Brad Alexander couldn’t have predicted that his tenure as the new Board Chair of American Bakers Association would begin during a pandemic.
Unlike past ABA chairs, Alexander, the Chief Operating Officer of Flowers Foods, was elected during a “virtual” All Membership Meeting. That was driven by the cancelation of the in-person convention in the wake of the unprecedented coronavirus crisis.
However, even in the midst of extreme industry disruption, Alexander, a veteran of almost 40 years with Flowers, points to new opportunities for bakers.
During the ABA podcast Bake to the Future, Alexander saluted the industry’s resilience and urged leaders to think creatively as the country turns attention to opening back up. He touched on topics including e-commerce, workforce, the future of bread, and connecting with younger generations of consumers.
“We've got to continually look at where the consumer is and make sure that we have products that fulfill their needs,” he said.
Alexander was interviewed on the podcast by Katie Juhl, ABA’s Director of Communications and Marketing, and Hailey Blumenreich, Marketing and Communications Coordinator.
Goals for New ABA Role
In many ways Alexander is the ideal ABA Chair for such an unprecedented time. His long industry tenure and involvement with ABA provide unique advantages as he begins the two-year association role.
“Brad is no stranger to ABA – having been involved with this organization longer than anyone on our staff, which is saying a lot,” said Robb MacKie, ABA’s President and CEO. “We understand his tenure as Chair is starting during an unprecedented time, and know he will help expertly guide us as we navigate new territory.”
Alexander said his three major goals as Chair are to be a good listener in supporting ABA member needs, identify challenges the association can help overcome, and educate people about ABA as a strong resource.
“If you’re involved with the association and its committees, you really understand all that ABA has to offer,” he added.
Perspectives on Industry’s Future
Alexander is optimistic about the baking industry’s future, but he emphasizes that leaders will need to enhance their strategies to take advantage of opportunities.
As an example, he said bakers need to improve their e-commerce strategies to drive impulse purchases in digital environments.
“We need to get better with our messaging online to make sure consumers have a reason to purchase our products, and give them all the information online that they need.”
Pointing to New Imperatives
The industry needs to prioritize the product attributes consumers want, which include healthy, good quality, affordable, and convenient, Alexander said. Moreover, even as bread sales surge at retail, leaders need to “be a little more creative” to further enhance that category. He cited recent acquisitions by Flowers that boosted its own bread portfolio, through attributes ranging from organic to gluten-free.
Alexander also identified needs on the industry’s operations and workforce fronts. Employees will need training to boost skills and seamlessly interact with automation, he said.
Veteran Held Many Positions
It seems Alexander held almost every role during his long career at Flowers, one of the largest producers of packaged bakery foods in the U.S. Flowers employs about 10,000 people, operates some 46 bakeries across the nation, and is known for many high-profile brands.
Despite his veteran industry status, Alexander never experienced a development like the coronavirus crisis and its overwhelming impact on business. Flowers’ foodservice business was negatively impacted during the pandemic period, while its retail sales surged and the company pulled out all the stops to keep up with demand.
Rising to the Occasion During Pandemic
The company’s leaders moved quickly during the crisis to streamline assortments and shift some foodservice production to retail. Key priorities included keeping employees safe, supplying the food chain, and supporting communities.
Alexander saluted Flowers’ employees for their unwavering commitment. In April the company recognized the efforts of its frontline workers by announcing a $6.2 million appreciation bonus.
Another important goal was supporting communities across the nation. The company’s foodservice team, for example, was deeply involved in helping food banks. Meanwhile, employees at the Philadelphia Tastykake operation took it upon themselves to donate products to local hospitals.
Saluting the Industry’s Efforts
Alexander relays a sense of awe about how the industry stepped up during the pandemic. He makes sure to salute everyone from employees to suppliers for their essential contributions to the nation.
“Our industry has done a very good job,” he said “Thanks to all the bakers in the U.S. for making sure people could go to stores and find products to meet their needs.”
More Bake to the Future
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Bake to the Future has been featuring in-depth conversations about the impact on the baking sector from industry leaders and the most up-to-date information from our experts at ABA.
- Listen to and read about Episode #9 with Paula Marshall about leading when the unexpected happens.
- Listen to and read about Episode #10 with Jim Antrup about communicating during this crisis.
- Listen to and read about Episode #11 with Bob McGuire about safely delivering products during this crisis.
- Listen to and read about Episode #12 with Gary Hawkins about what the future of retail means for bakery.