The Salzbäcker GmbH in Rullstorf near Lüneburg has invested in a new wood-fired baking oven. Managing Director Thomas Wiechel aims to use this plant and his concept to set himself apart from competitors.
The deposits of the 250 million-year-old Zechstein Sea near Lüneburg are relatively close to the ground surface. People were able to mine the salt with simple tools at an early date in the past, and salt extraction has determined the life of the City of Lüneburg since the 12th century. The municipality of Rullstorf, population nearly 2,000 and quite close to the Hanseatic City of Lüneburg, is where Managing Director Thomas Wiechel operates the Salzbäcker GmbH company. The baker chose the name to underline the connection with the region. The Managing Director took over the production site with around 56 employees in 2010. The bakery grew progressively until today it has approx. 160 staff and 19 branches.
In this process, Wiechel focused on the themes of “Region” and “Being Different”. For example, regional suppliers provide the milk products, honey, sausage for the snacks or the eggs. Thomas Wiechel says “It does require effort, and you have to buckle down to it.” For example, finding a supplier in the region who is able to deliver 40,000 fresh free-range eggs per month is certainly a challenge. The bakery also supports the local football club and other social projects.
A professional wood-fired oven
Managing Director Thomas Wiechel regards the newly purchased wood-fired baking oven as a highlight in the production department. The three-deck oven has a baking area of around 10.8 m2. A total baking area of approx. 120 m2 is available to the production department staff. Wiechel explains that “The new oven and its wood pellet firing system did initially fill us with respect, but it now gives us a lot of pleasure.” The bakery roof had to be opened to install the oven, and a crane hoisted the one-ton plant into the bakery. The Holzofenprofi GmbH company was responsible for the project, and technical supervision was provided by Walter Schmidt. The Holzofenprofi GmbH company collaborates very closely with the Kornfeil company, where Schmidt has been Sales Manager for Germany for nearly three years.
The Profi oven is heated using pressed beech-wood pellets left in their natural state, which are stored in a Tervira silo with a capacity of around eight tons. The silo is connected to the oven by a stainless steel pipe around 30 meters long. A suction process transports the required amount of pellets directly to the oven. Walter Schmidt explains that “We would even be able to install pipework more than 50 meters long. In this case we use very high-quality material, because the friction of the pellets would attack the material.” Eight tons of beech-wood pellets lasts the Salzbäcker bakery for around four weeks, during which the oven operates for an average of six hours per week.
The modular flame system, for which a patent application has been filed, is used here and ensures that heating-up times are complied with and higher baking temperatures are achievable. The system automatically compensates for fluctuations in pellet quality, and results in uniform heating rates for each product. The oven operator specifies when he wants to load the oven, and that’s all he needs to do. It means he can load the oven precisely on time.
According to Managing Director Thomas Wiechel: “Working with a wood-fired oven is rather different compared to a conventional oven, but the results have convinced us.” For example, the oven had to be burned-in for around two weeks after installation, and the fireclay bricks in the oven’s interior changed color from terracotta to almost white.
In day-to-day operation, the heating-up phase is followed by cleaning. The combustion chamber is cleaned automatically. A vacuum cleaner frees the oven chamber from any possible ash residues. The emphasis here is on the guiding principle for wood-fired oven bread, and the system abides by it. The newly-developed products, e.g. wood oven crust, have been well received by customers. For example, the bread’s strong flavor and succulent crumb are its characteristic features (70% spelt / 30% rye with sourdough), and it weighs 750 grams. Its selling price is EUR 3.75.
The newest product is the Holzi’s bread roll. This small baked product is made up by hand and consists of 100% French wheat flour. Dough ripening time is more than 24 hours. The bread roll’s selling price is EUR 0.80. The plan is for it to be followed soon by a tray cake. For this, Managing Director Thomas Wiechel wants to invest in trays with a rim 5 cm high and no rail. The purpose of this is to keep the cake in the tray and prevent contamination of the wood-fired oven and/or the fireclay bricks.
One of the bakery’s mottos is: Back to the Origins! No artificial flavorings and synthetic additives are used. According to Wiechel: “We use only genuine vanilla and lemon. We also combine other spices to yield unique compositions, e.g. cardamom, fennel, caraway and aniseed to name just a few.” The staff cook vanilla or poppy-seed fillings themselves. The confectioners use freshly strained fruits for cream-cakes and gateaux. The Managing Director is convinced that “This makes us unique in the region, and everyone can taste the difference.” Another special feature: trainees receive double pay, to inspire young people for the baking profession. The bakery also grants trainees a subsidy towards their driving license if a trainee achieves a good exam result.
As well as new ovens, Salzbäcker has also invested in new refrigerated surfaces. For example, the new freezer cell (19 meters wide and 6 meters deep) provides space for 118 oven racks. The plant is loaded by an Ungermann device on the First-in-First-out principal, for which an occupation plan shows the employees where the racks must be driven to. According to Managing Director Wiechel: “Overall, we have created a very good basis for further growth on the existing area.” The plan for the future is for the confectionery to expand to enable even greater differentiation from competitors.