LAS VEGAS — While the baking industry celebrates the return to in-person interaction, there is something to be said for the role virtual tools have played. They’ve not only helped commercial bakeries keep operations afloat but also, on a certain level, changed the way the industry does business.

Nearly every industry is shifting to work-from-home or hybrid strategies, as well as a new “gig” mentality for work on-demand. That’s changing consumer eating preferences and purchasing habits, which directly impact the baking industry.

“With people not necessarily going into the office five days a week, it’s affecting the lunch stops, sub shops and other franchise chains, “said Robb MacKie, president and CEO of American Bakers Association (ABA) and co-owner of IBIE. “Looking at how the breakfast category is changing as well, we know it’s going to impact how our members operate and their position in the market. And the suppliers will have to adjust to that, too.”

Through challenges and opportunities that have come from these shifts, adaptability has proven to be the baking industry’s modus operandi.

Many bakers have adapted to things like remote factory acceptance tests (FATs) when COVID spikes caused restrictions to tighten or for vendor meetings when travel schedules just don’t jive.


“We’ve gotten much more efficient on the virtual side,” said Kerwin Brown, president and CEO of BEMA and co-owner of IBIE. “Whether it’s for FATs or customer support, a lot of it was already there and we just didn’t utilize it. I believe we’ll take what we’ve learned and keep using it for the future.”

Remote tools will remain in the toolbox. In fact, MacKie described one ABA member company that managed four international plant startups — in three different countries — all virtually.

While these options keep the industry and workforce moving on the daily, that sentiment doesn’t translate to tradeshows and events. For IBIE exhibitors and attendees, the feeling is the same: Nothing beats being in-person.

Although remote interaction strengthened existing relationships between bakers and their current vendors, it also limited their ability to develop new relationships. Live events have been proven to be the most effective channel to find new leads, with IBIE research indicating that closing a deal from a tradeshow lead is almost half the cost of closing one from a sales call.

“I’ve talked to so many bakers who have said, ‘We had to rely on our current vendor list because we couldn’t go out to see other things or meet new people,” Brown said. According to Excalibur Exhibits, nearly half of tradeshow attendees plan to buy at least one of the products or services on display.

“Looking at how the breakfast category is changing as well, we know it’s going to impact how our members operate and their position in the market. And the suppliers will have to adjust to that, too.” —Robb Mackie | president and CEO | ABA


Although North American bakery professionals have been able to use in-person meetings and conventions for IBIE preparation, many companies abroad have not had the luxury. Events such as interpack in Dusseldorf, Germany, and Munich’s iba show (a strategic partner to IBIE) have yet to see their tradeshow floors,leaving international operators hungry for face time.

With an official partnership with IBIE, iba organizers made the difficult decision to postpone its show — for the second time — until 2023, allowing IBIE to open uninterrupted.

International travel has become much easier in recent months thanks to relaxed restrictions, whether from governmental or corporate directives. That’s not only alleviating bottlenecks for doing business, but it’s also good news for international attendees seeking the tradeshow experience once again.

“It’s been so refreshing to speak with people from Canada, Italy and different parts of Europe and hearing how the travel has become easier,” Brown said. “This is something we’ve been keeping a close eye on.”

In addition to eyeing a matrix of international activity to understand the needs and interaction from inter-national attendance, MacKie is also participating in regular calls with counterparts around the world to discuss market conditions and conduct outreach.

Reflecting on all that’s happened, and looking toward the future, Brown and MacKie understand the importance of taking nothing for granted.


After all the adversity, it would be easy for the industry to walk into IBIE a little worse for wear, but the reality is that bakery today is smarter and stronger.

Brown sees all the happenings of the past 30 months as “disruptors.” That can be terrifying and even costly, but good can also come from disruption, as long as we mute the echo chamber.

“I’m excited to be back in a place where meetings — IBIE in particular — are something people can decide to attend and not have to question, ‘Can I get there?’” Brown said. “Then we get to choose where the right place is to be. And overall, we think IBIE is the right place to be.”

This story has been adapted from the July | IBIE ShowGuide 2022 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.