The modern miller

Bakers and millers have to cope with ever new, ever higher demands from their customers who are looking for a multitude of varieties of organic bread baked to the highest standards of taste. The Saalemühle Alsleben mill in eastern Germany holds its own as entrepreneurs in this dynamic environment – with three surprisingly simple recipes for success. At the heart of Saalemühle’s prosperity are its highly trained millers.

You could easily imagine this 21-year-old in a smart business outfit as a management trainee at Microsoft, Boston Consulting, or Nestlé. Quick-thinking and self-assured, Jonathan Gutting radiates professionalism. But instead of blue chinos, a light-colored shirt, and sneakers, he wears white work clothes and steel-toed shoes; instead of Zurich, London, or New York, his workplace is in Alsleben near Magdeburg, Germany. Instead of creating run-of-the-mill PowerPoint slides, he mills grain. Jonathan Gutting is a trained miller at Saalemühle in eastern Germany. To at least try his hand at the trade was an obvious choice for Gutting. His father is the co-owner of Saalemühle and also a skilled miller. This initial taste of the job quickly turned into a calling. “I’m fascinated by the breadth of the profession,” says Gutting.


Saalemuehle Saalemuehle Saalemühle

 “In the past, the core qualification found in job postings was a truck driver’s license, so that the millers could drive the flour to the customer themselves, but those days are long gone.”

This is the absolute exception today – the requirements for millers are much more complex now. Following his apprenticeship, which the young man completed in 2021, he is now studying business administration in Vienna. This is an important move for Gutting, because if a company wants to successfully hold its own in the market today, millers must not only understand the entire value chain, from agriculture and the genetics of the plants to the milling processes, their customers, and the final products, the baked goods.

Millers must be as familiar with raw materials, plant technology, and digitalization as they are with market trends, environmental regulations, quality management, and accounting. That’s where the appeal of the modern miller’s profession lies.

Jonathan Gutting, Miller at Saalemühle

Contributing to a healthy diet with the staple food of flour and bread is intrinsically meaningful. In his opinion, however, the fun factor comes from the breadth of the task, the new challenges every day, the handling of state-of-the-art operating equipment, and the entrepreneurial responsibility: “Instead of sitting in the airplane cockpit, I sit in our control room – the procedures are identical, including autopilot,” Gutting explains.

A look at what’s happening at one of Saalemühle’s customers – the ARTiBack wholesale bakery near Halle – makes clear the dynamics that are emanating from the markets and consumers. ARTiBack processes up to 80 metric tons of flour a day into rolls, baguettes, and bread. A few years ago, it was still sufficient to offer around 10 standard products, recalls Marc Michael Saam, one of the Managing Directors and Co-Founders. 



Saalemühle is part of the Bindewald Gutting Milling Group – one of the most powerful mill groups in Germany with an annual capacity of 1.7 million metric tons. Released from the state assets of the former GDR in 1992, the new owners have built up seven sites and have consistently focused on quality, flexibility, and efficiency. Saalemühle in Alsleben was the starting point of this development and today processes 500,000 metric tons.

Today, ARTiBack has more than 50 different bakery products on its processing lines and maintains its own test bakery in order to consistently win over its customers – retailers, gas stations, hotels – with new product ideas, new shapes, unusual ingredients, and products for occasions and seasons. To arouse customers’ curiosity, the innovators at ARTiBack always come up with new eye-catchers: “Being hungry and satisfying that hunger used to be the focus, but today it’s about shelf attention and taste sensations,” Saam says.



Using only natural ingredients

In doing so, the young company, which was only founded in 2016, has clearly aligned itself: “We combine artisanal baking traditions with industrial processes,” Saam explains. “Only water, flour, yeast, salt, and other natural ingredients go into the dough. We deliberately refrain from adding baking agents and artificial enzymes, for example to make doughs rise faster or more machinable.” Instead, the doughs are allowed to rest and mature for up to 36 hours before being machine-rolled, shaped, baked, frozen, and packaged. “This allows us to offer our customers bread and rolls with a rustic look, great taste, and sustainable product characteristics,” says Saam, explaining the company’s philosophy.



We combine artisanal baking traditions with industrial processes. Only water, flour, yeast, salt, and other natural ingredients go into the dough.

Marc Michael Saam, Managing Director and Co-Founder at ARTiBack

However, dispensing with artificial additives comes at a cost. The return to the origins of baking requires the highest quality and consistent properties for the flour on an industrial scale – otherwise the machine processes would not run reliably or the products would vary too much in terms of appearance and taste. The raw material must fit very narrow parameters in terms of its quality and behavior in the baking process.

“We can’t compensate for deviations and deficiencies in the flour with chemical additives,” explains Saam.

In order to meet the high demands of customers such as ARTiBack, Saalemühle has consistently focused its operations on quality and flexibility. And like ARTiBack, Saalemühle is also economically successful with this orientation. Released from the state assets of the former German Democratic Republic in 1992, the new owners have built up one of the most efficient mill groups in Germany with seven sites in operation today. The annual grinding volume of Saalemühle is over 500,000 metric tons, while that of the Group is 1.7 million metric tons. Saalemühle uses a wide range of Bühler products in its plants.


Saalemühle’s economic success does not come by chance but is the result of three factors. The first recipe for success is innovation. For example, the millers at Saalemühle implement the market requirements in terms of automation and digitalization into the corresponding programs themselves with their own team.

