It’s hard to believe that we’re already off to a fast start this year, and it’s February. So many projects, events and new takes on old classics are in the works this month, as we prepare for more tradeshows, meetings and spring conferences. In planning for the spring convention season, don’t forget to check out the latest coverage on SNAXPO 2012, March 16-19, in Phoenix at the Phoenix Convention Center. Celebrating 75 years of success, the Snack Food Association will again be host to what is likely the largest, most comprehensive tradeshow devoted exclusively to the international snack food industry. SNAXPO 2012 will bring owners, executives and buyers from every segment in snacks, and is one of the best opportunities to drive new business, generate leads and promote your brand. Exhibiting at the show will expose you to more than 1,500 domestic and international snack food management professionals from more than 50 countries. From networking receptions and member meetings to educational sessions, new and emerging equipment technology and processes, and a Latin American program conducted entirely in Spanish, the action-packed event should not be missed.

On tap this month is a visit to Kangaroo Brands, a family-owned and operated Milwaukee bakery/snack producer that produces a variety of pita products including a hot new line of light and crunchy pita chips that are as tasty and better-for-you as they are innovative. Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery takes a tour of Kangaroo’s “chip plant,” a 72,000-sq.-ft. production facility devoted specifically to the company’s prosperous snack business. New packaging and extended shelf-life technologies factor into the developments at the facility, as do new flavor introductions, speedy throughput and value pricing. They are all reasons why Kangaroo Brands is “pocketing” our 2012 Snack Manufacturer of the Year award.

We also welcome another new Industry Expert columnist this month: Jim Munyon, president and CEO of the American Institute of Baking (AIB) International, Manhattan, Kan. Jim’s compelling food safety related column features a fond farewell to retiring Bill Pursely, vice president of the association’s food safety education department, who leaves a major mark on operations after nearly 32 years assisting food companies both large and small succeed in their endeavors to keep food safe.  We’re thrilled to have Jim on board contributing these interesting articles, so watch for The Food Safety Factor to appear regularly.

Sweet and savory snacks and baked goods are becoming a hot trend now. They have manufacturers looking toward new and exciting ways to grab consumer interest in their products through better-for-you options and unique flavor profiles. Our Market Trends for February examines new and recent product introductions that meet the needs of consumers who want sweet, savory and a combination of the two.

And take a look at our Final Word column from Marina Mayer, our Executive Editor, who discusses National Pie Month. Also in February, National Pie Month encompasses an assortment of happenings, as many pie bakers are holding contests, events and product introductions centered on this old-is-new-again pastry dish. It’s incredible how popular pie has become once again.

Pie notwithstanding, ethnic foods are creating quite a stir in the snack and bakery market segments. We’ve discovered various new ethnic product developments and twists on existing ones, so page over to our February Special Report to find details on the latest offerings in this fascinating product category.

The high-tech side of our issue includes a Production Technology article on depositors, dividers and rounders. These days, replacing an outdated depositor, divider or rounder—instead of repairing them—can result in production and financial benefits for bakers. Skyrocketing ingredient prices, stricter government sanitation regulations, growing consumer demand for whole-grain baked goods and a host of other factors are prompting some bakers to take a hard look at their current equipment and decide to invest in new machinery. We recently spoke to  to several equipment suppliers that have launched new systems and machinery. They share details on plenty of versatile, efficient and easy-to-use models from which to choose. So take a look and enjoy!