While Finland may not evoke images of dark, dense rye bread or 24-hour nights as perhaps Siberia does, half the country is situated north of the Arctic Circle. This truly Nordic country is home to one of Europe’s most innovative and dominating baking companies, the Fazer Group.
Fazer operates a unique baking facility located more than 100 km (65 miles) north of Helsinki, in the town of Lahti, situated just 5° south of the Arctic Circle and only one hour from St. Petersburg, Russia. The Oululainen facility is a full-service wholesale bakery that mixes tradition with modern automated technology.
The facility is the second largest of the Fazer bakeries, according to Jarmo Lappi, production manager for the 3-unit complex. This site employs 436 people and encompasses three separate operations. In addition to the bakery that houses six bread lines and two coffee bread production lines, an adjacent facility produces crisp bread via a proprietary process. According to Mr. Lappi, there is only one other bakery in the world that produces such a product, so the formula and process are kept very secure.
Adjacent to these two bakeries is the Fazer-owned, Oululainen Flour Mill, which provides fresh ground rye and wheat flours to all 24 Fazer bakeries as well as other industrial customers. In addition to the bakery’s 29 storage silos, the mill has a total of 104 silos, making it the largest capacity rye mill in the country. "This fact sets the bakery and the company apart from other bakeries in the region," said Mr. Lappi. "We are able to tightly control the quality, consistency and cost of our major raw material."
The company dates back to 1909 and maintains a 38% market share in the Finnish marketplace, according to Mr. Lappi. "The main bakery here at Lahti was built in 1962 and has had major additions or renovations approximately every seven years, our latest being the Rademaker fully automated pastry line we installed in June." Fazer has 15 bakeries in Finland, as well as facilities in Sweden, Estonia, Russia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Traditional hearty rye breads and rye-sourdough varieties such as Jälkiuunileipä, Real, Reilu and Reissumies are among the Finnish bread market’s favorites baked at the Lahti facility. "We produce six types of sourdough rye here, each varying in taste, texture and acidity," Mr. Lappi said.
STAPLE OF THE NORTH. According to a report on the Nordic Rye Group’s Web site, http://rye.vtt.fi, widely differing rye breads are available in the Nordic countries. Traditional whole-grain sourdough rye bread and rye crisp bread gained new advances because recent attention to health aspects of whole grains and high dietary fiber content.
The flavor and structure of Finnish rye breads are quite different from those of North American rye and wheat breads, and they vary depending on flour type and other ingredients, process parameters, baking conditions, as well as the size and shape of the bread.
The identity of rye bread is closely related to the bread’s acidity resulting from sourdough fermentation, and the whole-meal rye flour content of the bread, according to Mr. Lappi.
Fazer produces small rye breads and buns in addition to traditional larger ring-style breads. Products are baked slowly at various temperatures to give them a thick tasty crust. The company also produces 6-ft-long artisan rye bread loaves that are portioned and sliced before packaging.
PROCESSING PRECISION. Accuracy is critical to processing consistency in these dense breads, according to Mr. Lappi. For the bread lines, the plant uses a Buhler automated flour-handling system that precisely meters flour to a variety of mixers. Water is also metered, although minor ingredients are still weighed and added by hand. Processing
is a critical control zone because most of Fazer’s breads are quite dense and require more elaborate baking processes.
Ringed loaves are stamped out of sheeted rye dough and placed on a 100-m-long (330-ft) 2-tier Werner & Pfleiderer oven for a 2½-hour bake. "We bake in two phases," Mr. Lappi noted. "Products travel 60 meters in the lower oven, set at very high temperatures. Rows of product are then elevated to the top tier, reversing direction and finishing the baking process at much lower temperatures. The dense nature of the dough requires high initial heat, which also causes its characteristic crust."
Baked breads such as multigrain rings, rye ovals and "vagabond"-wholemeal rye sandwich rolls require up to six hours of cooling before they are sliced on Selectra slicers and packaged using Hartman baggers. Depending on variety, production speeds achieve from 3,000 to 5,000 pieces per hour.
"We run the bread lines Sunday through Friday on a 3-shift basis," Mr. Lappi said.
