I started in the Baking Industry while still at school helping a contractor deliver hot bread on a Sunday morning. From there it progressed to completing an apprenticeship in 1977 and was presented with the first Trade Certificate in Bread Baking in New Zealand in 1978.
My interest in the technical side of baking really started in 1981 when working for Peter Rewi, who at the time was Technical Manager for Fermentation Industries. I was based in Christchurch and called in on all the bakeries in the South Island. To me, this experience highlighted the number of variables in baking ranging from ingredients to equipment and most importantly to the bakers themselves.
After 3 years of this, I moved to Auckland and was the Production Manager at Findlay’s Gold Krust Bakeries. This was followed by a move to North’s Bun Company, where I was part of the team that, starting with an empty factory, constructed the first purpose built bakery to produce McDonald buns in NZ. Both roles were challenging but big learning experiences and helped me decide that my future preference was for technical baking rather than bakery management.
In 1989, John Gould offered me the opportunity to do this and I moved back to Quality Bakers as their Group Production Manager and in this role started becoming involved with BIRT. Working with the caliber of scientists like Arran Wilson and Nigel Larsen was a bit overwhelming at first but I soon realized that we were all learning from the work BIRT did and NZ was leading the way in many of the areas of research around MDD bread baking. It seemed the more you found out the more questions that were raised. I remember numerous reports on BIRT projects that had extra research requested as a result of the findings.
In 1997 I spent 5 years working for Goodman Fielder as technical support to all their bakeries in Australia and this made me realize the big advantage we had in NZ with the research done by BIRT. There was some research carried out in Australia by the BRI but seemed to be done more with individual companies rather than with the industry.
On my return to NZ I rejoined the BIRT team and remained on the committee until retirement. The highlights in this period was the much closer working relationship with the Flour Millers Research Trust, United Wheat Growers and the foundation for Arable Research. Some of the work done, with Catherine Munro and Garth Gillam on wheat varieties and growing regions, showed an unexpectedly wide range of actual baking results emphasizing the need for these groups to work together. Other highlights of working with BIRT were the people involved from the encyclopedia of knowledge and experience that was Doug Leighton through to the organisational ability of Tania Watson.
The biggest change that I have seen in the industry over the past 40 years has been the decrease in plant bread bakeries where in the 70’s there were well over 30 plant bakeries, with most large towns having their own bakery, down to now where there are only 10 supplying the country. This has been offset by nearly every supermarket having an instore bakery.
Personally, my highlights have been working with apprentices over the years and seeing the next generation of bakers emerging. BIRT has played its part in this by sponsoring the New Zealand Young Baker of the Year, along with much appreciated support from the team at NZ Bakels. The other highlight has been the people I have had the opportunity to meet and work with during my career. Visiting bakeries in other parts of the world, I have seen plants set up to make only one or two products. I was envious of this at the time thinking how much easier it would be to have a market so big you could fine tune your equipment and ingredients to this requirement. But on reflection, I think having the challenges we have in NZ helps us innovate and invent ways of doing things better.
I enjoyed my time as a baker and have many memories of my career but I am also enjoying retirement with the focus on family, friends, gardening and fishing.
Prior to commencing his career with the DSIR in 1983, Nigel completed a PhD in chemistry, and post-doctoral research in non-food science fields. Nigel then moved to the Wheat Research Institute where he was able to apply his chemistry knowledge and background to food which led to him becoming a cereal and wheat-based food scientist.
Nigel’s association with Baking Industry Research Trust (BIRT) began in the mid 1980’s when he became involved in presenting his research to Wheat Research Committee meetings which comprised of people from the farming, milling and baking industries, and DSIR. Through this association Nigel met John Gould who was a strong influence in the development of his future research interests in the baking industry. During this time Nigel led research of importance to millers and arable farmers.
Over the years Nigel has been involved in a range of research activities and is proud to have had a strong influence in developing research into MDD mixing processes, the measurement of dough properties and oxidation processes in MDD doughs. This was especially important after the industry had to discontinue the use of bromate because of concerns that it might be harmful.
