Josh Sosland

It is not unusual for the American Bakers Association to offer a forward-looking program at its annual meeting, but the 2017 event held recently in Florida stands out in this regard against the group’s normally high standards. Panelists in one session detailed the steady erosion of market share from “big food” in favor of start-ups, the increasing rejection of processed foods by consumers and increasingly perplexing millennial habits. One presenter said 20% of millennial consumers in the United Kingdom photograph all the food that they are served. Perhaps most germane to the bakers was a projection that at supermarkets, 40% of the center of the store will essentially evaporate with perimeter categories encroaching on the heart of the store.

Some of the most forward-looking aspects of the annual meeting were not encompassed in the presentations. The approval of a merger between the A.B.A. and the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers’ Association demonstrated the foresight of leaders of two venerable organizations recognizing both the complementary nature of their activities and the opportunity to strengthen the Washington voice of the grain-based foods industry.

Perhaps most forward looking of all was an A.B.A. decision to supplement the group’s support for the Grain Foods Foundation with an additional $600,000. The funds will be used for the next round of research on the healthfulness of flour-based foods. While the industry is understandably anxious to find ways to expeditiously boost demand for its products, this sagacious research investment demonstrates a recognition that this race is a marathon and not a sprint.