As the scion of a multi-generational family business and its longtime leader, it may be guessed that John Popp, president of Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, was always destined for a career in baking. In fact, John Popp seriously explored other career opportunities, both in accounting and real estate. He fully committed to a career in baking in 1980, and it is his contributions to the business he headed and the baking industry that have earned Mr. Popp a spot in the Baking Hall of Fame.
A 1954 graduate of the University of Michigan, Mr. Popp entered the US Army after college and was stationed in Maryland and New Jersey, working on tank ballistics and statistics. Following military service, he was offered a position at T. Rowe Price as an analyst for Thomas Price.
Following consultations with his parents, H. Leslie and Lucille Popp, and considerable soul searching, John Popp joined the family business, then known as Perfection Biscuit Co. The company was a third-generation business established in 1901 in Fort Wayne, Ind., by John’s maternal grandfather, John Franke.
John Popp started working on bakery operations and personnel, but in 1967, he left the baking business to work independently as a realtor and real estate developer. Over the next 13 years, John Popp played a major role in the development of several large residential subdivisions.
He returned to Perfection Biscuit in 1980 as president. Soon afterward, the company acquired the Way Baking Co. Perfection continued to expand into the southwest Ohio and southern Indiana markets. In 2005, the business changed the company name from Perfection Bakeries to Aunt Millie’s Bakeries.
The company operates five baking plants with distribution throughout the United States, principally in the Midwest. Its fresh bread, buns, rolls and other bakery products are supplied to grocery stores, restaurants, schools and foodservice distributors. The company has more than 1,600 employees in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
While fresh-baked foods are the company’s mainstay today, the business originally was named Wayne Biscuit Co., established in 1901, the maker of Perfection Wafers (also known as P.W. Crackers). In 1923, the company became the first baker in Indiana offering wrapped bread. John Franke embraced the innovation as a way to offer product that was fresher and more sanitary.
When Mr. Franke was killed in a car accident, management of the business passed to Les Popp, his son-in-law, credited with introducing sliced bread, developing new products and expanding the company’s distribution area.
Family leadership of the business today includes not only John Popp but also his sons, Bohn and Chris. The company will mark its 120th anniversary this year.
John Popp has long been active in industry affairs. He worked with the Independent Bakers Association (IBA) in 2001 to persuade the US Congress to extend an Environmental Protection Agency order covering mixer bowl coolants, action credited with saving millions of dollars in potential fines and replacement costs for independent bakeries throughout the country. At Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, he encourages continuing education for bakery staff and offers R&D internships to university students. In addition to IBA, Mr. Popp has participated in the activities of the W.E. Long Co., Quality Bakers of America and the American Bakers Association.