Increased demand for artisanal breads and high-end cakes means the technology for slicing and cutting needs to keep pace

Burgeoning consumer interest in artisanal-style loaves – often heavily laden with inclusions and toppings  (see p29) – is changing the demands put on slicing equipment.

And this is set to continue, according to Euromonitor International, which predicts that sales of artisanal bakery products will increase from £682.5m in 2014 to £780.7m by 2019.

The trend means there are opportunities for suppliers of slicing equipment.

“In Germany – where our products are manufactured – we have a long-standing relationship and presence within Lidl stores and supply slicers that enable customers to freshly slice its wide choice of baked goods at their exact preferred thickness,” says Arthur Pynenburg, managing director of equipment supplier Treif UK.

“Here in the UK, Treif is driving this trend within retailers’ in-store bakeries,” he says. ,

Treif’s best-selling bread slicing product in Germany and the UK is the Primus 400. Its popularity among bakeries of all sizes is founded on its ease of use and versatility, says Pynenburg. Slice thickness can be adjusted to suit the exact requirements of bakeries, food-to-go manufacturers and consumers.

It also offers two slicing speeds and comes with a choice of blades, which means it is able to slice a wide range of bread – from soft sandwich loaves to those with a hard crust and seeded toppings, and even those that are fresh from the oven.

The Primus also allows for slicing only half the loaf, which is popular in European supermarkets and is becoming increasingly so here, as UK bread-buying habits become more aligned to the Continent. With more consumers buying freshly baked artisan-style bread daily, it can be half-sliced for immediate consumption, leaving the other half unsliced to stay fresher for longer.

With some slicers there is a risk of delicate loaves being damaged by the slicing process.

Seeded loaves are notoriously tricky to cut without losing or damaging seeds. However, machines with variable speed settings and easy-to-change blades mean manufacturers can slice soft loaves as effectively as those that are crusty and denser.

The Jac range of slicers has a system that automatically senses the consistency of the loaf and alters the speed of the pusher to suit, for example.

While slicers traditionally cut to a single thickness, or perhaps a small range, machines are increasingly capable of cutting to a variety of thicknesses.

Mono Equipment has recently launched a slicer model called the Slim, suitable for products such as heavy rye bread and typical British breads.

“The Slim can cope with hard breads and you can programme various thicknesses,” says sales director Chris Huish. “A traditional slicer wouldn’t normally be able to do a very thin slice. The Slim can make cuts from 5mm to 20mm and can cope with a rye bread right through to a standard tin bread.”

Any way you slice it, as consumers have become more demanding about their bread, bakers are demanding more flexibility from their equipment.

Taking the drag out of cake cutting

When it comes to cutting cakes and traybakes, a key issue is avoiding the product sticking to the cutting blade.

There are various solutions, including machines that place a piece of paper between the blade and the cake, separating each portion.

Other technology has been utilised to make cake cutting more efficient and less prone to waste, depending on the type of products a business is working with and the amount it wants to invest.

Ultrasonic cutting blades vibrate to prevent material sticking. They include equipment such the Reach Food Systems ultrasonic cutter, which is capable of cutting the full length of 18x30-inch baker trays with its 760mm blade.

“One of the key components is the machine’s ability to cut each product without dragging, which means the product is cut without ruined layers or spoiled decoration due to pulling, thus ensuring maximum efficiency and minimum waste,” says Ann Wells, group marketing director at Brook Food Processing.

“This makes it ideal for sticky, delicate and notoriously difficult-to-cut products. [It is] capable of cutting quiches, pizzas, sponges, cheesecakes, pastries, brownies and many other products, whether ambient or frozen, and gives each slice a clean fresh-cut look.”

Another option is a waterjet system that uses high-pressure jets to accurately cut portions.

One of the most expensive systems, these use technology similar to that used to cut intricate shapes from sheet metal. Waterjets are particularly suited to frozen or chilled cakes. “On cakes and traybakes I believe waterjet is the future,” says Mono Equipment sales director Chris Huish, who recently recommended one to Harrods’ in-store bakery.

“You can use it to cut precise shapes such as Christmas trees, apples, dragons – whatever you want. It is expensive but as more people opt for it the cost is coming down.”