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The science and craft of baking

5 min read



Kerry’s Mathias Gebhardt talks to Food Matters Live about using his lifelong knowledge and expertise in bakery to deliver delicious solutions to its customers.

Everyone knows that freshly baked bread smells wonderful. Mathias Gebhardt grew up in the family bakery in Germany, and every time he returns to visit it’s the first thing he notices. “It’s so distinctive, the aroma hits me straightaway,” he says. “It reminds me of my childhood.”

With Gebhardt growing up surrounded by the heavenly smell of baking, maybe it was inevitable he would end up dedicated to the profession, working to help perfect the recipes of baked products for the customers of a global multinational like Kerry. But although he spent his formative years eating pastries and helping his parents knead dough, his career really started with a three-year apprenticeship. Like most apprenticeships it was “practical baking rather than technical training, very much based on empirical knowledge, the touch and feel, building up that understanding of dough.” 

The science came in when his master baker degree allowed him to go to university to study food science and food processing, which he started in 2010. Today he works at Kerry as RD&A Manager, Head of Bakery Application and Innovation for Europe, supporting bakery customers with their specific product requests. They are many and varied. But an increasingly recurring theme is shelf-life extension and cost management.

Ease the pressure

“We can help our customer to build up contingency plans to mitigate the cost pressures which are coming from many angles, such as increasing raw material costs, supply chain issues but also rising energy costs, while always maintain the highest quality of the end product. This is very important for bakers in today’s market environment.”

Combatting these various external pressures for Kerry’s customers is where Gebhardt’s control of the nuances of bakery is crucial. “It doesn’t matter what our customers produce, it could be a muffin, a doughnut or a brioche loaf, they all have a certain number of ingredients,” he says. “In bread baking, the basic ingredients would be flour, water, yeast and salt, but in fine bakery the ingredients list can be quite long, up to 20 or more ingredients, some of them which really drive up raw material costs.”

One example is egg prices, which are “very high at the moment. So, in a typical muffin recipe the egg content varies, it’s around 20%, depending on the quality of product. But let’s say you have 20% of egg into a muffin recipe, that means you have 200 kilogrammes of egg going into one metric tonne of batter. And 200 kilogrammes of egg is significant when it comes to costs.” 


He says his role is to help the customer understand the technical challenges and develop a recipe which is “more cost effective without compromising on final product quality or taste. And this is where the science merges with my hands-on experience. Eggs do have different functions such as aeration or emulsification which depends on the recipes. Reducing eggs comes with the challenge to replace those functions and generally speaking, the higher the egg content, the more complicated it gets.” 

Shelf life

There are plenty of other challenges such as supporting customer to meet their sustainability targets, and he says the expertise and knowledge in Kerry’s bakery operation has produced startling results. “We know from external studies that we can reduce up to 50% of food waste by extending the shelf life of a product, we can make it stay fresh for longer using enzymes or emulsifiers by improving the textural properties, or by using preservatives to ensure the products are safe. Or maybe it’s not bread but a croissant. Those products often contain oils or butters which may cause rancidities, so we can extend the ‘taste’ shelf life of that using our flavour modulators.”

In developing a new solution, he says “we work closely together with other functions”, like technology teams. “These guys are the real experts in understanding the techno-functional properties of our technology in food applications. We have other teams like sensory, for example, or the analytical teams who help us assess the technical performance of any ingredients. This level of knowledge and expertise is where we can really differentiate ourselves when it comes to supporting our customers in providing solutions to meet their needs.”

At the last IBA in Munich Gebhardt says his team produced “thousands and thousands” of tasting samples to demonstrate Kerry’s latest innovations and they hit the spot with hungry delegates. “It’s one thing to tell a customer something at a trade show, or show them a PowerPoint, but if they taste the product, and if that product supports the message you’re trying to get through to your customers, that takes it to a different level. We have a fantastic team, and it was really great to see how it all fitted together as part of a wider complex organisation.”

But however complex it gets, Gebhardt says he still enjoys getting flour on his hands. 

“I love using what I learned from my father and my granny even, and combining it with what I learned studying. With all the experience I have built up over 20 years, I still love the smell of freshly baked bread. And I still love being in the bakery. I still need to feel the dough.”

Kerry will be exploring all the senses at Ascot this April for Tastes of Better, where you can explore cutting-edge solutions to elevate nutritional profiles, promote sustainability, optimise taste and texture, and achieve greater cost efficiency in your product development for 2024.


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