Looking back over the past year, I have written many columns describing public policy challenges facing the baking industry. These have included environmental, occupational safety or good manufacturing practices. These and the 300-plus regulations in the Obama administration pipeline will impact how bakers operate, distribute, sell and package baked products. Tremendous changes are occurring and will continue to occur in the baking industry.
Due to higher regulatory burdens and costs, bakers are aggressively revamping production efficiencies, energy emissions, noise levels and sanitation design. The American Bakers Association (ABA) has joined with eight other baking industry partners to host the highly successful sanitation workshops that are leading to new, easier to clean equipment and more efficient sanitation practices. ABA also is teaming with the Environemental Protection Agency to develop a broad based Energy Star program for bakery equipment and operations. These initiatives have been requested by the industry to help avoid regulatory costs and operational burdens. The newly opened Northeast Foods plant in North Carolina is the latest of an increasing effort by the industry to pursue efficient design and cost-effective production.
Additionally, bakers are reinvigorating the category by ramping up new product innovations. A case in point, the baking category was well represented in both submissions and winners for the Grocery Manufacturers Association 2011 CPG Awards for Innovation and Creativity. This is high praise indeed considering submissions are received from the entire consumer packaged goods industry and not just the food industry. Of course, a walk down grocery store aisles or a look at chain restaurants’ menus will prove that to even the casual observer. New whole grain and lower sodium offerings compete alongside new takes on traditional baked goods. As Lee Scott, former WalMart chairman, told attendees at ABA’s Annual Convention earlier this year, “We are looking to partner with companies who are bringing innovative new products to the customer.”
Whether it is new plant design, new manufacturing practices or new products, the industry has accelerated its collective innovation efforts. That will present exciting new opportunities for the industry’s already accomplished workforce to develop new skills and talents. It also will offer enterprising new recruits a multitude of opportunities to take the industry in directions we can’t even imagine today. Who knows, maybe one day the attention of the world will be riveted on industry leaders as they unveil the next product line, à la Steve Jobs.