LAS VEGAS — Asked what will be special about IBIE 2022, Robb MacKie offered a simple response.

“That it’s happening — let’s start there,” Mr. MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association (ABA), said in a Sept. 17 interview ahead of the start of the triennial event owned by ABA and BEMA. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic came a few short months after the 2019 IBIE and upended plans for innumerable business conferences, conventions and shows in the two-plus years afterward.

“Even as recently as a year ago there were big doubts about whether any events would happen,” Mr. MacKie said. “We were in the throes of the pandemic. I think beyond that, what makes this really special is that the industry is eager to reconnect.”

During the summer Mr. MacKie traveled internationally to promote IBIE, and he said excitement about the show was “palpable.”

“This is an industry that shares knowledge, experience, and, frankly, they like each other,” he said. “This is at a time we’re still feeling the effects of the pandemic.”

The vacuum of major baking industry meetings since 2019 (iba 2021 was canceled) gives this year’s IBIE heightened importance, Mr. MacKie said.

“This will be the first international baking show, and to be honest, one of the first international food shows of any kind since IBIE 2019,” he said. “With the last three years without any of these shows and all we’ve been through, if you miss IBIE until 2025, that feels like two lifetimes.”

Coming amid a morass of economic, supply chain and other challenges, Mr. MacKie said IBIE 2022 will highlight these issues. In addition to automation solutions, he said certain equipment exhibitors at their booths will be taking advantage of IBIE as an opportunity to recruit employees.

While figures on registration will not be finalized until after the show, Mr. MacKie said the numbers as of the eve of IBIE point to several interesting and mostly positive trends.

While overall attendance may fall slightly shy of 2019, consistent with still recovering travel trends as COVID-19 recedes, attendance by bakers is likely to be up 15% to 20%.

Reflecting underlying change in the industry over the past three years, the profile of bakers attending the show will be different this year.

“Something new and unique to this show are companies that are bringing newly hired people, many of whom have no experience in baking, to IBIE. They are using IBIE as part of their onboarding process, to help them understand the industry,” Mr. MacKie said. “I talked to one major baking company bringing 40 people, and almost half have never been to IBIE. This is a wonderful learning opportunity.”

He said supplier consolidation is taking a toll on the number of suppliers at IBIE 2022 but would be down “not dramatically from 2019.”

Attendance will be lower from China and other parts of Asia that had been large sources of registration in the past, but Mr. MacKie said a strategic focus on recruiting from Europe and Latin America has paid off and that the response from bakers in the Middle East and Canada has been unexpectedly strong.

Overall attendance by international bakers is likely to be up about 30%.

Commenting on a recent announcement that the ABA will partner with BEMA on Nexus, Mr. MacKie had high praise for the concept. The event is conceived to take place between IBIE years and will be owned by the ABA and BEMA, the two associations that own IBIE.

“BEMA has done the lion’s share of the work on this: the creative, the concept,” he said. “And I think it’s a really strong concept. Coming out of the pandemic creating an opportunity for bakers and suppliers to meet had been severely diminished.”

First announced by BEMA in June at the group’s annual meeting, Mr. MacKie said the ABA was brought into discussions about Nexus a month earlier.

“Tim Cook (past BEMA chairman and president and CEO of Linxis Group) deserves a lot of the credit along with the BEMA staff,” Mr. MacKie said. “He, Kerwin Brown and Emily Bowers provided a conceptual outline to the ABA staff in May in Washington.

“There was no specific proposal; they wanted ABA at the table in any way our members were comfortable,” Mr. MacKie said. “We shared the discussion with the ABA leadership.”

While at the BEMA annual meeting Cordia Harrington, ABA chair and CEO of Crown Bakeries Cos., met with BEMA leadership to discuss Nexus more deeply. In August, the BEMA leadership met with the ABA leadership, which agreed to join the Nexus event as a full partner.

 Mr. MacKie cited an oft heard plea from the baking industry for fewer but more valuable industry events. He said Nexus is expected to be the forum for a joint fall meeting between the ABA and the Allied Trades of the Baking Industry boards.

It’s expected that a joint steering committee will be established to oversee the event with representation both from the ABA and BEMA.

“We still have a lot of work to do to finalize details,” Mr. MacKie said. “But it is an exciting opportunity.”