Nigel also completed research into the influence of lipids and was able to prove that findings from North American studies did not apply to New Zealand wheats. Nigel was the ‘the face of NZ Cereal Science’ in the Quality Wheat Cooperative Research Centre through his roles as Crop & Food Research’s Science leader for 7 years, and leading the CRC Team for CFR for 2 years in Sydney.
Nigel found working with industry people and earning their trust, and conducting research with extremely talented people like Arran Wilson, Dale Every, Kevin Sutton and Marco Morgenstern the most rewarding aspect of his career. The research started on the effects of NZ wheats and wheat processing in coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity, was very rewarding as the outcomes look to be countering much of the speculation we hear in social media forums.
The biggest changes Nigel noted were the development of higher quality wheat cultivars that enabled the industry to hugely improve product quality after the abolition of the Wheat Board, and the switch from reliance on bromate as an oxidative improver, to air (e.g. delayed vacuum mixing) and enzyme-based oxidation. Another major change was the significant decrease in the number of bakeries producing breads for big companies.
Nigel feels honoured to have worked with the NZ baking industry for 30 years and to have been so closely involved in developing industry-relevant research programmes.
Well known and highly respected baking industry figure Doug Leighton retired at the end of 2016 from his position as National Product Development Manager at Tip Top Bakery after 53 years in the baking industry. He was recently presented with a Life Membership Award by the Baking Industry Research Trust.
Doug started his career in baking in 1963 at Taylor’s Bakery (as Tip Top was known then) on the North Shore in Auckland at the age of 21. Initially packing bread, he processed through all the jobs in the bakery, receiving excellent training, and wound up in charge of the dough room in 1968. “I just loved that,” says Doug. “From then on I had an incredible interest and a thirst for knowledge and it all developed from there. I loved trouble shooting because even though you have a problem it’s always a very satisfying feeling when you overcome it. The more problems I faced the more I liked it.”
Doug’s passion for creating new products and processes saw him initiate key milestones in New Zealand baking history. He pioneering the Chorleywood process into Tip Top in 1971 when a Tweedy mixer was installed at Stormonts Bakery. Doug transferred to Stormonts to run the machine and introduce MDD bread for the company. It transformed the way Tip Top made bread. From that point on Doug was instrumental in the majority of product development for Tip Top in New Zealand. He was promoted to Production Manager at Stormonts in 1975, something he sees as a major highlight of his career. “It was probably the largest bakery in New Zealand at the time.”
In the late 1970’s he was central to the launch of the first loaf made in a large tin, which became the common style of loaf in New Zealand. Then in 1980 he introduced English Muffins into NZ. Doug was responsible for developing all the recipes and commissioning the plant. Doug says he got called up one day and told he had to learn to make English Muffins.
“I didn’t know what an English Muffin was. I had no idea. I had to start from scratch. I went across the Melbourne for a couple of weeks where they had just put a muffin plant in and I came back and we invented all the recipes and the process. We were working our normal jobs at the same time. There were only two of us running the actual plant and we were suddenly having to produce 85 000 packets of muffins a week. It was an incredible success, but the trouble was we were starting at about 3 o’ clock in the morning and working until about 7 or 8 at night. The only thing that saved us was that we were only working 5 days a week. But it was very rewarding. They were very good muffins. We were selling them all over New Zealand; people just couldn’t get enough of them. I was there for three months and then I went back to Stormonts and recruited some other people in and just went in once a week to have a look at it and come up with new ideas for recipes.”
Creating Burgen bread in 1987 was another career highlight. Doug spent time introducing Burgen into bakeries in Australia and the UK and teaching them the method.
Doug’s involvement with the Baking Industry Research Trust goes back 25 years. He says there has been a lot of value added. “The overall concept is a learning concept and the industry has benefitted very much by the addition of the scientist. It’s a different way of thinking, a different outlook. New Zealand is in a very fortunate position having BIRT. Nowhere else has this. It’s great for scientists to be able to access the funds for projects.”
