Josh Sosland, PortraitJosh Sosland, editor of Milling & Baking News.

KANSAS CITY – In the period leading up to IBIE 2022, many questions arose about the future of the baking industry’s signature event. A surge in COVID-19 cases in the second half of 2021 prompted worries about whether or when another wave would follow in 2022 and that a hybrid IBIE or one that was completely remote might be necessary. Poor attendance at major shows in Las Vegas and elsewhere early in 2022 added to the industry’s anxiety about prospective IBIE turnout.  Attendance at the bellwether CES was down 70% from 2020.

Compounding worries about the unpredictability of the pandemic were pressures from the high cost of exhibiting at IBIE and perceptions of flagging attendance by bakers in 2019 and earlier. Some in the industry wondered whether IBIE was becoming a dinosaur as the medium for equipment and ingredient companies to showcase innovation.

Such questions are, of course, fair to raise, but it is difficult to imagine a more powerful counter response than the event itself held Sept. 17-21 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. From the well-attended, sometimes packed, education sessions beginning on Saturday the 17th and the spectacular new West Hall to the palpable joy evident among participants being able to meet once again in person, it was evident that any declarations of demise for IBIE were premature. What followed on Sunday and afterward further underscored the continued relevance, even preeminence, of IBIE. 

Equipment companies that were present had much to celebrate. The number of exhibitors was down slightly from 2019, but the suppliers that were there were rewarded with a significant increase in the number of bakers who registered for and attended IBIE (overall attendance was nearly unchanged from the last IBIE). One major equipment maker claimed to have secured more sales leads each day at this year’s event than the total generated at IBIE 2019. Surely the strong baker attendance bodes well for IBIE in 2025 and beyond.

Many of the forces creating concerns about whether IBIE 2022 would succeed were catalysts for the strong attendance. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted changes in consumption patterns requiring adaptation by bakers, often involving capital expenditures. Labor shortages, already a source of heartburn for bakers in 2019, have become even more acute leading baking equipment companies to embrace automation as part of a broader solution.

On the floor itself, bakers were impressed by what they saw. One described innovations as incremental and evolutionary rather than dramatic and revolutionary. Still, many of the advances were significant. One baker expressed appreciation for newer arm technology on robotic devices with gripper end effectors representing a meaningful advance from vacuum technology that was prone to damaging product and being ineffective on particular items covered with, say, powdered sugar or sesame seeds.

Many other innovations, updated versions of equipment, reflected elevated, ongoing collaboration between bakers and suppliers. Innovation around sustainability was front and center at IBIE, both from equipment makers and ingredient suppliers.

Adding to a sense of urgency on the part of bakers pursuing capital projects has been supply chain problems that have extended lead times for capital projects. One company that traditionally was able to deliver and install equipment in 18 to 22 weeks said the period has widened to 30 weeks.

Under “normal” circumstances, the seamless production of a successful IBIE demands great effort from its organizers. Planning and producing the event this year while dealing with an endless stream of unforeseen circumstances took the difficulty involved to an entirely different level with down-to-the-wire challenges. Great credit for perseverance goes to the IBIE 2022 committee headed by Dennis Gunnell of Formost Fuji as well as the American Bakers Association, BEMA and the event management group mdg. In the wake of a successful IBIE, the industry has good cause for pride and to be optimistic looking ahead.