AI In Action: Sourdough Starter Anew

Boogie Lab, a U.S.-bound bakery concept, adds in-house tech to an age-old process. 

*BoogieLab 12
With help from AI, Boogie Lab has been able to streamline and standardize the operation’s sourdough fermentation process. Photos courtesy of Boogie Lab USA.

The acts of making and breaking bread span many cultures and generations. 

Croatia-based Boogie Lab put a modern twist on the acts, however, adding artificial intelligence technology to its sourdough fermentation process and, in turn, making artisanal bread more accessible. Boogie Lab co-founder Karlo Vulin, who studied food engineering, says the company’s tech, using smart fermentors and advanced sensors, allows predictability, among other perks, to help fulfill Boogie Lab’s product needs—both at its bakeries and wholesale.

This May, the company will open its first stateside QSR bakery, called Boogie Bakery, in New York City, where, with aid from AI, it expects to keep tempo with the Big Apple’s demand.

The How

*Headshot Karlo Vulin

Boogie Lab co-founder Karlo Vulin

Years ago, Vulin set to work on standardizing the company’s fermentation process. Measuring levels of bacteria and yeast in a sourdough starter is complex, he explains. “You cannot connect one sensor and know how much of them is inside; for now, that’s impossible,” Vulin says. Further, bakers often learn different processes. But by tracking select signs that suggest how active yeast and bacteria are—like the concentration of CO2, for example—bakers can estimate how the dough will react, and adjust variables as needed.

“You can estimate ‘OK, tomorrow my bread will take two hours to rise,’ and for a baker that’s really helping him,” Vulin says. “And through our feeding system, we figured out also the different dynamics of feeding [to] keep bacteria and yeast in different state[s].”

In the first year of implementation, the in-house technology enabled a 200% increase in production capacity without any traditional equipment additions or investments, Vulin says.

The Why

The bakery’s AI-driven technique was partially born from a mission to increase access to artisanal bread, specifically sourdough, which Vulin notes is healthier than other types of bread. But artisanal bread also carries a high price tag, deterring some consumers.

“We are talking about bread—not champagne, not truffles; bread should be a staple food,” says Vulin. “ … When you do the math of that problem, it’s because if you need a baker to prepare the sourdough, and if you need five bakers to bake 200 pieces of bread, it means that bread has to be expensive.”

But, with actionable data, the process is simplified, not to mention repeatable.

The Future

Today, Vulin says Boogie Bakery’s artisanal bread is more affordable than its competitors’ products, by up to 30% in some markets. “That is a lot at this moment,” he says. “And through further research, development and investments in technology, we plan to be even more accessible.” Within a year, the company also will open a full-service restaurant in New York City, serving other fermented products, like semolina pasta and tortillas, as well as pizza, cocktails and more.

Editor’s note: This story serves as part of a series listing ways operators are using artificial intelligence. Prior articles include coverage of AI use at Jersey Mike’s and McDonald’s.

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