Columnist Jeff Dearduff shares his insights on which issues will be “Comin’ atcha in 2008,” including continued labor shortages, tighter bottom lines and higher production demands.


Comin' atcha in 2008

I thought it might be fitting to start out the New Year talking about some things that are coming at us in a big way here in 2008. Taking a page out “The Late Show” playbook, I will attempt to share some of my concerns through a Top Ten List. 

10. Continued labor shortages

Through the early part of the 21st Century, we have seen that it gets tougher every day to find people who “want” to work in bakeries. Believe me, we always will find people who “will” work in the plants, but the “want” part is what we desire. When we get those few who want to be part of our industry and heritage, we must find ways to keep them interested and engaged. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to attract qualified individuals and equally difficult to keep them. 

9. Higher prices for products made from oil

Every time you pull up to the gas pump and feel a pain in your wallet, it’s personal. We must prepare ourselves for this same tug on the back pocket at the bakery. Lubricants, paints and coatings as well as plastics continue to climb in price. Hopefully, when you developed your maintenance budget for 2008 these things were considered, as they cause your cost of maintaining equipment and buildings to rise. Don’t lose sight of the fact that every supply that lands at your back door has some level of fuel miles associated with it, so try to consolidate supply orders such that they can arrive with fewer deliveries. 

8. Tighter bottom lines

The P&L is getting hit hard by wheat prices and other commodities. Labor needs more money, and utilities get an increase in their share. The way most companies handle this is to cut back in the expense categories. Whether or not you had input into the budget for your department’s expenses, be prepared to give back somewhere down the line as the company tries to find its margins. Some companies will go to their customers to fill the gap, while others will see that as a last resort. You might be faced with tightening your own budget to prevent a price increase on the store shelf. 

7. EPA initiatives

Coming hot and heavy in 2008 will be regulations for spill control. Spill control, otherwise known as SPCC, has some serious elements that will affect the baking industry. Topics like tank inspection, containment areas and spill plans will be the center of your attention. Just designing a spill response plan will take up a lot of the time that you might typically use for plant maintenance activities. My advice: Start reading up on this, or hire an environmental consultant. This is one party you don’t want to be late for. 

6. OSHA issues

An important Occupational Safety & Health Administration initiative centers upon the chemical additive diacetyl. This is the stuff that makes you want to sniff the popcorn bag when it comes out of the microwave. If you’re using a butter flavor in or on your products, it will likely get some attention. OSHA already is starting to ask some questions of the general baking industry about how diacetyl is used in bread, rolls, muffins and cakes. Where this effects the bakery is in how you handle it, which may lead to special ventilating systems for the areas where it is used. 

5. Higher production demands

Obviously, the industry has the desire to efficiently use its capacity to everyone’s advantage. We’ve already seen that when a single company shuts down a number of bakeries in a given region, the other bakers around the area get over taxed ... right, California? Expect more of the same in 2008.More volume means more run time, which means less maintenance time. Can you say P.M. on the run?

4. Outsourcing

This topic dovetails onto the labor shortage issue. As it gets tougher to have your crew staffed with specialists, you will find yourself going outside more often. In today’s business world, this method can have its advantages, both financially and in productivity. When your are faced with a task that may be challenging your crew a little more than usual, don’t forget to look in the yellow pages for a reputable company that can fill your need.

3. Web training

Nothing new here, but we are seeing this media considered more often than not for specialized training that may apply to yourself or your crew. Setting a couple people down in front of a monitor will always be less expensive than flying them somewhere for an offsite event. Keep your eyes open for all kinds of online training and informational sharing opportunities.

2. Going green

Not that it hasn’t shown up on your doorstep already, but “going green” is going strong and will accelerate in ‘08. What started out as an attack on utility costs through conservation will become something a lot bigger this year. You will use the term “carbon footprint” in your water cooler conversations and may even be reporting your footprint to the customers you serve before the year ends.

1. Major storm to hit Chicago

I don’t know the complete forecast at this point, but the folks at the American Society of Baking weather center say that a storm is brewing. During the first few days of March 2008, the Doppler has it located on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Don’t miss the annual ASB meeting for the latest reports.

We have a lot to worry about in the coming years, and the issues we face will require more reading and research than ever before. There are a many resources right here within our industry, so use your networks to help you get pointed in the right direction no matter what you’re staring at. SF&WB