Canadian Packaging 
(October 2004)

The Rogers Media Publication For Packagers and Converters

For ShaSha Navazesh, operationg a bakery is far more than merely a job – it’s a life mission. The president of ShaSha Bread Co., a 40-employee bakery that turns out 11 different types of breads and other baked goods at the 8,000-square-foot facility in west-end Toronto, offers compelling proof to the old notion that quality wins over quantity, hands down, each and every time. And if producing higher-quality product means painstaking attention to detail, tradion and craftsmanship, so be it.

“At the earliest stage in our company’s history we had 30 different SKUs (stock-keeping units),” recalls Navazesh. “Now we have 11 SKUs. I took a different approach to marketing,” he explains. “I made a marketing product list and I looked at what the market demands were, what was practical to manufacture, and if there was a consistent and reliable source of raw materials to do it. We would rather be making a few good things than making a lot of not-so-good things.”

By all accounts, this change in focus has paid off in spades, with ShaSha’s market reach extending steadfastly throughout southern Ontario in recent months, with some of its products shipped as far east as Ottawa and Montreal.

“We’ve had double digit growth since we opened in 1999,” Navazesh told Canadian Packaging during a recent visit to the bakery. “We attribute this growth to market awakening, consumer consciousness, good manufacturing processes, and some very good people working here.”

ShaSha’s bread products – including spelt and kamut bread, Ezekiel flat bread, flax and soya, and spelt and kamut pizza crust – are all made from purely organic sourdough, which is baked utilizing a combination of ancient, time-proven techniques and innovative methods enabled by modern technology.

Instead of using commercially produced yeast, ShaSha deploys a sourdough method of baking that relies on naturally-occurring, fungus-like bacterial cultures, which have to be carefully developed to provide the right fermentation for leavening bread.

Such approach results in a product that provides a welcome alternative for many consumers who happen to be intolerant to the mass-produced commercial yeast, or other common ingredients.

“We are in a niche market,” explains Navazesh. “Our product is totally organic, with no additives or preservatives, which are commonly used in the industry to ward off a whole gamut of microorganisms. Our breads are fermented for eight to 24 hours to generate complex flavor and produce sufficient nutritious lactic acid to aid digestibility and extend the products shelf-life without using any additives or preservatives,” says Navazesh. “If the fungus doesn’t want to eat your bread, why would humans?”

The inevitable drawback of ShaSha’s all-natural approach to bread making is its comparatively short shelf-life of only about six days, Navazesh acknowledges, although he insists that is plenty of time for most consumers to eat up the product without seeing it go to waste.

On the other hand of the shelf-life scale, however, Navazesh points out the company’s cookies, which boast shelf-life closer to eight weeks.

According to Navazesh, this lengthy shelf-life is achieved with modern technology-namely the ST225 rotary heat-sealer from Steeltek Packaging Equipment of Midland, Ont., and a nitrogen flush mixture from leading industrial gas supplier Praxair.

Steeltek, which has been manufacturing rotary heat-sealers, conveyors and packaging systems since its founding in 1990, also supplied ShaSha with a ST560 conveyor, as well as a custom-designed gas-flush system.

Utilizing combination Teflon-fiberglass sealing bands, the ST225 machine-featuring stainless-steel and anodized aluminum construction, as well as fully-sealed bearings-came complete with food-grade belts, variable product guide rails, and an illuminated on/off switch.

With a shaft-driven sealing head, and its gear motor parallel to the rear of an adjustable conveyor ,the machine provides a broad range of high- performance options, including date-coding capabilities, a product counter, a digital speed indicator and full process validation, as well as splash-proofing, an emergency stop, a trim/scrap chute, tamper-proof digital temperature control, and variable operating speeds up to 1,100 inches per minute.

To meet its MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) objectives, ShaSha retained the services and expertise of Praxair Canada Inc., Mississauga, Ont.-based subsidiary of industrial gas giant Praxair Inc. of Danbury, Conn.

The rotary heat-sealer and the nitrogen flush delivery system are just part of close to $1.5 million worth of capital upgrades ShaSha has undergone over the past two years, which also include installation of a date labeler and a custom-made 40,000-rpm purification system, with ultraviolet channels, that works through the night to rid the facility of all the unwanted airborne bacteria.

For Navazesh, the unrestrained enthusiasm for his craft extends far beyond his bakery. He just happens to be the current president of the Artisan Bakers’ Quality Alliance (ABQA), a three-year-old, fully incorporated industry group with a board of directors and fast-growing membership, which attracted 23 companies into its fold just last year alone.

According to Navazesh, one of the group’s main aims is to build a sort of an “umbrella brand” for all artisan breads-along the lines of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) recognition now in place for the Ontario-based wine producers and their brands.

Navazesh says such trademark recognition will provide considerable marketing clout for the emerging artisan bakers by helping consumers make well informed choices about the breads and other baked products they buy.

Says Navazesh: “An artisan baker is a craft baker of the heart. This is the person who takes pride in what he makes: the person who takes that product and eats it himself.”