BOCA RATON, FLA. — The baking industry will not be well served by a legislative agenda that is either unfocused or unduly ambitious, said Fred Penny, president, Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa.
In a presentation March 26 at the all-members meeting of the American Bakers Association, Mr. Penny, chairman of the A.B.A., urged bakers to “focus on a short list of realistic priorities that would move the needle for our industry.” He also expressed the view that on any “consumer facing” issue, the baking industry must be on the side of the consumer. He spoke on the opening day of the A.B.A. annual meeting held at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.
“I do want to caution the A.B.A. members that we also need to be realistic about our expectations,” Mr. Penny said. “We could be complacent and not develop a clear set of priorities for the industry and turn around in two or four years and wonder why more didn’t get accomplished.
“We also could look at this political environment and say to ourselves and our team ‘now is the time to develop a long wish list and try to get everything done.’ I believe that would be as big a mistake as doing too little.”
Mr. Penny also advocated caution when it comes to consumer perceptions about bread in the marketplace, something he called a continuing challenge for bakers.
“Just because the administration in Washington has changed, it doesn’t mean that our consumers are going to accept less transparency or more confusion about what is in the foods they buy,” Mr. Penny said.
Noting that he serves on the board of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the F.M.I./G.M.A. Trading Partners Alliance, Mr. Penny said he has been exposed to some of the largest food and beverage companies and seen their approach to issues of transparency, particularly with regard to G.M.O. labeling and the Nutrition Facts Panel.
“Several are taking a proactive approach on these issues and are strongly cautioning that the food and beverage industry not be seen as trying to take advantage of the change in Washington to defer or alter G.M.O. labeling and Nutrition Facts label,” Mr. Penny said. “It is my strong belief that on every issue that is consumer facing, such as the myriad of labeling changes, that A.B.A. needs to position itself on the side of consumers. This was one of the main takeaways from the G.M.O. labeling debate.
“We, as part of the food industry, somehow were perceived as anti?consumer right to know and that was never what the battle was about. We need to clearly explain that our position on labeling and nutrition issues are to provide greater clarity and transparency to consumers in the most efficient way possible. Messaging on these issues is vitally important.”
Mr. Penny gave particular emphasis in his remarks on the importance of smaller baking companies becoming involved in regulatory and legislative affairs.“This may seem a little odd coming from me, but most of the priorities have a disproportionate impact on our smaller members,” he said. “I would ask our smaller members to step up and be even more visible and more engaged. You have important stories that need to be shared with policy makers, and I ask that you do so.”