Incredible Bread Machine

I thought this was ironic....

Germany--Standing in Aisle 1 of a local Aldi supermarket, between the €2.59 ($3.62) bottles of sparkling wine and the packaged bread, German master baker Wolfgang Schäfer is in enemy territory.

The third-generation baker lobs 15 cents into the massive, beige-colored automat before him, presses a button and cocks his ear to the machine for any clues to what's transpiring inside. Almost instantly, a warm wheat roll plunks into the bin below.

"Not even two seconds," says the 55-year-old Mr. Schäfer, who had switched out of a white shirt embroidered with his family bakery's insignia into a less conspicuous checkered button-down for the stealth fact-finding mission. "Whatever goes on in there, it's certainly not baking."

What exactly does happen inside the automats has become a matter of dispute between Aldi Süd, a discount supermarket chain, and most of Germany's 15,000 traditional bakeries, since the company began installing the machines in hundreds of its German stores this year. The automats are emblazoned with the word Backofen, or "baking oven," and pictures of bowls of whole grain and bouquets of wheat. Aldi markets the rolls and bread the machines dispense as "fresh out of the oven--direct into the bag."

But to thousands of German bakers, Aldi's freshness claim is half-baked. Worse, they charge, it misleads customers who might equate the German discounter's baked goods with the bread they and their employees knead, shape and bake through the wee hours of every morning.

The German Bakers' Confederation, steward of the country's centuries-old bread-making tradition, is taking Aldi Süd--one of the two companies that make up the Aldi empire--to court on claims of deceptive advertising. Aldi Süd says it rejects the claims in the lawsuit.

...in the context of this (see part IV)

This is a legend of success and plunder
And a man, Tom Smith, who squelched world
hunger.
Now, Smith, an inventor, had specialized
In toys. -So, people were surprised
When they found that he instead
Of making toys, was BAKING BREAD!

The way to make bread he'd conceived
Cost less than people could believe.
And not just make it! This device
Could, in addition, wrap and slice!
The price per loaf, one loaf or many:
The miniscule sum of under a penny....

If you never have read the whole poem, do so.  In concludes thus:

Price too high? Or price too low?
Now, which charge did they make?
Well, they weren't loath to charging both
With Public Good at stake!
In fact, they went one better They
charged "monopoly!"

No muss, no fuss, oh woe is us,
Egad, they charged all three!
"Five years in jail," the judge then said.
"You're lucky i's not worse.
Robber Barons must be taught
Society Comes First!"

Now, bread is baked by government.
And as might be expected,
Everything is well controlled;
The public well protected.
True, loaves cost a dollar each.
But our leaders do their best.
The selling price is half a cent.
(Taxes pay the rest!)

  • Linda Morgan

    Ha! Given all the news about the dough they plan to create from scratch, I thought for sure the headline here referred to the Fed!

    I look forward to reading the whole poem. For some reason just now, though, my incredible computing machine failed to crack open the pdf. Later then.

  • John O.

    This can be easily defeated in court as the automatic oven has a patent. The patent can then be examined by any person who knows the laws of thermodynamics to verify it really does bake the bread in less than two seconds. Then it could be easily demonstrated by observing the operation of the oven; either with its encasing panels removed or with a camera that could withstand the temperatures required, or any other method that allows one to see the internal parts of the machine.

    The assumption the trade group is operating on is that the bread "really isn't" being baked in any sense but instead instead being faked by having already baked breads in the machine. But that argument will be proven wrong once the machine is observed which is why Aldi South can win merely by demonstrating basic facts about the oven.

    However the truth is that the court will side with the trade group because they mere concept of baking something in under 2 seconds is "impossible" and rule that baking bread requires some arbitrary length of time. The court's ruling will require competitors who's similar ovens bake bread within 10, 15, or 30 seconds to be in violation too because the court will require some amount of time that's more in line with traditional baking.

