In the ongoing grip of the COVID-19 pandemic as we enter a new year, and a new administration in Washington, we reached out for an update from Robb MacKie, President and CEO, American Bakers Association (ABA), Washington, D.C.


SF&WB: What new operational and personnel procedures have you heard about from your members during the COVID-19 pandemic?

ROBB MACKIE: The baking industry has always been a leader in safety procedures for both personnel and products. When COVID first hit, ABA worked with its food supply-chain partners on guidance documents and protocols to assist bakers and suppliers. We then worked with both CDC and FDA to get their approval for our protocols.

I’m certain our members have instituted the CDC’s safety recommendations tailored to their specific needs, which on one hand is temporary in that it’s related to this specific event. That said, our members have always and will always adhere to safety protocols instituted by governing bodies. In that way, it was more of the same for our members.

As for ABA, the service we have offered throughout this pandemic is part of our constant mission of creating an environment where our members can provide families with a safe, steady supply of baked goods.

SF&WB: How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced your perspective on company workforce development?

RM: We have known for a while that it’s critically important to train our workforce on a regular basis, whether onboarding a new member to the team or helping them understand a more-complicated facet of the baking process. The pandemic has taught us that having a catalogue of training options in a virtual format is a powerful way to continue workforce training. Online training is available from a number of companies, but I’d be remiss in not pointing out ABA’s new online training course BAKING BASICS 101. At the start of the pandemic, our education committee and team recognized the need to provide a straightforward, one-hour, extremely fairly priced online course to help companies onboard new employees by teaching the baking process, no matter what the product.

We have also identified the need to have a virtual marketplace of baking industry jobs. In fact, a program we launched in June, BAKINGWORKS.ORG, was supposed to have launched in early 2021, but because of the pandemic, we moved the launch of online job board to the summer of 2020.

SF&WB: How is the pandemic impacting industry sales and marketing strategies?

RM: Never in modern history have so many traditions, habits, and ways of thinking been changed so rapidly. From an upswing in home baking, to a high demand for pre-packaged foods, consumers are moving away from entrenched ideas about baked goods. At the 2021 ABA CONVENTION, we are going to explore how we can understand the dynamics behind this change and what can be done to maintain baking category momentum.

SF&WB: What lasting industry impacts do you anticipate will result from the COVID-19 pandemic?

RM: While this crisis is entirely different from ones we have weathered before, the response is the same: Our industry bands together ensuring we can continue feeding America’s families safe, healthy, and, let’s admit it—sometimes indulgent—food staples. The sustenance and joy our industry provides is the core of our members’ noble work. It’s in trying times like these that others get to see it.

As America experienced the rolling waves of shutdowns and quarantines and the extreme fear of the unknown, as the federal government invoked various acts to protect the food supply, and our association worked to ensure our industry had tools to stay operational or to be supported during a dire time (see ABA CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES), our members and our industry exemplified to themselves and others how they are, and always have been, pillars of their communities.

We’ve heard stories of extreme acts of giving: millions of baked goods donated to countless food banks, thousands of volunteers from our industry (some of whom have even been temporarily furloughed), taking time to give back, and the heroic efforts of baking industry employees pushing aside fears and coming to work, safely making and delivering the products we need today and always (see ABA BAKING STRONG) and the BAMA CEO RELAYS FOODSERVICE, International Impact podcast). We wholeheartedly applaud this work and would love to help amplify these stories through our various communications channels (EMAIL ABA).

During the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we were all together at IBIE in Las Vegas. That seminal moment swiftly changed many facets of that specific event and of our lives, not unlike how this pandemic will certainly affect how we go about doing business, operating our plants, and countless other ways. When the attendees of IBIE in 2001 quickly dispersed (as quickly as they could) to be back at their home bases, the sense of togetherness even though we were apart was palpable.

Now, we truly cannot physically be together, yet I feel we have never been closer.