WATCH Bakers don’t get enough credit, government regulations and tough employment market: Deep dive into the state of the industry

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: American bakers association, IBIE, regulations, Employment, Clean label, Sustainability, Packaging, Cbd, Standards of Identity

The bakery category continues to be a top driver of consumer grocery store trips, however, the industry is increasingly feeling the pressure of costly government overreach, while trying to build and retain the talent pool of skilled workers.

BakeryandSnacks met up with Robb MacKie, president and CEO of the American Bakers Association (ABA) at the International Bakery Industry Exposition (IBIE) held in Las Vegas last month, to chat about the industry, the challenges its facing and what he expects tomorrow’s bakery landscape to look like.

According to MacKie, the biggest challenge facing the industry today – no matter whether you’re a large retail baker or a small producer – is finding and keeping a skilled workforce.

“We’re seeing a very tough employment market, so we’re spending a lot of time talking to partners like USO [United Service Organizations] … also working with veterans who are transitioning out.”

He added the ABA hosts a number of “very aggressive and very well thought of training programs”​ – which help to develop high performing teams on the floor, proven to significantly increase employee retention rates.

“The other big challenge is implementing the cost of government regulations. Our members are constantly telling us about the margin compression due to the cost of implementing government regulations, so we spend a lot of time trying to work with the regulatory agencies to minimize that impact for our members.”

Bakery becomes snacks

The blurring of lines between bakery with other categories – specifically the snacking sector – is expected to shape tomorrow’s bakery landscape, along with the omnipresent clean label, sustainability and recyclable packaging hot topics.

“I think you’re going to see much more blending between categories, blending bakery with perhaps snack products. I think you’re also going to see more variety of portion size.

“Our research around millennials and Gen Zs found they want that really rich, indulgent product but maybe we make it a little bit smaller, so you get that high quality flavor that everyone loves, but you get it in a way that doesn’t make you feel guilty.”

He also believes the diversity of bread offerings will increase and CBD will definitely creep in.

“Although it’s not very cut and dried … it’s a very dynamic time and I do think there’s going to be more and more interest in it.

“I do think you’re going to see growth in the edible space, which frankly, for those bakers who are interested in serving those customers, is a good space to be in.”

Modernizing the Standards of Identity to remove barriers to innovation

He told us the ABA was formed in the late 1800s as a voice of the industry to connect with, at that time, the US Department of Agriculture which regulated food products, to set some basic standards of what different breads, crackers, cookies were to instil and maintain consumer confidence.

“Fast forward to a hundred plus years later, and we’re still spending a lot of time doing that.

“Matter of fact, we’re [currently] working with the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration], who is getting ready to revise what’s referred to as the Standards of Identity, which determines what you can put in a product, how you market a product, what you call a product. We think there’s a great opportunity to modernize and update those standards and take some of the barriers to innovation out the process.”

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