Question: I am a 1956 graduate of AIB and I'm planning to open another bakery. My old recipes from 30-40 years ago are not working right. Are the raw materials of today different in any way from that period?
Answer: It sounds like you already have a lifetime of experience! Generally speaking, the raw materials today vs. 40 years ago have not really changed with one big exception – shortenings. Forty years ago everyone used partially hydrogenated shortenings in almost every application. That type of all purpose shortening was incredibly versatile and very forgiving of variations in the bakery processes.
Partial hydro is a thing of the past due to regulations and health concerns. Shortenings today vary greatly from different manufacturers and are very specific to almost all applications. Even with careful selection there are some quality challenges. For example, it is very difficult to find a frying shortening that will hold up in a doughnut fryer the way the old options did. They get dark quickly, tend to produce more smoke, and break down faster.
We strongly suggest that you find a supplier in your area that has a good range (and understanding of) different shortenings so you can select the best ones for your applications. Beyond that sugar is still sugar, salt is still salt. Flour will change from year to year like it always has, but is generally better and more consistent quality than in the past. There have been improvements for ingredients like dough conditioners, emulsifiers, and enzymes, but if you are using old recipes those type ingredients are not likely there.