BAS: Tell us about your job
I serve as the spokesperson and chief advocate for the US commercial baking industry. We have an incredibly talented and dedicated team to works aggressively to promote and protect the baking industry.
BAS: Tell us about the association
The ABA is the Washington D.C.-based voice of the wholesale baking industry. Since 1897, it has represented the interests of bakers before the US Congress, federal agencies and international regulatory authorities.
ABA advocates on behalf of more than 1,000 baking facilities and baking company suppliers who produce bread, rolls, cookies, crackers, bagels, sweet goods, tortillas and many other wholesome, nutritious, baked products for America’s families.
The baking industry generates more than $153bn in economic activity annually and employs more than 799,500 highly skilled people.
BAS: What drew you to working in the bakery industry?
As much as I would love to say my path to and with ABA was a straight line due to careful forethought and planning, that wouldn’t be accurate.
I had worked on Capitol Hill for over six years and then with two different associations representing the construction industry.
I remember my predecessor, Kevin Burke, approached me when he was leaving ABA and asked me to interview. I was very happy but agreed to meet with then ABA president Paul Abenante.
When I interviewed with ABA, I had a long list of asks, but not what you might think. At that point in my life, I wanted to learn about the business side of an industry I admired and respected. I wanted to get to know the people, the business challenges, how to protect them from government overreach, and honestly find a professional home.
I found all that and a whole lot more at ABA.
BAS: What is your biggest achievement in your current position?
We have worked hard together to solve many challenges facing the industry. The “secret” to ABA’s success is the active engagement of our members paired with a highly qualified and motivated team. We can translate the technical baking industry concerns to policy makers to achieve significant results. Our Board keeps us keenly focused on the industry’s priorities that drive positive business outcomes.
Change and disruption is all in and around the industry. What is different today from 23 years ago is that the pace of change has accelerated like never before. We need to challenge ourselves to adapt to the pace of change in order to remain aligned with our members business needs. With disruption of our customers, members and supply chain, focus and nimbleness is key.
I know it sounds immodest, but we have achieved so many successes for the industry over the years.
Much of our work has been in preventing or mitigating government over regulation, especially in the labor and environmental area. In the food safety and labeling area, getting compliance flexibility for distribution centers, leading the industry partnership on the FSMA Kill Step Validation, and uniformity for labeling deadlines has saved bakers well over $100m.
Probably the largest savings ABA has achieved was the repeal of the Country of Origin Labeling requirements that led to Canada imposing $1bn in retaliatory tariffs.
BAS: What are the biggest challenges the industry is currently facing?
There are two major challenges facing the industry that we are working to resolve. We have just completed our data driving strategic planning process and bakers spoke very loudly and directly about the need for strong promotion of the benefits of grain-based foods, as well as how to attract skilled talent to the industry.
ABA is working diligently on both fronts, including partnering with AIB on a potential apprenticeship program.
BAS: If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
It would be to have the leaders stand up and be proud of the great work they do every day to provide health, wholesome and fun products to America’s families.
They work their tails off, vigorously compete in the marketplace and unfortunately are taken for granted. I think they need to develop a little more swagger about what they do for our country and our families.
BAS: What advice would you give a small start-up?
For any company looking to get into the baking industry in a significant way, I would first advise them to make sure they are focused on offering quality products that consumers want.
They need to also be keenly aware of the challenges with producing quality products in a food safe manner as well as accurate compliance with food labeling requirements.
As a new entrant into the marketplace, they are only going to get one shot to get their product and responsibilities right.
BAS: What keeps you busy when not focused on the bakery industry?
One of the greatest attractions for me with working with the ABA and the baking industry is the emphasis on family. Almost all of the companies at least got started as a family company.
There is tremendous support of the ABA team as part of the baking family. We have had members of the team who have experienced challenges over the years and the industry has always rallied to support them. This is just an extension of how the industry rallies to support their local communities.
Cheers, Robb, and thanks for sharing.