    Then in the end the court will make Aldi South a little bit more poorer and the bakers trade group a little bit more richer at the expense of every body else who does business with either groups. Its a shame that people refuse to open their minds and go this far to protect old traditions instead of adapting them.

    -- John O.

  • DrTorch

    It's a legit question to ask. Just like McArdle asks. Is the machine really baking bread? Or just re-warming buns?

    It's not unheard of that businesses "exaggerate" their claims.

  • John O.

    Warren,

    You might like this YouTube video!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycGRERrGsMo

    -- John O.

  • Sourdough nut

    Uh, John... have you ever baked a loaf of bread?

  • me

    Now, what I really want to know is, when will these come to my neighborhood Trader Joe's? :)

    That aside, bread is a big deal in Germany. Don't even try to understand this if you don't have the cultural background... the NYT equivalent in Germany ("Die Welt") is doing a huge article on the same topic.

  • Emil

    In the upstream article: "even most of the salespeople behind the traditional bakery counter, train for at least three years to join the craft" ... wtf ... that's where most of the price of bread goes, in paying back those "at least three years" of training.

    That's how Germany got that huge emigration wave after 1860: those that could not buy their way into the guild system bought the boat ticket ... and those that could not afford the boat went by train to Rumania ...

  • Emil

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,727342,00.html

    "The reasons listed by the OECD are simple. On the one hand, German society is aging quickly. Its birth rate is nowhere near high enough to replace the number of people entering retirement age. On the other, immigration to Germany has stagnated, with the country having experienced a net population loss in recent years as a result of emigration. " ... duh ... when immigrants start to leave, it's time to think things over ...

  • Mark

    @Emil,

    If you do go to a bakery in Germany, at most of them the bread tastes incredible. I agree that the germans have a thing for crafted bread.

    Two seconds? I think it may be possible, but I would guess the bread is like unfinished rolls you can buy in the supermarket and crisp for 10 minutes in the oven. There is a quartz heating technology which can bake pizza in about a minute. I wouldn't be surprised if that technology is used to finish the partially baked bread in just a few seconds.

  • Emil

    @Mark,

    "If you do go to a bakery in Germany, at most of them the bread tastes incredible." ... then why are they afraid of a dumb machine ? Boxed cookies are sold everywhere in the world, and there are still lots of patiseries out there ... unless that dumb machine can make the bread as tasty as theirs.

    The original article says it in clear:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304510704575562152983070566.html

    -- A large industrial baker supplies the already shaped dough, which is partially baked outside the machines, the company wrote. Once inside, a "lengthy build-up of heat allows the flour to gelatinize…therefore a baking process is taking place," Aldi Süd added. "The goods are not merely being 'browned.'" --

    Half-done loaves are loaded in the machine where they are heated and kept hot ("lengthy build-up of heat") but probably in a sealed container so the bread won't dry out, then when the customer pushes the button one loaf is taken out and "finished" with a flash of higher temperature in a ventilated space that allows the crust to harden.

    You can try bread baking at home ... a good enough "bread machine" should not cost you more than 100$, and you'll see the taste is in the ingredients and does not require a PhD.

  • Jim Collins

    This reminds me of Swiss Cheese. No. I'm not going nuts. A few years ago, I remember reading (might have been here) about regulations being considered in the US to define what constitutes "Swiss Cheese". They were discussing things like the number, size and spacing of the holes being used to define what is Swiss Cheese.

    Here you would have to define what is "baking"?

  • caseyboy

    Hopefully no one will attempt this automated process with beer. That would cause open warfare.

  • Jim Collins

    That would depend on how good and how cheap the beer is.

  • @Emil

    You need to go to Germany and get a Kaiser roll to see what I mean. I don't know how they do it, but I have never had rolls in the USA as good as rolls that are ubiquitous in Germany. The large pretzels are also much better than the ones here - but that has to do with dipping them in lye before baking - don't know if that would be allowed here.

    The actual loaf bread is an acquired taste, since they use rye wheat for bread, the bread is denser and has a heavier taste than US wheat bread.