THOMASVILLE, GA. — Bringing to reality the “bakery of the future,” one that incorporates digital tools that help optimize performance, at Flowers Foods, Inc. is an aspiration the Thomasville-baking company will pursue beginning this year, said A. Ryals McMullian, Flowers’ chief executive officer.

The futuristic vision for such a baking plant was shared by Mr. McMullian Feb. 11 in remarks prepared for investment analysts in connection with the company’s fourth-quarter financial results.

The bakery of the future is one of three principal goals that are part of a broader digital initiative to be launched beginning this year at Flowers.

Mr. McMullian explained, “Our three primary goals with the digital initiative are to (1) enable more agility in our business model, empowering the organization by fundamentally redesigning core business processes and our ways of working; (2) to embed digital capabilities where it matters and transform the way we engage with our consumers, our customers, and our employees; and (3) to modernize and simplify our application and configuration landscape (our ERP system) to remove existing roadblocks and support new ways of working.

“Think of our digital strategy as a key enabler of our overall strategic priorities,” Mr. McMullian said. “Successful implementation of digital will support our brand efforts, bringing us ever closer to the consumer, increase our efficiencies in operations, and deliver higher-quality, real-time insights to the team, which will in turn support faster, higher-quality business decisions.”

Calling it a “transformational effort,” Mr. McMullian said the digital initiative will increase the company’s operational agility, improvement engagement with consumers, customers and employees while maximizing the effectiveness of Flowers’ business strategies. The bakery of the future is part of this effort.

“Our vision here is to deliver best-in-class bakery performance and employee engagement through the application of industry leading digital manufacturing tools, such as real time performance management, automation of repetitive processes and performance visualization, standardization of processes and procedures across employees, shifts, lines, and bakeries, and sensor-based quality checks to improve consistency and reduce time to react to changes,” he said.

In addition to a previously announced upgrade of Flowers’ enterprise resource planning system and the futuristic bakery, the digital initiative initially will focus on two other areas — e-commerce and autonomous planning. Over time, Mr. McMullian said the digital initiative will touch on 11 “domains,” beyond the ERP upgrade.

Of prospective investments in e-commerce, Mr. McMullian acknowledged tremendous growth in this arena since the pandemic started and expressed the view that the trend will be sustained longer term.

“Our vision for e-commerce is to become a category leader, meeting consumers where they are, assuring Flowers’ brands are top online brands of choice, and supporting retail partners in omnichannel to deliver an excellent consumer experience,” he said.

The third initial domain of focus for the digital initiative described by Mr. McMullian is what he called autonomous planning.

“Autonomous planning covers everything from predictive ordering for our sales operations, to network modeling, to integrated business planning, to supply and demand forecasting,” he said. “Our vision for autonomous planning is to predict consumer demand with higher accuracy and integrate that insight from point-of-sale through the supply chain to ensure the right raw materials are on site at the right time, the right products are produced at the right bakery every day, and deliveries are optimized to achieve high on shelf availability and customer service.”

Work toward the initiatives are in “early stages,” but investments will be made toward the initial domains in 2021. Mr. McMullian said progress updates would be forthcoming.