Strategic Partnerships Help Industries Weather Tough Times

President & CEO


Some strategic partnerships were created to help industries weather tough times; sometimes those tough times are due to internal issues, sometimes external issues, sometimes uncontrollable circumstances, sometimes extraordinary opportunities, and occasionally in preparation to achieve the next breakthrough. Successful strategic partnerships come in all shapes, sizes, textures, colors and flavors. Nowadays, industry CEOs are using a new application of strategic partnerships that are more inclusive, impactful and ambitious—the sort that moves the needle for entire industries.

For the Baking Industry their strategic partner is the American Bakers Association, and it has represented commercial baking interests since 1897. It has worked tirelessly for decades “to increase protection from costly government overreach, build the talent pool of skilled workers with specialized training programs, and forge industry alignment by establishing a more receptive environment to grow the baking industry.” The baking industry is specifically defined here as “those firms involved in the production, distribution/importation, and retailing of baked goods including breads, cakes, pies, pastries, cookies, crackers, tortillas, pasta, pretzels, cereal and granola bars, baking mixes, and other bakery products.” It also includes pre-prepared dough and frozen bakery products manufacturers.

Over the years, however, recognizing and responding to the fact that the bakers’ fortunes are inextricably linked to the stability of the entire supply chain, the association expanded its membership to include suppliers to the baking industry, and also to international bakeries and suppliers. Today, the ABA seeks to shape the business environment on behalf of a vast and complex network of interconnected and interdependent businesses stretching across a wide array of specializations, including bakers, suppliers (which they classify as allied), and international firms.

What certainly was a matter of preparation is the strategic plan developed by and for the baking industry back in 2017. The endeavor was undertaken with the conscious intention of strengthening communications and relationships with a view to developing bona fide strategic partnerships between ABA and its members and the industry, as well as with others across the supply chain.

One of the key focuses of the new strategic industry plan is about pursuing state government relations (to expand the industry’s ability to shape the marketplace) with the same vim and vigor that have been applied to developing federal relationships for many years.

With a strong desire to help the industry, past ABA president Robb MacKie and his team sought to deliver quick wins in states around the United States. The first is the use of reusable plastic trays that are critical components of baking goods distribution. They are a safe, reliable, and durable method to bring finished products from plants, to depots, and commercial customers, and then returned to the plants. Organized tray theft is expensive, costing industry companies $10 million per year to replace the trays. Theft also results in operational and distribution disruption for baking companies. MacKie and his team saw this is an urgent call to action:

  • Leading a powerful effort in the state of Maryland in 2013, ABA and its industry strategic partners organizations and members achieved successful passage of a new law that allows owners of reusable trays to bring civil action and recover damages resulting from The new law also increased specified penalties and fines for offenders.
  • Later, in 2019, through its state and local partnerships and its members including Bimbo Bakeries USA, Flowers Industries, Kroger, smaller companies, and state and local partnerships, the association went to the Texas state capitol in Austin to have new laws enacted that would prevent tray loss that cost the industry $5 million in losses on an annual The legislation spear- headed by the Texas Retailers Association with strong support from ABA became law and applies criminal penalties to tray theft and allows civil recovery by prosecutors.

The second quick win has to do with New Jersey attempting to severely limit the operation of independent distributors in the state. Since half the industry utilizes independent distributors to get their products to the marketplace, ABA stepped in to support baking companies that include Amoroso’s, Pepperidge Farm, Martin’s Famous Potato Rolls and Bread, and several other companies. Through their focused efforts, the association thwarted this effort through alliances with nontraditional partners such as the newspaper and copywriter industry.

The state government relations effort is part of a much larger collaborative and strategic alliance focus that works to help the baking industry reduce costs and maintain its competitiveness. While COVID-19, a black swan event, raised the stakes for the baking industry, it relied upon its strategic partner association, ABA to unite the supply chain, build out their ecosystem, keep factories open, maintain worker safety, and deliver food to anxious consumers.

ABA, similar to many other forward leaning trade associations, are transforming their role to strategic partners for the industry they serve. These organizations are far more nimble, adaptive, and help industries weather tough times. In an era of chronic uncertainty, trade associations are playing an increasingly important role helping their members by Reimagining Industry Growth.