RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CA — Supply chain. Workforce. Sustainability. These overarching themes have haunted bakers for the past few years, but as lead times start to wane and technology lurches forward, bakers’ needs are rapidly evolving.

At the 2024 BEMA Convention, held June 28 – July 2 in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, a panel of bakers answered attendee questions around what challenges keep them up at night and what they need from supplier partners to help solve them.

Panelists included Edgar Jaramillo, senior VP of operations for Bimbo Bakeries USA; Jeff Teasedale, business team engineering manager for bakery at Campbell Snacks; Mike Porter, president and COO for New Horizons Baking Co.; Caroline Poulin, director of innovation, R&D and customer relations for Bakery Humanity; Paul Rainey, senior VP of operations support for Flowers Foods; and Stephanie Kelly, bakery general manager for manufacturing, warehouse and transportation at H-E-B.

Whether it’s working with equipment manufacturers for machines that will not only account for labor shortages but also be user-friendly for unskilled staff or partnering with ingredient suppliers to execute product development to bring innovation to market faster, bakers agreed that good vendor relationships are key for solving many challenges.  

Bakers also shared that while efficiency and reduced headcounts play into their ROI for capital spending, safety has to play a role, as well. In fact, it can become a key factor in determining whether to repair or replace a piece of equipment.

Equipment and ingredient innovation is critical for bakers today, but the panelists also took a moment to share their thoughts on issues surrounding workforce needs and some of their primary focus areas.



“As we grow our company and business, how do we keep people motivated to be the best versions of themselves?” — Mike Porter | president and COO | New Horizons Baking Co.


While the industry has faced labor shortages for the past decade, pandemic-related shifts completely — and, perhaps, permanently — altered expectations in the workplace, especially in food manufacturing industries such as baking.

New Horizons has always been a culture-focused organization, and the company has implemented workforce-centric changes as it moved into a vertically integrated business model.   

“One of the challenges we have is motivating our workforce in the midst of change,” Porter said. “As we grow our company and business, how do we keep people motivated to be the best versions of themselves? They understand change, but the rate of change is so fast now, that we are challenged to help them adapt more quickly as we continue to grow.”

One big way New Horizons has helped its workforce adapt to change is with alternative work schedules that include the option to work three longer workdays with four days off.

However, panelists also shared that supplier partners can help with the workforce situation beyond the products and services they provide. Whether it’s making machines easier to use or ingredients that are simpler to incorporate into a product, bakers want to lean on suppliers to help new employees get up to speed faster.

From sourcing new tools to creating better cultures, the theme for the Ask-A-Baker panel is that collaboration is key. When vendors and customers work together in support of better product development and improved working conditions, the baking industry will thrive.