The months leading up to the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) are always spent in preparation, be it preparing booth space, setting up client meetings or mapping out a strategy for getting the most out of the show floor. It’s also a time of reflection as companies revisit business plans and long-term goals to gut-check objectives and if they’ve been met.

In the height of this preparation, BEMA has focused on creating avenues to connect its members with bakers. “That’s really at the heart of what we’re trying to do,” said Kerwin Brown, BEMA president. “We want to create venues that give our members opportunities to connect with bakers. In fact, we have a saying that we are ‘connecting with customers and partnering with suppliers.’”

Rolling with the changes

The 2013 BEMA annual meeting, held in June in Colorado Springs, CO, hosted 20 bakers, an all-time high for the association. But members don’t just benefit from meeting with bakers; they benefit from one another as well, especially when coping with so much change in the industry since the last IBIE.

For starters, the Hostess shutdown created a ripple in the industry with far-reaching effects. Suppliers who once served Hostess might not have relationships with bakeries such as Flowers Foods, Thomasville, GA, and Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, PA, who bought most of the Hostess bread-baking assets. “Those suppliers now have to start over,” Mr. Brown noted. “Big companies like that are loyal to their vendors, and trying to break in might take two or three — or five — years.”

On the other side of that coin are vendors who already had relationships with Flowers and Bimbo, and for those suppliers, business is booming. “We’ve heard from some of our members that they can hardly keep up with orders because their customers are trying to pick up the slack,” Mr. Brown observed.

In fact, when plants pick up business, the equipment suppliers feel it, too. “I’ve talked to bakers who were running plants five days a week, and now they’re running them three shifts, seven days a week,” Mr. Brown continued. “When plants are struggling to keep up, it can often times have some effect on preventive maintenance, among other issues, including sanitation, audits, certificates, changeovers and flexibility. These issues are only going to increase, and we’re trying to help members with some of that.”

Increasing supplier smarts

BEMA supports its members in this rapidly changing environment in part through increased education efforts such as its “BEMA U” initiatives at each meeting. Past BEMA U topics include intellectual property, software development and international business tips; in June, the subject was how to navigate changing healthcare regulations. “We want to offer practical business education for our members, and so far it’s been well-received,” Mr. Brown indicated.

To increase awareness in issues of sanitation, not only in equipment design but in overall operations as well, BEMA offers a sanitation workshop each year in collaboration with a number of other associations. By providing education on sanitation standards, according to Mr. Brown, BEMA can help manufacturers raise the bar on sanitary equipment design.

To address sanitation upgrades, the future holds potential for a “train the trainer” type of education. “There’s still a gap between what members’ service techs know and what they are able to communicate,” Mr. Brown noted. “I think that’s pretty universal in the industry, so we are focused on helping our members know what these kinds of needs are or better educating them about those needs.” 

Collaboratively easing pain

For BEMA members, education is only one step in identifying best practices. To truly make a difference in the industry, suppliers must come together with bakers to find solutions. To meet this need, the Baking Industry Forum (BIF) works with BEMA to create venues for bakers and suppliers to work together. “BIF is a cooperative effort where bakers and suppliers can literally sit down together and ask each other, ‘What’s your pain? What are your issues?’ ” Mr. Brown said. “Too often, the answers are pretty close.”

By giving bakers and suppliers this opportunity, BIF has served as an ear for BEMA, identifying issues and those “pain” points that emerge as bigger industry issues. At BEMA’s June meeting, BIF focused on two key issues: training and safety. The group is also in the process of compiling a safety checklist that will be available to both members and suppliers.

At IBIE in October, BIF will give a presentation called “The Five Ps of Training,” which includes problem, preparation, presentation, performance and preservation. The session will be held 8:30-9:30 a.m. on Oct.  8 and will cost $10.

Visit for more details on this and other sessions.