FOCUS online: Since the beginning of the year you have been pursuing a new concept as a master baker and general manager of numerous bakeries*. In three of their branches they offer day-old baked goods. These stores have their own name: “Round of Ears”.

Johannes Schmitt: Yes, it comes from “turn of honour”. Our baked goods are, so to speak, in a second round. We have been looking for a suitable term for a long time, but the concept itself has existed for a long time.

Why the intensive search for a name?

Well, the lap of honor doesn't necessarily have only positive connotations… Let's think about the lap of honor that some people have to do in school when they fail. When it comes to round ears, the concept seems to be working. Customer feedback is extremely positive.

Baker: We were wrong with yesterday's bread.

Why do they have to save more and more due to rising prices?

This may be one aspect, but not the decisive reason. Please don't make the mistake of automatically associating yesterday's bread with less value.

However, most people are likely to do exactly that. Germany is considered the number one country in the world for bread. Fresh bread is very important in this country. And isn't it a delight to bite into a piece of bread that may still be warm?

But the bread does not remain in this freshly baked state. I must admit that, to some extent, we have educated customers to believe that the availability and freshness of bread is something to be taken for granted. There were times when things were different.

What do you mean?

Talk to people from the war generation. There is a completely different basic attitude. I think of my grandmother. For them it would have been unimaginable to throw away the bread. Do you know this saying? “It is not the stale bread that is stale, but the stale bread?”

Which translates to something like: The only thing worse than stale bread is being hungry, right? You just talked about courage. Let's be honest: isn't day-old bread clearly, good name or not, a B product that is only bought when necessary?

Clearly not. Look, in the third branch that we just opened and with which the new name and some other conceptual innovation arrived, there is also a coffee area for the first time. 25 seats inside and an outside terrace. A place of well-being that is very popular, also among the regular customers who meet here. These are people who represent the cross section of the population.

“Different awareness of food”

Savings is not the main issue here, don't you think?

Of course, this will be gratefully accepted if the loaf of bread is 50% off. It may even be the reason some people come. But surely there is another one that also explains the conceptual idea.

Namely?

We want to campaign for a different awareness in dealing with food. In Germany, an incredible amount of food is thrown away. There are studies that say: 20% of what is bought ends up in the trash. Fortunately, consumers are increasingly changing their way of thinking. The topic of sustainability has become socially acceptable. This undoubtedly contributes to people being increasingly open to concepts like the wheat round…

…and accept the consumption of stale bread – according to the motto: Better than having a guilty conscience?

When I say our customers are delighted, I also mean specifically the quality. You see, when I, as a master baker, evaluate the quality of a bread, I always taste it when it is fresh and again the next day. Only then can I make a statement.

As?

Certain flavors only develop over time. Take our 90 percent rye bread, baked with three-tier sourdough, for example. This didn't really take off until the second day. It then develops this wonderful slightly acidic note. In fact, there are varieties that have more flavor on the second day than immediately after baking. In the end, good craftsmanship determines quality.

Well-made bread stays fresher longer, don't you think?

It stays tasty for longer. Our breads are generally characterized by a few basic ingredients and the fact that no artificial flavor enhancers are added. The most important thing is good raw materials and that the dough is preserved for as long as possible. With bread like this, the freshness of the second day is no longer the same as the first. But then the taste and aroma can be evaluated more honestly.

Magic of stale bread: special character

So, is it difficult to make a general statement like “fresh equals better taste”?

Absolutely. Simply because tastes are very different. And as I said: while a freshly baked bread can impress with its freshness and crispy crust, the same bread develops its very special character when it is left to rest for a while.

Are you sure you want to say this out loud? It's not that in the end customers only want day-old bread…

I'm not worried about that. Once again, the issue is complex. If you ask me personally: for me, nothing comes close to “freshly baked” when it comes to a baguette. When it comes to breads with a certain amount of sourdough, I find the evolution of flavor over time exciting.

Over time? What era are we talking about?

Good question. During the carnival holidays I was on holiday with a chef friend in a holiday home. Food waste is as big a thorn in the side of my friend as it is of me, so it was clear: what's in the refrigerator will be used up. Since I am at the fountain, he had brought plenty of bread with me and there was still some left on the sixth day. The friend had a barbecue with him. Then we started thinking about what else we could do with the bread and experimented a little. For example, we toast bread with garlic and bake it with minced meat and cheese. That worked wonders and confirmed my ability to be creative when it comes to food recycling. Like now with the grain round and basically before.

You have already indicated that you have been offering conference bread for a long time, although the name “Round of Ears” is new.

Yes, in 2005 we opened a small one-day shop in front of the bakery from where we supply our branches. This was something very unusual at that time; There was almost nothing like it anywhere else. Back then we had seven or eight bakery branches; now we have 50. But even then there were a considerable number of returns. As a bakery company, we always work with the issue of product printing. This means that you display something that you think will be needed that day.

“There are several stages of recycling”

But does that rarely work?

There remains between 10 and 12 percent, which is a standard value for the industry. What does that mean specifically? If, like ours, an average of 800 rolls are sold per day per branch, there are 80 rolls left over. Do the math. With great pleasure also for the 50 branches that we now have. Now you can probably imagine why it was so important for us to find a good solution for returns.

Otherwise, will the returned goods be discarded?

There are several stages of recycling. Some of the rolls we recover are dried and processed as completely as possible into breadcrumbs or dumplings. We can also add some of the leftover bread back into the new bread dough to naturally improve the aroma and keep it fresh. But only a part. What happens with the rest? Does it end up in the trash? Since the 90s we have supported four food banks in the region.

So it seems there is still something left.

In the district of Würzburg we are represented by the “Too Good To Go” app. A regional zoo also used to collect some. For some time now, part of it has been used for animal feed processing and part for a biogas plant. You notice that you don't really feel comfortable with it. And I'm sure I'm not just speaking for myself. Food waste and sustainability issues are driving the industry. Creative concepts are required. I recently read about a colleague who produces ethanol from leftover bread as fuel. An interesting approach. You will see that the topic of a sensible circular economy in food production will be of increasing concern to us, both bakers and our customers, in the future.

Will stale bread lose its bad image?

That would be desirable.

Would they still need the three Ährenrunde branches? Could you also offer the previous day's merchandise directly in the “fresh” branches?

We already did that, there was the so-called “plate from the previous day”. But I am not in favor of it because we want to give the topic a proper presentation. Products from the previous day are not bad nor do they go into the “leftovers” basket, but they can be presented with the same quality as if they were freshly baked.

Otherwise you would risk getting into trouble? The resourceful customer could eventually become picky and, for example, always buy fresh baguettes and always buy the day before when it comes to sourdough bread: keyword aroma…

It doesn't work for me to try to differentiate qualitatively here. I am convinced of both things. And not just since I recently celebrated by eating six-day bread with my friend. By the way, it definitely won't be the last time.

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