Sustainability, lean manufacturing, AI and bridging connections: ABA’s takeaways from iba

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags American bakers association iba Sustainability Lean manufacturing Food waste AI IBIE

Bakery&Snacks caught up with ABA president and CEO Eric Dell at iba - a leading trade fair for the bakery and confection industry - where the American Bakers Association (ABA) had teamed up with Bakery Equipment Manufacturers and Allieds (BEMA) and Retail Bakers of America (RBA) to highlight their missions, showcase the opportunities for members and promote the next edition of IBIE, taking place in 2025.

“It’s my first baking show since I'm new to ABA and to the industry​ … but it’s been great to see a lot of our equipment suppliers, ingredient suppliers and our bakers here. iba is a good partner for IBIE and we enjoy working together with them as well as other shows … different audiences somewhat, but some overlap as well,”​ Dell told me.

With his ‘glass half full’ mentality, he plans to use his years of experience on Capitol Hill to boost the opportunities that working with Congress​ will afford the US bakery industry.

“We are looking to build out our advocacy even greater than it was,” said Dell.

“ABA had a great advocacy programme even before I came to ABA - kudos to the team - but it’s always good to come into something strong and make it better.

“Having worked on Capitol Hill, I know how the process works,” ​he added.

“I know a lot of the players on Capitol Hill, even though they change quite frequently. I also have the ability to build a team and that’s what we're doing right now. We’re looking for leaders who can be on our team at the state level because a lot of things happen at that level and they happen quickly, so you have to be out in front of that. Just knowing the dynamics of state.”

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Pic: GettyImages

Investing for growth

Dell is banking on that skill to juggle the equally diverse dynamics of the baking industry.

Despite the onslaught of Covid, labour shortages, supply chain challenges, soaring inflation and ingredients costs, among a host of other issues, feedback from ABA’s members is the US bakery industry is in better shape today than it was five years ago, ​according to ABA’s member. A sentiment shared by exhibitors at iba.

“The message I'm picking up is that the baking industry's doing well and it's growing,”​ said Dell.

“A lot of the bakers I've spoken to here are either increasing the size of their facility or updating their equipment … investing in their companies for growth, which is a really good sign. And updating equipment to be more sustainable or to take the friction out of the process.”

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Pic: GettyImages

He noted the sustainability message dominated the trade floor.

“Companies have sustainability all over their marketing. We’re also seeing equipment that'll help us meet new rules and regulations the government is putting in place. Some of the new equipment that I've seen will help us talk to our government agencies … to help craft those regulations so it actually works for the bakers and the environment as well.”

Dell added that during his visits to members around the US, he’s noticed “a huge focus on cutting down on waste … cutting down on the friction in the process.

“We had an ABA-sponsored session [at iba] on lean manufacturing. If you can take the friction and the waste out of the manufacturing, you have less waste, less food waste. So, we're talking about those issues right here, too.”

Artificial intelligence, too, is cropping up more in conversation.

“The opening session for iba had a futurist who spoke about AI - specifically about some of the solutions that AI is helping create on the healthcare side - but I think it's going to impact every industry. And talking with our bakers and our other member allieds, it's impacting both already.”

Building relationships

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Pic: GettyImages

Added Dell, “What I would like to take back is how can we do something better at IBIE … maybe something similar.

“IBIE 2025 is going to be a very exciting event … and everybody should be there. I think there’s still that pent up demand for folks to come out and be with other people,”​ said Dell.

According to Anjie Nicolaidis, ABA’s international specialist, while IBIE 2025 will predominantly attract players from the Northern American market, there is a big focus on targeting a much wider audience.

“The international pavilions, of course, are an important aspect of IBIE and we are actively working on bridging connections … and having a programme for international delegations … for bakers … who want to come and learn. We’re also looking for at opportunities to incorporate them into our education programme,”​ Nicolaidis told Bakery&Snacks.

“My job is to build relationships with other trade associations on the baker and supplier side and explore opportunities to collaborate, not just at IBIE, but between the industries.

“There are so many issues in the industry … it doesn't matter what country you're in. Workforce education and development seems to be a universal issue … there’s also a lot of conversation [at iba] about labelling and different types of policies and legislation that groups are working.

“It’s interesting to hear about the similarities across those different markets.”

Added Nicolaidis, “One of the hallmarks of ABA is industry collaboration. It has a strong history of collaborating across the food industry on various initiatives. And there’s a shared commitment to continue the exchange and dialogue … to collaborate with partners to advance common industry goals.”

As such, she welcomes contact from other associations.

“We use these trade event opportunities as one of our opportunities to really engage in person - to reconnect with some of those that we have established relationships with - but we were also reaching out to introduce ourselves. The globe is small and we [welcome new] introductions.”

The International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) is one of the world's most comprehensive baking trade fairs, showcasing cutting-edge tech, equipment and products to help attendees from the grain-based foods industry strengthen their competitive position, uncover new opportunities and maximise profits. Hosted by ABA, BEMA and RBA, the next event will take place from 13-17 September 2025 in Las Vegas.

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