With the economy steadily recovering, food companies need to play offense, not defense, and seize every opportunity they can. That was a key message from a panel of bakers, retailers and foodservice operators speaking during the recent American Bakers Association’s (ABA) virtual convention.

“Now is not the time to throttle back,” said Bob Villapiano, director, fresh bake division, Wakefern Food Corp., Keasbey, NJ. “It’s about pushing forward.”

He urged the industry to take risks that will benefit all companies by growing their top lines.

“This time we’re in right now, this window, this bubble, is a gift,” Mr. Villapiano observed. “It’s a gift in the sense that we have a heightened awareness with the consumer. They’re engaged. They want to get back into celebration mode from the big holidays to the little ones and everywhere in between.”

He pointed out that he’s “very excited about the growth in the bread category and all segments,” which includes pent-up demand for packaged bakery, in-store bakeries and the foodservice channels.

“Bread is on fire for us and we’re just trying to ride that wave of growth as well as push ourselves and challenge ourselves to some new innovation sooner than later and not just rest on our laurels,” he said. Indulgent sweets also are rebounding as people get together again.

However, Mr. Villapiano and others on the ABA panel aren’t basing this year’s recovery on last year’s levels.

“As things start to open up, we’re excited about getting that business back and not only growing versus 2020, but growing significantly versus 2019 levels, which are more normal,” he said.

That’s a successful strategy for today’s business environment.