once the people – the employees of the bakery franchises as well as those on the supply chain – replaced their fears with a clear understanding of what lean meant and how it would affect them personally.

Communication was enhanced by identifying advantages in the “small company layout” of each franchise. We re-introduced a formalized approach to teaching employees the value of regular brief communications, especially face-to-face, and including upwards to management.

Training was blended with cross-training. This gave employees the opportunity to refine or advance their skills while learning the work responsibilities of their colleagues. In addition to ensuring that other employees can fill the role of an absent person, it delivers a collective understanding, which contributes greatly to quality of workmanship.

“Across the counter,” training gave employees a renewed awareness of customers’ expectations and experiences, while providing expertise into how to manage complaints and exceed customers’ expectations.

The lean inventory management process significantly changed the baking process, from preparing and then freezing a week’s worth of products – a space and energy intensive method – to JIT baking in which products were delivered to retail stores during the night.

  • Demand for products and supplies was managed by three approaches depending on the item. Commercial products with SKUs used an inventory replenishment request system triggered by scanning at the point of sale.
  • A kanban card system was introduced to manage backroom inventory
  • Stock forecasting was used to anticipate spikes in demand based on past events – football games and national holidays, for example.

Finally, end-of-day unsold goods inventory is used to refine the inventory forecasts. Unsold food is donated to local food banks, and the objective of no more than “10% unsold” is rigorously pursued and measured.

A combination of people-focused activity and refined Lean procedures has allowed for immediate increases in delivery efficiency, customer satisfaction and improved economics.

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