Doug has benefited from time spent at the Wheat Research Institute in Christchurch, but says mostly he just had to learn on the job. “There was no extra support. You had to do everything yourself. If it weren’t for research I don’t know where the industry would be now. One example is the quality of flour – it is what it is today because of science.”
Prior to being offered employment at Tip Top Bakery, Doug worked in Customs. He took up baking as a career because the opportunity presented itself. “I didn’t sit down and think about it. In those days it was just if you could get a job you grabbed it and I’m so glad I did. When I started, the industry was completely hands on. You were employed for your physical strength. You cut the dough by hand, you tinned it up by hand, took it in and out of the ovens by hand.”
He stayed with Tip Top throughout his career, despite other offers coming his way. “There were some that were tempting but I never seriously thought of leaving. And I stayed in the industry because of the ongoing challenges it presented. I did 30 or 40 years of product development because I loved developing new products and coming up with new processes, new ideas. It was very rewarding, even though I sometimes wondered to myself why I did it because I created so much pressure and so many problems for myself, but I never stopped.”
Doug has seen dramatic changes to the industry since he began baking in the 1960’s. “When I started it was all fermentation doughs, and then we moved to MDD and that was a massive change. As a result of that over the next 20 years ingredients just kept developing and changing, and actually it’s still happening today, so it’s been 40 years of progress. When we first started with MDD you just had to pile fat in to make it work. We never had emulsifiers, we never had enzymes. Our flour was so terrible and so inconsistent, and the Chorleywood process just made life so much better. The whole world has changed, and in general things have changed for the better. The products are more consistent and far healthier than they ever used to be.
“A lot of people say things were better back in the old days, but we used to pile fat in, we used potassium bromide, and now we can make bread without either. There has been tremendous development. I’ve looked back over the years at times and thought about how we used to make bread. I’ve actually gone and made it again, and I’ve always been disappointed in the result. Your memory is clouded. The good old days weren’t that good really. You think ‘Ah that was great’, but when you make it it’s not really that great compared to what we can do today.
“I went to Paris and I loved the bread there, but I came back here and tried to make it and outside of that industry you just can’t do it. If you want something really flavoursome you’ve got to go back to the original way and draw that flavour out of the product, and you can only do that with time. But there are always opportunities. I know there is negativity towards high speed mixing. I understand all that. But there are all these different avenues for what we can do. There’s so much choice now.”
Doug advises those coming into the industry now to always question what they are being taught. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for advice. Keep asking, ‘Why am I doing this, why not do it another way?’ always question what you’re learning. If you keep looking and keep thinking it will be to your advantage. Be open-minded. The next opportunity is just around the corner. The industry is always evolving. ”
Doug sees big change ahead for the baking industry. “Everything has a time and things always change. I’ve heard some managers say MDD is the way of the future, that it’s going to be there forever, and I just think that’s not right. I’ve seen it come from fermentation, then I made my first no-time dough and I didn’t even know I could make it, so it’s going to change. I don’t know exactly what the change will be. I suspect that it could go back a little more to fermentation.
“Somebody will come up with something and everybody else will follow because that’s what happens. It may take 20 years for that to happen but it will happen. There’s also the bigger context of food production and security. When I started the bread wasn’t wrapped. The bread used to come off the conveyor and you’d stick it into wire baskets straight onto the trucks. It’s hard to imagine that today. Whether it’s the way it’s wrapped, the way it’s produced, or something else, people demand change.”
Doug acknowledges the difficulty of problem of attracting the right young people into the industry. “The industry has always battled with the perception of baking as a low occupation. It’s actually such an incredible industry. I look around it and see a lot of bakers who are now CEO’s of companies. New Zealand does very well in product and process development. People here have got a bit of that Kiwi ingenuity. But I have been particularly lucky because I came through as all these processes changed, so I’ve had the opportunity to change and learn with them. You’ve got to be prepared to think outside the square and take risks.”
Doug says he has absolutely no regrets about his career in the baking industry. “I consider myself very lucky to have had all that time in the baking industry. There have been some extremely stressful times, but the rewards have always overcome the stresses.”