DALLAS — A marked downtrend in the business outlook for bakery equipment manufacturers emerged in the second quarter of 2023, according to data from the Baking Equipment Manufacturers Association (BEMA) Intel Member Pulse Survey.

The findings were shared as part of a presentation Sept. 26 before an overflow educational session at the inaugural gathering of Nexus, an event jointly produced by BEMA and the American Bakers Association. The presentation by Marjorie Hellmer, president of Cypress Research, offered those in attendance a peek into the data gathered each quarter for BEMA Intel.

In the second quarter of 2023, 24% of equipment manufacturers responding to the Intel survey said the outlook for business was somewhat or very negative, a worsening from 9% in the first quarter and 17% in the second quarter of 2022. The negative responses in the second quarter were the highest since the second quarter of 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second-quarter bookings, similarly, were down for 31% of respondents, versus 24% in the first quarter and 15% in the second quarter of 2022. Again, the decrease was the worst since the second quarter of 2020.

Breaking the data down further, Ms. Hellmer said sales trends were weakest for restaurants/foodservice customers, with more neutral trends indicated for commercial, retail and distributor customers.

Increased material costs remained the single greatest concern of equipment makers in the second quarter of 2020, but the degree of concern moderated with 51% of respondents citing costs as an area of worry. The percentage was down from a high of 91%. Meanwhile other topics have been growing in concern, particularly weakening trends in the US economy.

Following the presentation, a prominent equipment manufacturer, speaking on background, affirmed that sales weakened in the second quarter, a trend that has extended into the third.

“Is it a shift back toward pre-COVID capital spending levels?” he asked. “Maybe. There was significant investment during COVID. This slowdown is occurring across the entire food industry, not just baking. It’s higher interest rates, the COVID hangover, the government money drying up. Investment has slowed down, but it hasn’t shut off.”