After period of extraordinary change, MacKie sees industry in healthy position

by Josh Sosland
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LAS VEGAS — The baking industry and the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.) are emerging strongly from a period of wrenching change said Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer, A.B.A. Mr. MacKie spoke with Milling & Baking News  on the opening day of I.B.I.E. 2013.

“Yes, there has been unprecedented change since 2010 when the last Baking Expo was held,” Mr. MacKie said. “But in the last 18 months alone, there has been more change than in the 18 years since I became part of the industry. It’s been simply incredible.”

Mr. MacKie was referring to numerous industry developments, including the exit from baking of two of the largest players in the industry — Sara Lee Corp. and Hostess Brands L.L.C.

“There are half as many large baking companies today as there were in 2010,” he said. “And the baking industry had many other changes to contend with, including changes in consumer preferences and in the economy. But the industry has emerged with strong, large players, independent bakers that are doing well and smaller ones who also are doing well and have big plans for expansion.”

The A.B.A. itself is in a healthy position today, Mr. MacKie said.

“You never want to be complacent, but with the commitment of our membership, we are in a strong place,” he said. “A great Expo certainly helps.”

Regarding I.B.I.E. 2013, Mr. MacKie said he was particularly pleased by the level of innovation on display, both in terms of baking equipment manufacturers and ingredient suppliers.

“We challenged the industry to bring their ‘A game’ to Expo this year, its newest and most innovative products,” he said. “And that has shown up in spades. I’ve seen equipment that has amazed people. With the ingredient suppliers, there have been great advances around health and wellness.”

The emphasis I.B.I.E. organizers have given to highlighting technological advances also was evident in the Innovation Showcase introduced this year. Members of the I.B.I.E. committee selected submissions from exhibitors for innovations that are briefly shared with showgoers in the Grand Concourse.

“Suppliers are able to give bakers a quick snapshot of what they are introducing,” Mr. MacKie said. “We were very pleased by the number and quality of submissions we received.”

For Mr. MacKie and others on the A.B.A. staff, the trip to Baking Expo allowed them to leave Washington, where Congress looked for ways to end a government shutdown. The impact on the baking industry has not been great, but threats loom, Mr. MacKie said.

“The immediate and direct effects have been limited, but if dollars are cut for feeding programs such as SNAP and WIC (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Women Infants and Children Food and Nutrition Service), our members will feel it,” he said.

Also of concern to baking is the potential effects on the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.), which Mr. MacKie singled out as “one government agency A.B.A. has a close working relationship with.”

In particular, Mr. MacKie expressed concern that even before the shutdown, the F.D.A. did not have the resources it needed.

“Without a safe food supply, everyone in baking — bread, cake, cookies, everyone — will be hurt,” he said.

Asked what A.B.A. initiatives deserve particular attention, Mr. MacKie immediately focused on the Grain Foods Foundation (G.F.F.) and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

“Funding for the G.F.F. is on top of my list,” he said. “It has undergone a renewal with a focus on educating influencers and the public about the benefits of grain-based foods. Regarding the Dietary Guidelines, every other major category is investing heavily in trying to make sure the guidelines appropriately reflect the value of their industry’s products. Produce, dairy and frozen foods manufacturers just announced an initiative. It is crucial that the baking industry keep pace with that. Our efforts need to be strengthened.”
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