SLICK OPERATIONS. Sequestered in its own building within the Lahti complex, production of what is locally called "creace bread" runs at full tilt, according to Mr. Lappi. More formally named Roggen Crisps, the product is similar in to a rye crisp cracker in the United States, only much thinner with an uniquely airy texture. It is also the main export product for the company. According to the company’s annual report, exports of Roggen Crisps reached 60% of its total production in 2002.
"It is a unique fermented sourdough rye product that goes through a very quick mix, proof and remix process," Mr. Lappi said. "Deposited as a sheet, the dough is reduced to a thickness of only 4 mm (1/6 in.), sprinkled with whole rye flour and proofed
for 30 minutes prior to a 2-phase baking process.
The sheeted dough is baked at a high temperature to develop an exterior crust. "Prior to this first baking phase, the product has almost 90% moisture," Mr. Lappi noted. "Exiting the first oven at about 60% moisture, the sheet travels between two studded rollers that continuously tear the sheet in half along its length."
The top half of the partially baked sheet is conveyed toward an upper oven while the bottom half continues straight into a lower oven. Roller knives and a guillotine cut the two half sheets (top and bottom) into rectangles before they enter the stacked ovens where individual pieces are further baked to a final moisture of 4%. Finished weight of the approximate 4-in. by 7-in. pieces is 10 g (0.35 oz).
Mr. Lappi, who has been with Fazer for more than 20 years, was transferred to Lahti from a Fazer bakery in Kotka, Finland, to start up the Roggen Crisp production. "The process is much more complex than we are willing to divulge, due to proprietary reasons," he noted. "It took us more than eight months to perfect the process."
SWEET SIDE. In addition to traditional rye and sourdough rye breads, Fazer’s Oululainen bakery also produces outstanding sweet breads and bite-sized cinnamon rolls — products that continue to gain popularity in Finland as the country adopts more Westernized customs.
"We produce twisted coffee breads in several varieties, including one with currants," Mr. Lappi said. A Rademaker string line deposits dough ropes on a 600 mm (24-in.) belt where up to 15 line workers are tasked with hand twisting 3-strand loaves. Completed loaves are transferred to parchment paper before proofing. Baking is done in a Werner & Pfleiderer oven.
The newest addition to the Oululainen bakery is its Rademaker automated turnkey production line making Punokset, or bite-sized cinnamon rolls. Using several VMI vertical mixers, the sweet pastry dough is transferred to the first of three consecutive Rademaker no-stress reduction roll stations positioned in series. "The dough is not laminated but maintains a very good structure and finished texture due to the quality of the reducers," Mr. Lappi noted.
Thinly sheeted dough is cut into continuous strips that then receive a thin layer of cinnamon paste. The strips are rolled, cut into approximately 1.5-in. lengths and transferred onto parchment paper sheets, each of which holds nearly 300 pieces.
The plant decided to proof and bake on parchment paper instead of trays after determining it would be less expensive using locally produced parchments than the cost and upkeep of trays. Although it was quite a challenge for the supplier to design, the end result is a more efficient bake since there is virtually no heat transfer loss through the parchment.
Products enter the Rademaker multideck proofer using an infeed conveyor employing specialized Intralox belting to accommodate for the lack of trays. Parchments are lifted to one of the 12 decks, determined and controlled by a PLC, and transferred into the proofer for approximately one hour. Timing on each deck can be independently controlled to allow simultaneous multiple product proofing.
After discharge using a similar mechanism to the infeed conveyor, products receive an egg wash spray, then transfer to the state-of-the-art Rademaker Den Boer Aermoflex modular impingement oven for a 12-minute bake.
The oven combines high-velocity heated air with controlled air moisture to optimize heat transfer. Lower baking temperatures, shorter baking times and shorter oven lengths are all benefits Mr. Lappi and Fazer enjoy with the new oven. "We looked at a number of options to replace an older, less reliable system and chose Rademaker because of the value and quality we experienced with the string line," Mr. Lappi said. "We also received the highest level of cooperation and service compared with other vendors."
The system was started up in June 2003 after a 6-month start-to-finish installation. "Many critical pieces were factory tested at Rademaker’s Holland facility, where several of our key personnel also received operational training on the system prior to delivery," Mr. Lappi added. The system currently produces 2,850 Punokset per hour.
While production at Fazer is a delicate mix of tradition and automation, the results yield Old World Bavarian flavor and bite-size eye appeal. Nordic consumers know a good thing when they taste it, and the company’s Oululainen facility keeps them coming back for more.