Josh Sosland
Gauged against recent years in which mergers of unprecedented scope were completed in milling and baking, 2017 perhaps could be characterized as relatively quiet for grain-based foods. At a more fundamental level, though, the year was one of intense self-reflection across the industry as executives looked and often moved boldly in the face of radical alterations unfolding in the food and beverage industry landscape.

Foremost among these changes was the unexpected acquisition by Amazon of Whole Foods Market, intensifying for grain-based foods concerns about the future of the center of store in supermarkets, the commercial baking industry’s home base. Efforts by leading bakers to gain footholds in store perimeters and a major move to food service by the nation’s largest baker underscored the powerful shifts under way in the marketplace.

For milling, initiatives around flour safety and wheat quality reflected, if not new issues, greatly heightened appreciation for the need to address serious marketplace threats. Asset moves across milling (major new capital projects as well as capacity rationalization) also exemplified important moves afoot. Finally, the launch of an intensive exploration into a possible checkoff program and a dramatically increased level of product promotion spending showed the industry is taking more seriously than ever the need to bolster per capita consumption of its products. The industry’s willingness to take such steps underscore the gravity of the challenges faced and the industry’s great potential in 2018 and beyond.