Hygiene management is resource-efficient due to switching from the industry-standard annual fumigation and instead keeping insect infestations at a worry-free level year-round. Saalemühle mitigates potential condensation problems with special aspiration and ventilation concepts, meaning that the company can even dispense with stainless steel.

The company is particularly innovative in terms of its knowledge of bakery products and products for the food industry. The specialists carry this expertise across to agriculture and, with the right formulations, reduce waste, increase plant performance, and minimize the use of additives – if they can’t do without them altogether.

Saalemühle 5 Saalemühle 5 In the Saalemühle control room: digitization helps ensure high transparency, product quality, and efficiency.

The second recipe for success: The millers are at the center of the processes. “At our mill, the millers call the shots,” says Michael Haag, Operations Manager at Saalemühle. They are the nucleus of all processes, starting with customer contact, the purchase of raw materials, the operation of plants and lastly, with investment decisions. “Contrary to many other opinions, in our business, the trained miller must take the central role,” Haag explains. From his perspective, to use the increasing investments in the mill beneficially, a miller who thinks about and understands the big picture is required. “Otherwise, it will hardly be possible to generate a competitive advantage.”


Founded in 2016, the company processes around 80 metric tons of flour per day into 50 different products – and combines industrial processes with traditional baking. Only natural ingredients are used in the doughs, and chemical additives are consciously avoided. The doughs are allowed to rest for up to 36 hours before being machine-rolled, shaped, baked, frozen, and packaged. This places the highest demands on the flour, which Saalemühle meets as part of a close partnership.

Saalemühle Saalemühle At ARTiBack, the doughs could rest for up to 36 hours.

Since these trained millers are not exactly in plentiful supply, the topic of training and continuing education plays a central role at Saalemühle, which is the third recipe for success. The six millers and three apprentices at Saalemühle initially make the most of the standard training and further education opportunities on the market – the dual training system in Germany. “We have highly recognized dual vocational training in Germany,” Haag explains.

Foundational knowledge is deepened at an early stage in the internal training center founded in 2020 and adapted to the needs of Saalemühle. After that comes work experience. “We support interested, experienced tradesmen and women if they want to gain additional qualifications with further training,” he says.


At our mill, the millers call the shots. Contrary to other opinions, in our business, the trained miller must take the central role. Otherwise, it will hardly be possible to generate a competitive advantage.

Michael Haag, Operations Manager at Saalemühle

“With annual internal training courses on current topics, we provide ongoing training in our own training workshop.” At Bühler, too, the topic of training and continuing education has been deeply rooted for more than a hundred years. To find out more read “Investing in millers” on page 81.

Young miller Jonathan Gutting has already internalized the principle of continuous learning. Even now, as he studies business administration in Vienna, he is planning the next phase of his education. “My next step is to get more involved with food engineering and biochemistry,” he says. Further study programs are already a matter of course. So, out with the truck driver’s license, in with a lifelong learning approach and a diploma. “Being able to apply all of my knowledge as a miller is satisfying,” he says.


Watch the video about Saalemühle and ARTiBack here.


Investing in millers

Helping millers to master the challenges of an increasingly complex industry means offering a wide range of training that suits customers’ needs around the world. That’s what Bühler’s milling academies do.

“An orchestra must have three elements if it is to produce good music: the conductor, the instruments, and the musicians. It’s the same with a mill,” explains Peter Striegl, Head of the Grain Innovation Center and Milling Academy at Bühler. “In the mill, when management, processes and machines, and millers and maintenance crews work together, you get a great outcome.”

This is the fundamental belief behind Bühler’s milling schools. There are four across the world: the Milling Academy in Uzwil, Switzerland; the African Milling School in Nairobi, Kenya; the Training Center in Wuxi, China; and courses on offer at the Food Application & Training Center in Minneapolis, US. Bühler also supports schools run with partners in the US, Mexico, India, and the UK.

In addition, the Swiss School of Milling, founded in the late 1950s by Dr. René Bühler, offers milling education in St. Gallen, Switzerland. “We offer training to our customers around the world, in their own language,” says Striegl. “We also send our trainers to the customer’s site, so that they can train on the job with the equipment they use every day.”

The core courses on offer cover process technology for milling wheat, durum, oat, corn, and pulses, as well as operating color sorters. There are courses in mechanical and electrical maintenance, and advanced plant automation, as well as courses for operation management and senior executives. “In the past, most mills were owned by families who handed down knowledge from generation to generation. Today, many are owned by companies and run by professional managers, so we also address the needs of new managers coming into the industry,” says Striegl. Beyond learning skills and expertise, the training is also about opening up new ideas and creating energy. 

Saalemühle 7 Saalemühle 7 Milling for Executives, August-September 2022 class: The African Milling School offers many courses, including short courses for industry leaders to teach them milling basics and the key performance indicators that drive the business.

“We have to tackle the idea that milling is an old-fashioned profession. Today’s millers need expertise in many disciplines, from product quality, food safety, and sustainability to market trends, digitalization, and automation. Our job is to support them in that as well as helping them to run their mills as efficiently as possible.”

Most critically, for young talent the training is a gateway into a career that inspires passion and loyalty. Perhaps that is why milling has a high retention rate for apprentices. “It may be difficult to bring young people into this industry,” says Striegl. “But once they get the milling bug, they tend to stay.”

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