Kerwin Brown is president and chief executive officer of BEMA. He has worked in the baking industry for 33 years, and 2022 marks his 10th International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE). IBIE is owned by BEMA and the American Bakers Association (ABA).
After a lengthy reliance on virtual meetings, how important is the in-person meeting to the industry?
The in-person element is fundamentally important. I will even go so far as to say the joy and excitement of being together again will be one of the major takeaways from the show. Trade shows are essential for bringing people together, and I think a show like this, especially one of this magnitude, is vital for everyone involved. It is vital for individual companies, and it is also vital for the individual attendee. With the newfound ease and comfort of participating in virtual meetings, the connections made in-person at IBIE will grow at an incredibly positive pace post-show.
What do you hope people take away from the show?
Relationships are key in any industry, and they are uniquely important in the baking industry. In our current environment, everyone is looking for solutions. IBIE brings the retail and wholesale categories together in one place, which creates a more significant opportunity to build relationships and find solutions at a level we have not been able to achieve in the past few years.
What new networking opportunities will be available at IBIE 2022?
IBIE offers so many networking opportunities and is the ideal place for bringing like-minded people together. This happens through attending educational sessions, taking in a presentation on the exhibitor stage, meeting people with similar business interests in one of the specialty pavilions, or if you are looking for something more low-key, many booths will have afternoon happy hours.
The Retail Bakers Center and Artisan Marketplace are two show features that really stand out as a place to make connections. Even if you are not interested in new bread, pastry or cake decorating techniques, it is hard to resist the incredible smells wafting throughout the Expo Hall. These demo theatre and café settings are excellent locations to meet contacts, and if there is a donut or fresh-baked bread waiting there, it’s even better!
What is your favorite part about IBIE? How has this part of the show been enhanced for 2022?
This will be my 10th IBIE, and this show keeps getting better. A decade ago, education and demonstrations only played a minor role in IBIE. Now those elements are a major draw, and the variety is exceptional. IBIE provides the largest educational program of any bakery trade show worldwide. No other international show has made such a conscious investment in education. This year, attendees can choose from more than 100 classes in nine well-defined categories. They can attend classes, interact with bakers and suppliers, and see the entire industry in one place.
There is also the Student Immersion program that offers college students the opportunity to learn more about the many careers in the industry. During IBIE, they will tour the show floor with mentors, network with industry professionals and have access to IBIEducate sessions.
What new features should people check out at this year’s event?
One of the most exciting new features will be the Cannabis Central Pavilion. This is a booming market — edibles could have a 15% share by 2025 — and there are a lot of questions about its use in the production of baked goods. Attendees will find more than just a focused set of exhibitors in this pavilion; it also offers relevant education sessions and Q&A with thought leaders in the field. It’s the perfect place to get your questions answered and explore opportunities in the space.
The Innovation Showcase, while not new, is a 2.0 version with a significant modern design in a new location in the skywalk, between the North and West Halls. Best described as a lounge, this area will feature around 70 new products, have music, a place to sit and relax and regroup, and some food choices.
How do you anticipate the current industry challenges will impact people’s goals for IBIE?
Trade shows have long been a place where people come looking for solutions. With so few expos taking place in-person over the past couple of years, I think most attendees will arrive at IBIE 2022 with a focused list of challenges to solve. One that is impacting every baker is labor. Because of the inability to find labor and the increased costs in doing so, the fundamental return on investment calculations have changed. When there’s not enough labor to run a line, the payback does not matter as much. Labor issues are forcing many bakers to look differently at automation solutions.
How important has the supply chain become in the decision-making process for purchases of equipment, ingredients and services, and how might attendees and exhibitors respond to this issue?
It is hard to find an area of the industry that has not been hit hard by supply chain issues. Late shipments, allocated ingredients and delayed launches are more common than ever. The bad news of these delays impacts both the baker and supplier sides and has created a positive side effect of shared understanding. These issues are driving the industry toward more automation, earlier planning and better communication, all things easier to solve in-person at IBIE.
What is driving that greater interest in technology over the past few years? How have advances in technology fueled the appetite for automation?
Machines are getting smarter and more adaptive. As technology becomes more prevalent in our lives, we are seeing more ways to improve communication between bakers and suppliers. Over the past couple of years, this has included using technology to troubleshoot on the plant floor, providing on-demand training across organizations and offering gamification of training for younger generations of operators. We hope this emphasis on technology will also make the industry attractive to a new generation of workers. We have reached out to universities to welcome students to IBIE and to let them know about the educational and student programs we have available.
How are bakeries and vendors searching for technology from other industries to incorporate in their equipment or operations?
It is safe to say both bakers and vendors are looking at new ways to do business. In an age where labor continues to be a top concern, there will be more interest in what technology can do for a business. Price points have also dropped, allowing bakers to look at technology differently than they might have in the past. The question remaining is how that technology will be beneficial to the bottom line.
What’s the top reason people come to IBIE?
IBIE is a showcase, a place where people expect to see the latest and greatest the industry offers, and there is a tendency for great ideas to spark when people come together. Therefore, exhibitors use IBIE to debut their latest innovations. IBIE is also a place to make valuable connections, brainstorm and dream about what is next for our industry. It is a hub for serendipitous encounters and in-the-moment experiences.