Our award-winning columnist, Jeff Dearduff, asks Santa for a healthy economy, improved workforce development and a reduction in commodity costs. Will the New Year grant his wishes?


Dear Santa

It’s that time of year again. Snow is falling on the northerners, and beachcombers begin donning their windbreakers while hitting the shore. Thanksgiving is over, and it’s time to gear up for that wonderful day in December where we overindulge everyone around us in hopes of seeing a smile.         It’s also the time when children write their “Dear Santa” letters, and visions of honey buns dance in their heads.

    I was walking down 42nd Street in New York City recently and was inspired to write my own letter to Santa seeking some miracles for the maintenance managers in the industry. So here goes.

Dear Santa,

It has been a rough year for the baking industry, and I wish for a few things that could help everyone kick off to a better next year. To start, I wish for commodity prices to remain reasonable so that we can gain control of our bottom lines and get back to spending some money on upgrading our bakeries.

    You see, with the price of flour, sugar and fuel going through the ceiling, many of our companies held off capital expenditures this year due to the unpredictable nature of the commodity markets.         Many of our engineers had high hopes of replacing some of their older systems, but had to drop back and spend their time keeping their existing processes going. There were probably some spare parts shelves in bakeries that had a chance for a good wipe down as inventory was depleted.

    Next, I wish for the healing of the economy so that our industry can return to aggressive growth.     When that happens, all engineers get to be a part of building new bakeries, buying more equipment and hiring more technicians. A down economy is supposed to be an okay time for food manufacturing, but everyone is still nervous about money and credit, so expansion is slowing.        

    When this gets fixed, we are ready to go.

    We also hope that bakery owners, especially those who haven’t ventured into robotics in the past, start to think about doing so. That’s because it looks like the next advances in bakery efficiencies are coming from the further automation of plants with robots. Personally, my belief is that the robot can be the hardest working, least problematic “employee” we can have, so when we open our imagination to accept these creatures, we will be better off. This will also provide work for an additional group we call RoboTechs, those qualified people who can set up and service these systems.

    And, Santa, our workforce picture needs some help. While there are so many people out of work across this country, why is it still tough to find people who want to make a career in the baking industry? We could use some more help from you in figuring out how we might promote our industry to those still trying to find their way to an exciting career. We offer good jobs and excellent long-term opportunities if everyone were aware of what existed.

    Maybe some simple recruitment flyers in their Christmas card envelopes could get the message across. Or maybe you can leave a little note to those people who are looking for a job. I heard it’s pretty tough for some people these days.

    I guess we also will need some advanced training tools at our disposal to enhance any attraction of new career employees. The past textbooks are good and still relevant for support of a person’s base knowledge in baking maintenance, but there is so much new technology coming out everyday that, if we don’t prepare our people for it, we likely won’t take it on at the pace that we need to in order to train our new employees properly.

    We know there is a lot of work going on in this area with our institutions, but maybe our suppliers need to get further involved in the educational process. A supplier who sells equipment and systems supplemented by an educational program may have an edge in the market. A hint left under their trees could get this ball rolling.

    And finally, there is this whole subject of the workplace environment. You know the deal about how we treat people and how they see their bosses and their opportunities today. Workers want to be more engaged, more informed and more respected. They also want their time away from work to spend with family, friends and hobbies. There are companies with some very creative ways to keep employees happy at work, but there are still some that are really “old school” yet today. We need some help on how we can get the “old schoolers” on board with today’s ideas. A four-day work week left in a few stockings could turn around some bad situations.

    That’s all for now Santa.

Sometimes, when we list out things that we wish for, the wishes can sound like prayers. Santa Claus has been a transformation over time from Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. However, the industry and economy is still experiencing rough seas. Maybe you should write your own letter for the New Year. 

    As you sit back sipping your eggnog this season, and you have your own visions of mechanical breakdowns dancing in your heads, remember that to change the way things are today, it always takes more than wishing. It also takes doing.

    Change requires leaders and leading is a choice, so if you choose to lead, you have more control of your future than if you follow.

    Happy Holidays from me and everyone at Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery magazine.

Jeff Dearduff