How the Incredible Hulk and other tech has enabled a St. Louis bakery to carve out its niche

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Bruce Banner works around the clock. Pic: Companion Bakery
Bruce Banner works around the clock. Pic: Companion Bakery

Related tags Companion Bakery Technology Bread Robotics Automation Redzone

The adoption of automation, the cheekily named Bruce Banner (nod to the Incredible Hulk) and Redzone has enabled Companion Baking to cement its role as a mid-size bread distributor, producing 150 SKUs daily despite its limited floor space.

St. Louis-based Companion Baking has been baking bread since 1993, specifically focused on the 4C’s – Companions (its workforce), Customers, Community and Company.

The family-owned business is on a mission to push culinary limits, sourcing the best ingredients, building long-standing relationships with suppliers and customers, and providing gathering spaces for customers to pop in or linger.

It also places importance on continually ramping up its offerings by embracing innovative tech. Today the company produces around 150 SKUs five days a week, all in a floor space of only 42,000 square feet.

Customised tech

Under her remit, operations manager Suman Shekar was tasked to bring new technologies and production processes to the bakery floor.

She found that semi-automation allows for its Companions to have greater interaction with the whole production process, while making their lives easier and safer.

Another game-changers included forging a relationship with Redzone, one of the fastest growing manufacturing tech companies specialising in frontline teamwork and productivity.

Redzone opened the eyes of the Companion team for the need of an updated production process, which now enables Shekar to track efficiency and ramp it up, if needed.

For example, Redzone tracks the timing and provides ways for the team to improve their methods each time dough is made, cut or put into an oven.

Additionally, it serves as a communication tool for employee onboarding and professional development.

According to Shekar, Redzone also made the company aware of its continual over-production.

“Since this realisation, Companion has reduced its annual waste by over 1 million pounds in just 2.5 years and is making strides to go to zero waste-to-landfill by 2025,”​ she said.

Green robot

The bakery manufacturer has also employed MIWE Deck and Oven Rack Technology to assist with the climate control in the bakery.

The tech provides a venting system to extract excess moisture and heat at the end of a bake cycle, providing a better end result.

Bruce Banner has also proved to be a boon.

Shipping to 400+ restaurants, grocery stores and partners is no small feat, but the green case packing and palletising robot makes it a dream. ‘He’ is on hand 24/7 to assist with palletizing and heavy lifting, meaning that skilled labour can be dispersed to other areas of the bakery floor.

“These innovations have not just allowed for the Companions to be kept top of mind, but it has attracted new Companions to join to team due to the diverse nature of the technology and growth opportunities within the company,”​ said Shekar.

But she’s not planning to stop here.

“I’m excited about the conversations I am having with several companies abroad to bring in new technologies, which will allow for even more complex operations.”

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