Education takes center stage in the baking industry

Dec 15, 2020, 15:38 PM by John Unrein

Spurs innovation Melissa Trimmer

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up almost everything in the food industry, and it’s important to look down the road at what’s ahead.

Executives are eyeing dramatic shifts in technology, workforce, supply chain, consolidation, sustainability, consumer behaviors, and industry-government relations.

“CEOs are saying everything is on the table,” says Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of American Bakers Association, during the association’s podcast Bake to the Future. “I think that we're going to wake up in five years and say the industry that existed pre-COVID doesn't exist anymore.”

MacKie led a wide-ranging podcast discussion that featured two food industry association executives: Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), and Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute.

Technology will be crucial in solving the industry’s new challenges, executives said.

Potts said robotics will become more important, although most of the impacts will be longer-term, given the extended ramp-up time for investments. She added that more sophisticated equipment and processes will change the skill sets required for employees.

“It’s a huge turnover in terms of the types of people you need,” she said.

Dykes said that “technology has been turbo-charged as a result of COVID-19,” citing automation as a huge component.

A major focus on competitiveness will mark the food industry’s future, beginning in the balance of this year, Dykes said. He said this emphasis will lead to innovation and consolidation.

“Leaders are going to bring their teams together and say we need to take a fundamental look at our businesses, our supply chains, our workforce, our level of competitiveness, and our budgets,” he said.

Dykes said the questions they’ll be asking themselves include, “Are we structured properly? Do we have the right people in the right places? Are we positioned to be globally competitive?”

Potts said a big opportunity will be examining new strategies for foodservice suppliers to serve retail.

“The pandemic has created the need for many of our members to diversify their channels,” she said.

Brand relationships with consumers will evolve more quickly than before, with trust as a key element, executives said.

“We will need to make sure we’re doing the things consumers value, because we’re going to be under intense scrutiny,” Dykes said. “If we’re going to maintain our license to operate, we’ll need to make sure we have credibility in our messaging.”

MacKie said bakers have solidified relationships with consumers during the pandemic by supporting communities, and the baking companies are now mulling future steps.

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