The theme of this year's ABA Convention was "Believe in Bakery" — and the two-day virtual event from March 22-23 made clear the industry is doing exactly that.
Speakers underscored how leaders are moving ahead with resilience and optimism.
Spotlighting Innovation and Collaboration
"Our industry is not slowing down," said Robb MacKie, President and CEO of American Bakers Association, in opening remarks. "This past year was the most challenging in our lifetimes. We believe in our industry's innovation and the resilience of our members."
The Convention energized the baking community and highlighted stepped-up industry collaboration during the pandemic period.
"We are engaging more with suppliers than before COVID, and that's very encouraging," said Bob Villapiano, Director, Fresh Bake Division, Wakefern Food Corp, which operates ShopRite stores in the Eastern U.S. "We have forged new levels of trust with suppliers."
Emphasizing ABA's Supportive Role
Speakers cited ABA's important role in supporting the industry on the regulatory, operational, communications, and other fronts.
"ABA played a major role in helping with tools, playbooks, best practices, and other aspects," said Erin Sharp, ABA Immediate Past Chair, who is Group Vice President of Manufacturing, The Kroger Co. "It was all about let's get stronger together."
She spoke during a session called "#Baking Strong: The Power in Community," which also featured Brad Alexander, ABA Chair and Chief Operating Officer of Flowers Foods.
Fostering Baking Community Engagement
The Convention provided a much-needed opportunity for the baking community to gather and engage a year into the pandemic. Attendees took advantage of elements including the following:
- Education: A wide range of educational presentations spotlighted new strategies and lessons for the future — from technology to supply chain.
- Networking: A series of highly engaging networking sessions focused on topics such as NextGenBaker, workforce issues, and political engagement.
- Community: Virtual "meet-and-greet" gatherings fostered community engagement — as did remarks from leaders of ABA partner associations.
Identifying Future Solutions
In a convention session called "Future-Proofing the Commercial Baking Industry," speakers pointed to long-term strategic imperatives. These included enhancing technology and communications, prioritizing e-commerce, and supporting recruitment and retention in workforces.
"We need to do more work in talent development," said Felipe Velasquez, Director of Operations, AbiMar Foods. "If we develop people and their careers, the industry will do well."
Embracing Omnichannel Strategies
Panelists emphasized the growing importance of omnichannel operations in baking in a session called "Adapting and Innovating: The Omnichannel Experience." Jeffrey Quasha, Corporate R&D Chef, Morrison Healthcare, pointed to emerging strategies including ghost kitchen models, cashless transactions, and advanced R&D testing to ensure food holds up well during delivery to consumers.
Making Technology a Centerpiece
Daniel van der Have, Managing Director, Accenture, led a panel that emphasized the crucial role of technology in baking manufacturing.
"Companies that invested prior to disruption benefited, but some others played catch-up," he said. "There is one more chance to reflect and look at the role emerging technology can play in developing stronger business resiliency and supporting the workforce of the future."
Thinking Creatively About Consumers
Several presentations aimed to help the industry think differently about consumer needs. In one session called "The Window of Opportunity for Baked Goods," communications consultant Vance Crowe emphasized the important role of "tribes" of people who share values and ideas. His ultimate point was that the industry now has a highly unique opportunity to connect with consumers' communities — whose perspectives are still in flux in the wake of the pandemic.
"Ask yourselves what can we do that we haven't done before, to make changes we haven't made before, because this window of opportunity will never come again."