Over the past few months—after nearly two years of disruption—I’ve been getting back into the saddle, visiting with the industry across the many pathways I carve through the course of my work. Whether visiting with snack and bakery companies across the U.S., touring facilities and telling their stories, or attending key industry events, a good percentage of my life is on the road. It helps me keep a reliable finger on the pulse of the industry, working to understand current market challenges—and potentially profitable new directions for R&D.

It all started with the BEMA Convention last June on Marco Island in Florida, an event that felt like a family reunion. We couldn’t have asked for a better re-entry to gathering as a community, sharing stories from the most-difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic—and optimistic strategies for the future.

Between now and then, I’ve hit six states, soaking in as much knowledge as possible at each stop along the way:

  • In August, we attended SNAXPO in Charlotte, NC, which offered some great insights into today’s transitional, post-COVID snacking market.

  • Then in September, I had the pleasure of visiting with the Herr Foods family at their headquarters in Nottingham, PA, not far from Philadelphia, a company that’s celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the subject of our November cover story (with a side trip to Tiffany’s Bakery in downtown Philly for some delicious steamed doughnuts—the subject of an upcoming Ingrained Insights podcast episode)

  • PACK EXPO Las Vegas followed, and had such an enthusiastic feel—packaging equipment purchases are through the roof, and the show had a palpable sense of anticipation, an industry yearning to lean into its growth

  • In October, I was off to visit with Schwartz Brothers Bakery leadership for an upcoming feature, a company that saw new opportunities open during the pandemic and is seeing unprecedented growth in its wholesale business into retailers like Kroger, Fred Meyer, and Costco

  • While in Washington, I spent a few days at the famous Washington State University grain and baking facility, The Bread Lab, in Bellingham, working alongside bakers from across the country experimenting with using raspberry ingredients across a variety of snack and bakery categories while taking a deep dive into grain trends, artisan technique, and all things raspberry

  • Then I was off to the International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC) Annual Conference—a group focused on restaurant and other foodservice trends and activity—which was held this year in historic Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay, an area where independent foodservice is finding a distinct voice and next-generation watermen are rebuilding a once-thriving oyster industry

  • Finally, as November arrived, I was at PROCESS EXPO in Chicago, where our Cannabis Products Exchange and Food Safety Summit events had a presence, helping with the educational program, connecting with a wide range of equipment manufacturers to get up to speed on the latest and greatest innovations

Well, that last one was in my hometown, but it put a fitting cap on a nice string of industry interaction. It was good to be back home in Chicago—but I’m already looking forward to hitting the road again. Interacting and collaborating with each other is how this industry cultivates innovation, and connecting face-to-face was long overdue. And I’m looking forward to many more opportunities to connect in 2022, leading up to the industry’s main event, IBIE, taking place in Las Vegas in October.

While things are far from back to “normal,” it certainly feels good to be back in the saddle.