In a pre-pandemic market a year ago, 52% of meals in the United States were consumed outside of the home. So, during an American Bakers Association (ABA) Presidents’ Panel at the recent American Society of Baking’s BakingTech virtual conference, Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the ABA, asked the multi-billion-dollar question that’s been top-of-mind for bakers of late: “When will the foodservice side of the business come back, or has it already?”

Bill Quigg, president of More Than a Bakery, replied that green shoots are appearing in some segments, but not in others.

“We have not seen it turn yet on the restaurant side,” he said. “We have seen it start, as recently as the last few weeks, on the school side, so I do think there is some bright light there.”

Mr. Quigg noted that he cautioned his bakery’s management team to “not count on anything normal” until at least the third quarter of this year. Tyson Yu, CEO of Aryzta North America, pointed out that recovery in the foodservice channel varies by segment.

“Probably the slowest will be travel and leisure, but we are seeing this dichotomy,” he observed. “Health care has been up tremendously, and in some places, QSR (units) that have great drive-thru or delivery have absolutely accelerated.”

Mr. Yu suggested that bakeries and their suppliers need to strategically drill down to the micro level to pinpoint where the rebound is occurring. Consumer insights, he added, remain key to proactively predicting the subtle shifts in the foodservice channel.

“We’re optimistic, but it’s going to take time and patience,” Mr. Yu said. Let’s hope that it’s sooner than later.