Three years ago, a shaky economy challenged the baking industry to increase efficiency across the board while simultaneously battling rising operating costs and impending food safety regulations. Now, as bakers and suppliers make their plans for the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) 2013, the same critical issues and challenges persist but at different points along the spectrum.

“There was a time when you could measure change in the baking industry by decades,” said Robb MacKie, president and CEO, American Bakers Association (ABA). “In today’s world, with its high rate of change, more complex marketplace and drive for product and process innovation, bakers measure change in years or quarters.”

Len Heflich, chairman of ABA’s Food Technical Regulatory Affairs Committee (FTRAC), echoed that sentiment. “The world is more complex, and (the industry) moves faster than just three years ago,” he noted. “This puts stress on all elements of the supply chain. Retailers and consumers are more demanding and less tolerant. And government, customers and third-party auditors are demanding enhanced documentation and programs.”

A little less talk, a lot more action

For FTRAC, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) tops the list of critical issues. “A critical new requirement of the Act is that manufacturers must validate and verify the efficacy of food safety activities,” Mr. Heflich explained. “FDA has released draft guidelines on only two of potentially 52 topics. These two documents add about 700 pages to the existing food safety regulations. We are stressing the need for simplicity and flexibility to FDA.”

Perhaps the biggest food safety change in the past three years is the move from discussion to implementation. “It is clear that the focus on food safety is shifting from reactive to proactive. Bakers must prepare to revamp their food safety plans,” added Valerie Wayland, who co-chairs FTRAC with Mr. Heflich. “With FSMA, we can expect new preventive controls and increased FDA inspections and enforcement.”

According to Mr. MacKie, ABA counted more than 40 major food safety regulatory initiatives including traceability, verification of foreign ingredient suppliers and process control plans. “The complexity of these regulations and controls will focus bakers on finding equipment that is easier to sanitize and maintain, exploring ways to reduce potential cross contamination and tracing product through the entire supply chain.”

Increase efficiency, decrease costs

Improving operations efficiency and product quality with an eye on reducing waste and costs are not new challenges to the industry, but what has changed,

according to Mr. Heflich, is that “the pressure to implement is greater now than ever.”

By now, most bakers have implemented the easy projects, the proverbial low-hanging fruit, noted Jerry Hancock, co-chairman of ABA’s Energy & Environment Committee. “Achieving each increment of improvement now requires more effort, and it is harder to gain,” he said. “It requires us to look at things from a completely new perspective and identify new areas of opportunity.”

Recently, the push for more efficient production has focused on reducing energy and water usage. “Bakers have always been very attentive to waste and inefficient production,” Mr. MacKie noted, “but that has now evolved into almost an obsession. Bakers are paying more attention than ever to how suppliers can help them deliver greater savings. But bakers aren’t just looking to equipment suppliers to provide innovation, efficiencies and savings. With the ever-changing tastes of consumers and more emphasis on health and wellness, bakers are also looking to partner with ingredient and flavoring suppliers.”

Creating connections and value

Since IBIE 2010, BEMA has focused primarily on creating ways to connect its members with bakers and customers. A part of that initiative is the creation of a value-oriented sponsorship program for IBIE 2013 that will garner BEMA members and other exhibitors increased exposure. “We created new sponsorships and offerings for IBIE 2013,” explained Kerwin Brown, BEMA’s president and CEO. “We really focused on how to provide our large, medium and small members with more exposure at a show that has 20,000 attendees and 800 exhibitors. We want them to stand out.”

One of the value-added sponsorships new to IBIE this year is the Innovation Showcase. “The No. 1 reason people go to trade shows is to see new products,” Mr. Brown said. “We wanted to build something around that. The Innovation Showcase focuses on new products. It will be located in the main lobby of the convention center in a central location easily accessible to attendees.”

Without a doubt, the industry faces some fast and furious changes. “Perhaps the biggest challenge for bakers is to remain competitive,” said Bob McGuire, chairman of  ABA’s Logistics Committee. “Their approach to IBIE 2013 should be to seek opportunities that will both improve productivity and control costs.”