Grass roots organizing is gaining steam among bakers. The baking industry has long been a hotbed of local or regional trade associations and other like-minded small groups gathering to share ideas and insight about their bakery businesses. But, there seems to be an upswing lately in this type of grass roots sharing and education for a cause — in this case the bakery trade.
Maybe it's part of the social networking phenomenon taking the Internet by storm. Sites like Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter and other more industry-specific web-based groups put networking with peers and quick information at bakers' fingertips. Could it be that this keyboard communication is stirring up renewed desire to connect in person, particularly for a trade where working with your hands is at the foundation?
That could be part of it. Also, bakery trade associations themselves realize their strength and future leadership comes from the local level. The Bread Bakers Guild of America is in its second year of hosting baking classes in different U.S. cities in an effort to make artisan baking education more accessible. The Guild, the Retail Bakers of America and other associations realize how tough it is to leave your business for any length of time. Plus, the extra belt tightening in the current economy doesn't leave much surplus for travel expenses.
Even the large international bakery trade shows, like IBIE, which recently announced a partnership with RBA (see p. 11), or the iba show in Dusseldorf, Germany this fall depend on these personal connections. When you attend a trade show, what do you remember most — the convention center or the people you met?
At the Healthy Baking Seminar last month in Anaheim, Calif., the most popular session was our round robin break-out session where we posted experts on specific healthful baking topics at tables around the room. Attendees spent twenty minutes with three different experts of their choice. Again, these were small groups making that one-on-one connection to find solutions to their problems. The only complaint we heard in the post-seminar survey was that attendees wanted more time to spend with all the experts rather than choosing just three. We're obviously not the first to organize something like this. RBA has done something similar with its roundtable discussion for years at its trade shows.
But, the popularity of the round robin was a reminder that this personal connection works, especially in the baking industry. I'd argue even more so than in other industries. Near the Modern Baking offices, CARBA meets regularly, usually in a Chicago-area bakery. Even supermarket in-store bakery operators meet in “share groups” at different chains around the country. Not only are these bakeries opening their doors to potential competitors, but real bakery education and business ideas flow freely behind those doors. That's because most bakers view these gatherings as essential for their business and the betterment of the bakery trade. For them, this grass roots connection is what attracted them to this career in the first place.