Baking technology, as showcased every three years at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), changes over time in ways that reflect how the baking industry is evolving. In some instances, advances in automation help drive industry change. 

E-commerce for the food industry emerged as a powerful trend at the start of the pandemic, and for the baking sector interest in the abruptly emerging channel has picked up steadily. 

As early as July 2020, grain-based foods companies were devoting attention to the growth and potential of online business. At the time, Jeffrey L. Harmening, chief executive officer of General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, noted that e-commerce sales accounted for about 9% of sales in the first few months of the pandemic. Speaking to the marketplace’s potential, Jonathan J. Nudi, president of North America Retail for General Mills, said the company’s online business was up 250% from a year earlier during the spring of 2020 and that 50% of US households purchased products online during the previous 12 months. 

Bakers have demonstrated growing interest, too. Earlier this year, A. Ryals McMullian, president and CEO at Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga., said Flowers was determined to become “the category leader driving sales at traditional retailers’ websites, online retailers and last-mile delivery partners.”

During a panel discussion at the 2022 annual meeting of the American Bakers Association, Omar N. Haque, vice president, general manager and head of eCommerce Acelerada for Bimbo Bakeries USA, of Horsham, Pa., told bakers online baked foods sales are gaining momentum and that even now 20% to 30% of consumers do all of their grocery shopping online. 

He warned that bakers will need to compete vigorously to stand out in the e-commerce marketplace.

“There is a misconception that the online shelf is endless,” he said. “Yes, you search in any category and Amazon, Instacart, Kroger, Walmart, you see thousands of results, that’s true. But the reality is the digital shelf is much smaller. Seldom do shoppers go beyond the first page, especially on a small screen, by results.”

While bread is one of the most heavily searched products for online food shoppers, the baking industry lags the broad food industry, said JP Frossard of Rabobank.

There is still lots of room for the baking industry to do e-commerce business, Mr. Frossard noted.

“Only one in three [online food] purchases have a baked good,” he said. “Baked goods have a 100% penetration in households, so why is it only in one in three orders? The consumers are eating these products, they’re just not buying them online, and we need to understand why.”