Baking science offers huge market opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs at all levels in the trillion-dollar industry of breads, pastries, and muffins.
BAKERpedia’s Lin Carson uses the fundamentals of food science to research and develop solutions for a host of issues. They address variables such as shelf life, texture, profitability, production, storage, packaging, and sanitation. Each of these variables can be improved through baking science.
Early in her career, she was looking for information to improve a particular process. She simply couldn’t find it. Eventually, she determined much of the company’s information was stored in the heads of the senior workers. In general, she realized, people were unwilling to share the information, especially with someone with a PhD on the low end of the seniority track.
“The top guy had the information in his head,” Carson said. “He wouldn’t share. He refused to share. Back in the early 2000s, there was still this mentality that knowledge is power and that I needed to stay in line.”
Her undergraduate degree in Food Science & Technology from Ohio State University, as well as her masters and PhD from Kansas State University, told her different.
And her first experience as an entrepreneur offered a similar message.
“My first company was a bread café in Denver that failed miserably because I wasn’t doing the right things,” Carson said. “I learned so much from that journey. That’s why, this time around, I’m successful in my journey. Experience.”
The process of growing a brand sparked her second entrepreneurial adventure, the baking science-focused, online resource BAKERpedia.
Any national brand food brand starts life as a local name. Given the right conditions, it can expand into a regional brand before, one way or another, going national. Carson cited her experience with Dave’s Killer Bread as an example of this transition.
“The journey sometimes requires a couple generations, or a lot of equity money,” Carson said. “With money, you can really scale up [the process] of having a good quality product and the ability to produce this good quality product 24/7 throughout your distribution. That’s a lot of moving pieces. It comes down to money and brand.”
“I believe startups innovate,” she continued. “Big companies, their job is to acquire and fine tune the processes of the innovators. The big bakers who acquire these smaller brands are actually doing us a favor. They are acquiring innovative, startup brands and rejuvenating the pipeline.”
Carson predicts this ongoing rejuvenation – using baking science to create opportunities for innovation – will give the consumer easier access to higher quality products sooner at a lower cost.
“For me, personally, paying $8.00 for a loaf of bread is too much,” Carson said. “And I don’t want the $1.00 per loaf stuff. I want good $3.00 to $4.00 loaves. I’m about making these [high-nutrition] products affordable at a mass scale. If people can’t afford it, they are not going to buy it. If there is no demand, there will be no supply.”
Which brings us back to her second entrepreneurial adventure.
Carson created BAKERpedia in response to the gatekeepers and information silos she viewed as an industry-wide problem. The site offers free technical and scientific information to wholesale and industrial bakers. Its goal is to reduce the overall costs of mass producing quality bakery products.
BAKERpedia officially launched in 2014, followed by three years of trying to break through. The industry was extremely hesitant to acknowledge her business model. Will advertisers cover the cost of offering free information to producers? Similarly, the industry was unsure what to make of Carson and all her titles – Asian American, female, mother, business owner, PhD.
“It was tremendously difficult to get the word out,” Carson said. “It has been an uphill battle.”
Relentlessly, Carson pushed past the misconceptions with an unrelenting use of social media, a constant schedule of promotion and outreach. Her long-term goal? Balance the costs of a healthful, affordable loaf of bread (or similar baked goods.)
“There was a lot of hustling,” Carson said, “just to break down the barriers.”
Now, with more than two million page views annually, BAKERpedia has found its audience. It has also found the sponsors needed to keep the information flowing.
Tools for growth
On the subject of rising above obscurity, Carson strongly recommends the use of social media by women. It offers nearly unlimited opportunities to advocate and advertise. It can be especially important when launching a new business.
“The basic definition of an entrepreneur is a creator, an innovator, a maker who is able to create a business out of their ideas,” Carson said. “Whether it is profitable can be arguable. But, every entrepreneur knows how to run a business. It’s a scary thing to do and you are not guaranteed a paycheck.”
Social media introduced Carson to new technology. It also helped establish the relationship opportunities which made her successful. She recommends paying close attention to technology as it applies to your landscape.
“Technology moves fast,” she said. “Today’s apps and SaaS tools facilitate the team building process. But, if you take away the tech tools, I believe the secret is relationships [and] understanding how to form those relationships and understanding how to make those people trust you – by delivering, of course. You have to deliver on your promises. I think that’s basic in any business.”
Simply put, baking science creates opportunities for innovation. The next big horizon is food biotechnology, the understanding of the physical and chemical properties of food components and being able to utilize those properties in a mass production scenario.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there,” Carson said. “I think the biggest innovations and opportunities lie in enzymes … understanding them and reproducing them in a big vat. Not too many people are good at that.
“If you can develop an enzyme to eliminate mold in bread and if you can reproduce it for the multi-trillion dollar bakery market, your future is set.”