Editor’s Note: Jonathan Davis has been with La Brea Bakery since it opened its doors more than 25 years ago. He studied at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco before taking a position with Nancy Silverton at La Brea Bakery. In the late 1990s, La Brea Bakery signed on as the premier bread supplier to the new Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Davis moved to the area to support the effort. After the casino opening, Davis moved back to Los Angeles to run the original La Brea Bakery.
Ireland’s IAWS Group purchased La Brea Bakery in 2001. Later, in 2008, IAWS merged with Switzerland’s Hiestand Holding AG to form ARYZTA AG. Today, ARYZTA LLC, Los Angeles, is one of North America’s largest bakery companies with 26 facilities supplying every type of bakery food in various formats (frozen dough, par baked, fully baked) to every channel of distribution. The company’s principal brands are La Brea Bakery, Otis Spunkmeyer, Oakrun Farm Bakery and Cloverhill.
Prepared Foods: Last year brought quite a new product development push at ARYZTA. Can you recap some of the highlights?
Jonathan Davis: 2016 was indeed a huge year for us. For La Brea Bakery, we launched La Brea Bakery Reserve, which is the US’ first farm-to-table bread available on a national scale. It’s the same quality you would find in a small, local bakery, but you can get it in the grocery store or on Amazon Fresh, which is really groundbreaking.
We created three flavorful loaves, using our original starter with heirloom grains. It’s been a really special project that I know everyone at La Brea Bakery is really passionate about. We’ve also grown in terms of distribution, with some of the frozen rolls becoming available at Walmart locations.
We had an equally exciting year for Otis Spunkmeyer, as 2016 marked the first time the iconic brand was available in retail locations nationwide. Our “No Funky Stuff” line (items made with no artificial flavors or colors, no high fructose corn syrup and no partially hydrogenated oils) has a range of 20 different sweet snacks that come individually wrapped. We’ve seen a lot of success with these, and the “better for you” angle is definitely gaining momentum in the sweet snacks space.
PF: La Brea Bakery also has introduced a few new gluten free foods. Can you talk about developing that line?
Davis: Developing a gluten free bread for La Brea Bakery was a close, personal issue for me. I have family members who have to adhere to a gluten free diet, so it was important for me that we create a gluten free bread that actually tasted good.
We worked for months to find the right combination of ingredients that yielded a bread with the right texture and taste, because at the core, La Brea Bakery strives to make delicious bread. The resulting gluten free breads are moist and flavorful.
We currently offer gluten free White Sliced Sandwich Bread and Multigrain Sliced Sandwich Bread. As we look ahead to 2017, we are hoping to expand our gluten-free options into different sandwich platforms like individual rolls and possibly extend to sweet goods.
PF: So let’s look back for a moment and take a broader view. What can you say about the R&D leading up to so many new items in 2016?
Davis: These new foods took many years of planning and development. The initial ideas and first concepts were developed in 2014. When we have new items utilizing new capabilities, it’s necessary to plan that far in advance.
PF: Can you share a background story with us? How did you address a significant challenge along the way?
Davis: For La Brea Bakery Reserve, we needed to create specific crops that were not available in quantity. In this case, that meant growing Fortuna Wheat in Big Sky, Mon. We really needed to plan far in advance to ensure supply of these specialty ingredients. In other cases, we had to build capabilities that were not there before, such as new packaging and process capabilities.
PF: Looking back now, what are you most proud of?
Davis: I am most proud of our bakery team members as they represent our vision day-in and day-out with quality and consistency.
PF: What can you say about behind-the-scenes teamwork among your various departments?
Davis: It’s never just one group that brings things to market. It’s always a collaboration. So, respect for everyone's perspective (and efficiently working together) will ensure that we have the best foods for our consumers.
PF: ARYZTA is a global company. In what ways do you share, adapt new food ideas, innovation, from sister units abroad?
Davis: We are in constant communication, and we highlight company wins and innovation both from in person meeting, video conferencing and internal communications. With providing foods to so many global companies, we need to make sure ARYZTA as a whole knows what each other are doing at all times.
PF: Can you give us a peek at what’s ahead for 2017 and 2018? How can you build on last year’s success?
Davis: We have several exciting new endeavors for 2017 and 2018. In 2017, we’ll celebrate the 40th anniversary for Otis Spunkmeyer. We’re really excited to share the story of the brand over the past 40 years. Otis Spunkmeyer has evolved and grown in retail, wholesale, and foodservice operations.
The brand paved the way in so many respects, pioneering the portable and affordable fresh baked cookie program, finding an untapped niche that proved to be enormously popular in foodservice facilities. From there, as we know, it has grown into retail, so it really is a true testament to the massive opportunity that exists for brands in the industry.
For La Brea Bakery, we’re excited to expand into snacks. We have La Brea Bakery Crisps on the horizon, which are a really delicious snacking chip. We anticipate a lot of excitement around this new item in the industry.
We also plan to further expand the La Brea Bakery Reserve foods, bringing heirloom grains to foods beyond just bread. We’ve also been expanding our frozen rolls into Wal-Mart locations, making these breads even more accessible nationwide, and in December began offering frozen rolls in Ontario, Canada, as well. It’s absolutely going to be an exciting time ahead for both Otis Spunkmeyer and La Brea Bakery.