Behind the scenes at Whole Foods' big-time bakery

- The nondescript building in a South Florida industrial park is deceiving.  There is no telling from the outside that there’s a nearly non-stop feeding frenzy underway inside.

"It’s a lot of cool machinery, a lot of hands-on," said Bakehouse team leader David McAndrew.

McAndrew led us on a whirlwind tour of the 29,000-square-foot bakery. In every corner, something sweet is coming to life. McAndrew walked fast and pointed in all directions.

"There's pies going on; cake decorating; cookies being processed," he explained -- simultaneously.

Supermarkets offer a huge selection of baked goods. So it’s not at all possible to bake it all on site. Thus: the Bakehouse. 

Five Whole Foods “Bakehouses” feed the chain nationally. The one in Florida is the chain’s newest – providing baked goods for 24 stores around the Sunshine State.

The warehouse churns 22 hours a day. It requires so much flour, it’s stored in a pair of three-story-tall silos.

“It’s pumped in by tanker truck,” McAndrew said.

Some of the finished product ships fully baked; others are partially cooked -- so that they can be baked fresh in the store.

It’s a monumental (and endless) task.

"Just in bread, we're doing about 12,000 pounds a day," McAndrew explained.

Other grocers employ centralized bakeries, too. They are mechanized marvels of efficiency. But Whole Foods says its Bakehouse stands apart because it relies heavily on a team of nearly 70 baking experts. 

Whole Foods can genuinely claim that many of its baked goods are handmade.

As he examined a freshly baked loaf, Whole Foods team leader Terry Gaum extolled the virtue of a having humans interact with the Bakehouse’s every product.

"These artisan breads are hand done,” he said. “You can't get this from a machine."

Don’t misunderstand the comparison to the competition. Whole Foods employs machines, too. Lots of them. The mesmerizing cookie slicer, for example, squirts out 60 chocolate chip pucks per minute. The ovens include robotic conveyors and timers. There is no guesswork.

The difference, though, is that before each loaf goes into the Bakehouse oven, a baker measures it with a modified ruler.

"This stick is to measure the length of the baguette so they're the same size,” McAndrew said. “Very old school."

It seems archaic. But Whole Foods insists it works – and that its discerning shoppers will not only taste a difference but be willing to pay more for food that includes a personal touch.

"They want the real deal," Gaum said, suggesting that Whole Foods is on top of the rising trend of consumer demand for more local, less-processed food.

"I think the future is here,” he continued. “And people are starting to see it."
 

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