AMELIA ISLAND, FLA. — Workforce and immigration, supply chain, sustainability and protecting members from overly burdensome regulations stand as priority issues for the US baking industry, said Eric Dell, the new president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association.

Mr. Dell highlighted the issues and other areas of ABA activity in remarks March 26 at the group’s annual meeting at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.

“ABA’s proactive presence in Washington is critical to the industry’s success,” he said. “You look to ABA to be the first line of defense on legislative and regulatory decisions being made to ensure you’re aware of potential actions that could impact your businesses. We are working with our professional groups and food and beverage industry partners to ensure that happens.”

During his first 90 days at the ABA helm, Mr. Dell has concentrated on outreach to members in order to learn about the industry and its members’ concerns. He said his priorities in addition to elevating government relations and networking include implementing outcomes-focused leadership and initiating a strategic planning process.

Steps already taken by ABA staff include the introduction last month of The Gist, a resource Mr. Dell said is meant to empower and educate ABA members on key issues affecting the baking industry.

The strategic planning process has been launched with the objective of developing a plan with “clear, laser-focused direction with meaningful and measurable outcomes and goals.”

Jim Meffert, principal consultant with Tecker International, Yardley, Pa., has been engaged to facilitate the strategic planning process. Mr. Dell said the ABA will be ambitious in its approach to developing the plan.

“We will think big, we will lead, and we will be a part of the solution on major societal issues impacting your businesses, your customers and their customers,” he said.

In a one-on-one discussion after his presentation with ABA chair Cordia Harrington, Mr. Dell said advocacy in the future will include fly-ins into Washington in which all ABA members are invited, not just bakers.

“Bakers understand advocacy,” he said. “We just need to take it to the next level.”

Mr. Dell said providing solutions for members requires “being on the front foot and not the back foot.”

Asked by Ms. Harrington for an example from earlier in his career Mr. Dell said the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), which represents owners and operators of vending businesses, joined forces with Partnership for a Healthier America, a not for profit in the nutrition space. Typically, NAMA and the Partnership had an adversarial relationship. NAMA made commitments to increase the proportion of healthier foods in its vending machines as part of the partnership. Mr. Dell described the effort and what he intends to pursue when appropriate at the ABA as “forward leaning commitments to non-traditional partners.”

Such initiatives always should be done with an eye toward end consumers, whom Mr. Dell said are “demanding more and more.”

“We need to look at what they are focused on,” he said. “That includes sustainability. Food equity issues. We can do the right things for society, but also build our businesses at the same time.”

Attendance at the 2022 annual convention, held March 26-29, exceeded 500 and was up 34% from a year earlier, the ABA said. Attendance was 9% greater than in 2017, which had been the recent peak for attendance at an ABA annual meeting. Mirroring those figures, baker attendance at the meeting was up 35% from 2022 and 9% from 2019. First-time attendance was the largest since the organization first began tracking the figure and was up 41% from 2019.