[VIDEO] With an eye on being the fastest growing category in the food industry: How ABA walked the talk in Arizona

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags American Baking Association

From sunrise hikes in the desert to networking breakfasts, business sessions, and feel-good opportunities like the Bakers Give Back Community Service Event, a pickleball tournament and Salsa & Margarita Competition, the American Bakers Association’s (ABA) 2024 Convention – held at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona – had something for everyone.

Bakery&Snacks caught up with president and CEO Eric Dell to chat policy, growth, membership and gauge the feedback from the Convention, but more importantly, to find out more about the ABA’s new strategy.

Can you give me an overview of the key components of your 2024 strategy plan?

There’s a couple of goals and high level points that we want to hit.

The first is we want the baking industry to be the destination workplace – from bakers to ingredient suppliers and equipment manufacturers – where people can have a career that is meaningful to them and so that we can hire the people that want to hire. So, we are going to actively b working to assist our members to be able to provide careers and long-term value.

The second is category growth. We want to not just grow the category, we want to grow it because we believe we help with food insecurity issues, where people don’ have access to food. We can do the right thing by getting food into areas that don’t have access, which increases the category as well, but you’re doing good for others at the same time.

Category growth encompasses a lot of different things and we’ll be focused on telling the story of what our members do, where they work, live and play and give back to the community.

The third is building upon our strong foundation to give that high level impact: increasing the member value, the value of networking, of the events like where we're at right now and taking advocacy in our government relations work to the next level.

What prompted the development of this new strategy?

Like any business, you have to have a strategic plan. The last plan that ABA devised was in 2017 (before I was with ABA) and that plan had lived its life. It took us about a year [to write the new plan] with input from about 150 member companies.

We got in 42 visits around the country to listen to members and then the Working Group sessions with the Board of Directors ​to fine tune it so that we’re laser focused. The one thing that I kept hearing over and over was be focused and track results, because we have to track those ROIs and KPIs for our members and the organization, just like a corporation.

Do you believe being a baker is a good career?

Absolutely. It’s such a family-focused industry and all about creating that culture.

When I came to work at the ABA, I was going through the process and I said, ‘hey, I would love the position of president and CEO, but one of the things I want to relay is that I take my two sons to school every morning. I want to be able to do that and then come to work’. The Board instantly said, ‘of course we respect that because we’re family businesses and we care about families’. So, it’s that culture of caring that’s really strong.

How does the strategy align with the long-term goals of the ABA?

The strategy aligns perfectly with where we’re at with our purpose, mission and [updated] vision to be the fastest growing category in the food industry. ​The three pillars all drive towards that and put into place the tactics to get there.

How do you plan to measure the impact of the plan?

If you don’t measure, then there’s no use doing it. We’ve changed our entire reporting to our Board for every meeting and it's all based on our strategic plan. We’ve created a document that has each strategic goal, how to get there, the timeline that we need. We’re actually meeting next month to see what resources we need to put in the budget for next year because we have midyear fiscal and are focused on that. And we’ll report to the larger ABA members at the Convention next year.

If you look at all the programming for this year’s Convention, it also all fits back into the plan.

ABA puts a strong focus on policy and advocacy…

That’s crucial to not only protect the industry from regulations that may be intended for good but may harm the industry with no ill intent.

But it's really to promote the industry as well: changing that image with some lawmakers or elected officials in Washington DC or in States across the country; to explain and educate them on the industry.

I come to advocacy with the approach of ‘it’s not always about fighting and opposing things, but let's try to educate elected officials and policymakers and try to bring people together to the center to resolve the issues’. You’re not going to win if you’re on one side or the other all the way … I guess, you could, but it doesn’t last.

You really need to bring the sides together and come to reasonable solutions.

Getting down to grassroots level, how does the strategy help with the challenges and opportunities in the industry today?

With workforce, we’ve got an upgraded online tool that we'll be providing to our members, which will drive people to their sites for job openings. Also, working with those HR professionals to figure out what they need and creating exactly what that is.

Any highlights from the Convention?

I was excited at the energy and the new faces. Nearly 20% of the attendees were first time attendees (more than 100 of the 500 attendees), which is really cool. It just shows that the industry's vibrant, the industry's changing and not stagnant.

Some of the highlights … gosh, we had amazing speakers. Ben Nentim, for example, was just so motivational and moving – almost had me in tears with some of the stories. And then pickleball and the other sporting events were fun, as well as the community events. You and I were filling bags for the homeless in the [Phoenix] community, while others were making houses for bees to give back to the community, as well to the environment.

What upcoming events has ABA planned?

In June, we have our Fly-In, where we go to Capitol Hill and lobby our congress on our issues that are important to the industry. That'll be around workforce and so forth that we've already talked about.

We also have our [ongoing] NextGen Baker program for our next generation of leaders.

Then, at the beginning of October, we have Nexus, which brings suppliers and bakers together to do business. We also have a NextGen component tied to that.

And then there’s IBIE next September. We open up registration for this in September and we’re excited about how it looks. A lot of good things going on there.

Tell me about ABA.

We are wide open for business to anyone who’s a commercial baker – small, medium or large. Our members represent the entire supply chain: equipment manufacturers, ingredients suppliers, millers and bakers and those folks who provide services to the industry. We welcome them all.

ABA upcoming calendar

2024 Bakers Fly-In and Policy Summit

June 11, 2024, Washington, DC

Nexus 2024

October1-3, Washington, DC

2025 Convention

March 23-26, Orlando

IBIE (International Baking Industry Exposition)

September 13, Las Vegas

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