Since the focus of the COVID-struck society shifted to the pleasures of food, the recent surge of home bakeries, cloud kitchens and cafes has brought about rapid advancements and increased awareness about the workings of the baking industry. With more and more people entering the industry, trying to find their niche, questions of what sustainability means for them also arise.
Sustainable spells out to some home bakers as vegan or gluten-free products; to others, it may define their no-plastic policies and establishment of green building outlets. For some prominent brands, the same term emphasises their eco-friendly processes and transparent branding. At the same time, a few take pride in ‘organically-sourced ingredients’ as their work towards being sustainable.
With so many interpretations floating around in the patisserie industry of the word ‘Sustainability’, let’s look at the most acclaimed ones and how much justice they do to the widely used term.
Eco-friendly Production and Distribution
In answer to the most commonly understood meaning of sustainability (its environmental aspect), the baking industry has started advocating a No-Plastic policy, especially in the Production Kitchens. This practice means eliminating and substituting things like plastic piping bags, cling film wraps, plastic utensils and containers, etc., for more responsible production. In a world where typically just for one cake, you might end up using 2-to 3 of such plastic pastry bags, this step becomes monumental.
The same can be said for the changes in the storage and packaging processes, as the industry opts out of single-use or non-recyclable materials for more eco-friendly articles. The challenge they face, however, is to switch to such a recyclable alternative that can enhance or support the bakery products’ shelf life.
Some successful efforts towards this goal of Eco-Friendly Production and Distribution are by cloud bakery ‘Gobble Cake’, which ensures plastic-free baking and packaging, and by the organic and sustainable firm ‘The Huda Bar’, who take pride in their 100% recyclable or reusable packaging.
Organically and Locally-sourced Ingredients
The increased emphasis of people on healthy living and eating habits has also influenced the baking industry, as many like Mo’s Bakery, Mason Chocolate, and Lluvia Bakery have shifted their focus to using organic produce sourced from local ‘green suppliers’.
This shift aims to deliver relatively nutrition-rich products to the customers and lower the company’s carbon footprints. The belief here is that usage of organic ingredients will contribute to the human life quality improvement aspect of sustainability, at the same time as dealing with the environmental impact of long-distance transportation and shipping. It also empowers the local farmers and cooperatives as it supports their livelihoods.
The industry has also turned towards segmenting the overall production process into sub-processes which means that certain bakeshops focus on producing the ingredients required that can then be supplied to other local bakeries. For example, many bakeshops have started to sell sauces, jams, buttercreams, chocolate chips, etc., to local patissiers, bakers, and confectioners. This supply chain helps reduce the chefs’ efforts to make the finished products and avoid the environmental impact of long-distance transportation of ingredients.
Vegan and Gluten-free Products
With the rising focus on healthy eating, the newly outcropped bakeries and cloud kitchens are catering to the demand for vegan and gluten-free products as their USP. In addition, they have also introduced healthier alternatives to calorie-heavy desserts, like baked seed crackers in place of fried chips or sourdough bread in place of the traditional white flour bread.
Promoting the sustainable goal of ‘Good Health and Well-being’, a few of these bakeries have also made it their mission to help people with specific allergies and lifestyle disorders to be able to enjoy pastry and bakery products guilt-free. For example, several businesses like ‘A Diabetic Chef‘ have worked extensively to create sugar-free desserts that people with diabetes can enjoy. And some have come up with daily-free alternatives to deliver this sweet pleasure to lactose-intolerant consumers.
A 100% Vegan bakery in Bangalore also serves as the perfect example as its menu offers all: vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and even desserts for nut-allergic people.
Energy Efficiency in Kitchen
The baking businesses are aiming to adhere to another essential goal of sustainable development, Affordable and Clean Energy. These businesses have workspaces where energy efficiency becomes a strong focus, from the lightbulbs switched on at the start of the day to the last whirring of an electric mixer or a dish-washing machine.
Reportedly, in a year, businesses can use 15,000-24000 kWh of energy (small business) and 50,000 to 60,000 kWh (large business). Due to this large bracket of energy usage, more and more companies have swerved towards energy-efficient lighting, equipment and induction cooking, as well as enabling proper ventilation systems and even low-flow faucets and valves for reducing water usage.
However, this focus on an energy-efficient kitchen for small home bakeries generally translates to minor changes like opting for a microwave oven which is said to use 30-80% less energy than the conventional ones, and regular servicing of appliances to maintain their current efficiency.
One of the things that bakeries nowadays really take pride in is their efforts to create a ‘Zero-Waste Kitchen’ that ensures that in no way matter is wasted during procurement, production or storage.
From indulging in the bulk-buying and ingredient-quantity estimation to finding ways to utilise the leftover cake scraps/pastry doughs and prolonging the shelf life of the ingredients and their products, these bakeries employ various techniques to reduce their kitchen waste.
A simple example of such an effort would be a small bakery in the USA where the owner had installed a little fridge outside his backdoor entrance where he would keep the leftover pastries, bread, etc., of the day for any indigent passers-by to take. This practice ensured minimum to no food wastage for his business while supporting the UN’s zero hunger goal at his level.
Many Indian cafes and bakeries have also set up street fridges outside their stores, calling them ‘Community Fridges’ to provide for the hungry. Some even donate the leftover food to orphanages, pet shelters and organisations like the Bangalore Food Bank, which help combat the challenge of hunger.
Traceability of Ingredients
Another attempt by bakeries to make their business sustainable is their increased efforts to enhance the traceability of the composite ingredients of their products back to their source of origin, like how True Elements does. Ease in such a process not only acts as a guarantee and assurance to the consumers that the product that they are buying has been produced sustainably but also is helpful to make them understand the value of such a sustainable production approach
Another attempt by bakeries to make their business sustainable is their increased efforts to enhance traceability of the composite ingredients of their products back to their source of origin. Ease in such a process, not only acts as guarantee and assurance to the consumers that the product that they are buying has been produced in a sustainable way, but also is helpful to make them understand the value of such a sustainable production approach.
Aside from end-to-end traceability, which still serves as a significant challenge, especially to larger firms where the supply chain is more complex, transparency is another crucial concern for sustainable business dealings.
It has often made the news that some bakery and food industry firms are allegedly providing misleading information regarding ingredients, nutritional values, sources of procurement, and their products. However, sensitising the public and lobbying against such issues has led firms to boost the transparency of their production processes.
Firms in the baking industry have now recalibrated the transparency of their labels, utilising methods of serialisation and digitisation of products, ensuring better traceability, engaging in open communication, sharing consistent information through social media platforms, and applying blockchain techniques. Such practice is called Clean Labelling, something The Whole Truth does.
One such effort to boost transparency would be by the Colocal Chocolate Factory & Cafe of India, where they make available to their potential customers a keen insight into their chocolate and dessert making process through their open factory tour. Through this method, consumers are assured of the quality and sustainability of the production process of Colocal chocolates.
In their robust efforts to find their niche in the ever-competitive bakery/patisserie industry, several bakeries have worked towards their distinct definition of sustainability which continues to encompass more and more aspects over time. With the overarching goal of maximizing profits and customer satisfaction, they strive towards the sustainability of their business and the baking industry while contributing to global sustainability.
This article is authored by Ishika Rawat, a patissier-in-training and a passionate writer who has worked for over three years to propagate and map Korean culture’s rise worldwide and in India. While looking forward to growing as a writer and as an informed individual, she has picked up the vast theme of sustainability, which has piqued her interest recently.
Deepa Sai, the founder of ecoHQ strategised and edited the article.