Little mix: selecting kit for a small business

Planetary, spiral or horizontal, it’s advisable to opt for a mixer that is going to suit the type of product being handled. Find out which mixers are best for your business.

Alongside the oven, the mixer is the workhorse of a bakery operation. It’s one piece of kit you don’t want to break down – and one you need to get right when purchasing equipment.

But with a wide variety of options available, how can smaller bakery businesses ensure they get the best equipment for their dough?

The starting point is understanding the three main types of mixers: planetary, spiral and horizontal.

Planetary mixers are the most common, with fixed bowls that do not rotate. Most have a selection of attachments to ensure versatility, including whisks, paddles and dough hooks. They usually feature a variety of speeds, which can be helpful when making meringue one minute and dough another.

Spiral mixers are similar, but have a rotating bowl that moves while a spiral hook spins. This type of mixer is best for bread-making, and allows for good development of gluten structure, according to kitchen equipment supplier Alliance Online.

“Another benefit to the spiral mixer’s more gentle approach is that friction heat is kept low, thus providing a more homogenous mix,” says Alliance marketing manager Mike Hardman.

The third type of mixer, horizontal, is less appropriate for a craft baker, and is typically found in industrial bakeries with a high turnover. The bowl of the mixer sits horizontally and can produce large amounts of dough very efficiently.

Although a horizontal mixer may not be the best fit for a craft baker, Neil Richards, managing director of equipment distributor Metcalfe, says small bakers should also steer away from domestic machines.

“On no account should commercial businesses even consider a domestic or semi-commercial machine. These simply won’t be up to the job,” he explains.

Another consideration when selecting equipment is the capacity that will be required, now and in the future.

“If your bowl size is too large for your quantity of ingredients, you don’t get a good mix, which will affect your bake quality,” says Anita Barrett, from craft bakery Anita B Cakes in Swindon. She adds that she would have bought a larger mixer if she had known her business would develop as it has done.

Bakers who want something bigger but lack the cash to buy it outright can look at options to lease, or buy second-hand.

Liz Wilson, founder of Ma Baker micro bakery in London, which bakes up to 100 loaves of bread a week, bought her 65-year-old 20-litre Hobart mixer second-hand for £300 – a piece of equipment that can cost around £4,000 when new.

“If I had loads of money, I would probably go for something a bit more modern. But actually, this is really good because it’s so reliable and easy to clean,” says Wilson.

Second-hand deals can be a bargain, but bakers also need to consider maintenance and warranties. For example, if a product has been discontinued it can be difficult to get replacement parts.

To get the best out of the machine, Hardman from Alliance says mixers, like any other kitchen equipment, need regular checks and servicing to ensure issues are flagged early.

Ann Wells, marketing director at supplier Brook Food, says mixers will also perform best if not “overloaded” or overworked.

Metcalfe agrees, recommending that bakers use their mixers at three-quarters capacity rather than pushing them to full capacity, as a way of preventing breakdowns and increasing energy efficiency.

If this regular maintenance and cleaning is done, Liam Smith, processing product manager at Multivac, believes mixers should work at optimum performance for an impressive amount of time.

Case study: Bad Girl Bakery, Muir of Ord, Scotland

Since starting in 2014, the Bad Girl Bakery has grown to produce between 20,000 and 30,000 portions of cake a month.

It uses five Hobart planetary mixers, a 30-litre, two 20-litre and two 12-litre machines.

Orders often see seasonal peaks and troughs, as many of Bad Girl Bakery’s wholesale customers are tourist attractions. The various sizes of mixer allows the bakery to scale recipes up or down alongside demand.

However, owner Jeni Hardie said the 30-litre mixer is hardly used. “Most of our day-to-day baking is done in the 20- and 12-litre mixers,” she says. “We specialise in small-batch baking – as close to home-baking as possible in a commercial setting.”

The bakery also has four Kenwood kMix domestic mixers, which are used for recipe testing, one-offs and buttercream.

“For smaller-scale stuff, as much as
I love the look of Kitchen Aids, the kMix gives better control of the speed and I enjoy using it,” says Hardie.    

Case study: B-Tempted, London

Gluten-free bakery B-Tempted uses a ChefQuip 60-litre mixer to make base batters for its cupcakes, cakes, brownies and muffins, which are sold in a number of outlets including Morrisons, Fortnum & Mason
and Selfridges.

With the mixer, the bakery is able to make almost 10,000 miniature cakes a day, three days a week.

B-Tempted founder Sarah Hilleary says she chose this mixer because it was cheaper than other branded planetary mixers but offered similar specification.

“As a small business, we need to be really conscious of cost,” says Hilleary. “I’m satisfied with the choice of the ChefQuip.”

B-Tempted also has a smaller planetary mixer for batches of buttercream frosting, a food processor for blending bananas, and a hand mixer.

“We use a Kenwood-style mixer,” says Hilleary. “We needed it to be a certain size so that we could change the different flavour variants because we don’t make enough frosting to put into the 60-litre.”

One thing to look out for is the warranty, says Hilleary. “Make sure the warranty will cover you, whether it’s a manufacturer coming on-site to repair it, or
you are responsible for carting the equipment back to the distributor. Look at the warranty in great detail.”

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