In the years since 2000, numerous fundamental changes have transformed the landscape of commercial baking. The roster of the largest baking companies is nearly unrecognizable compared with 10 years ago, and not a single chief executive of a top-five baking company today held that position in 2000.

Seismic waves coursed through the industry with the ascendance and decline of Atkins dieting, the unprecedented embrace of whole grains and even with the Internet bubble and its impact on financial markets and, ultimately, the economy. Still, if one sought to identify the single most pivotal development in recent years, a strong case could be made for introduction of extended shelf life technology around 2002.

While E.S.L. remains a positive for the industry, it’s clear that the full ramifications were not fully appreciated at the time and may not be completely understood to this day. When Interstate Bakeries revealed its adoption of E.S.L., the company focused on the benefits of reducing stales from as high as 18% to a range of 7% to 9%, with further gains possible. Unmentioned was how this greater efficiency would affect plant utilization when it was already grappling with excess capacity.

The same goes for the delivery system. Thus, this new technology laid bare and exacerbated glaring weaknesses in production and distribution, nowhere with more devastating impact than at Interstate.

Based on the past decade, it seems likely that the roster of major baking companies will look quite different in 2020 from today. The role technology will play in bringing about that change will be among the riveting developments in the years ahead.