Key Business Outlooks For 2024 (6/10): Tara Fischer, President, ECD

The year 2023 has brought more international turmoil, supply chain disruption and historic inflation all over the globe, putting a lot of pressure on the baking industry. Concerns about the availability of raw materials, the cost of energy, transport capacity, regulations, labor shortage and purchasing power had companies and professionals worried and looking for solutions.

That is what we see in these interviews with top managers from the most important industry players: the industry fought back and invested in research and development to provide sustainable solutions that address these challenges.

For 2024, representatives of some of the most important equipment and ingredients manufacturing companies talk in unison about sustainability, automation, energy-saving technology, traceability and working for the customers, to make sure their access to good bakery products is unhindered by the setbacks of the world. None of the viewpoints shared with us is lacking in hope, an essential attribute for a long-term winning business.

Conventional food production systems have enjoyed uninterrupted growth over the last few decades. While this trend is expected to continue in the short term, resource constraints may dampen expansion in the long term. Furthermore, the sector is increasingly ripe for disruption.

It is up to the bakers, transporters and retailers to find the right way to stay profitable and capitalize on the market opportunities that await them in 2024.

Tara Fischer, President, ECD

Considering the market volatility, the bottleneck of resources, the energy crisis, the increasing prices and workforce scarcity, what does this past year look like for your company when you draw the line?

Global inflation pressures have impacted nearly all market sectors and baking is no exception. Price-conscious consumers make cost-benefit decisions, which has prompted bakers to reconsider packaging strategies, varieties, and other aspects of their baked goods portfolio as inflation has persisted. Operationally, production efficiency and higher yields also help to reduce cost, which is ECD’s sweet spot. Consequently, we have seen an uptick in interest and orders for sensors and thermal profiling products as bakers look to use precision tools to optimize production.

Internally, ECD has adjusted to market pressures as most companies have, but we had a solid year in 2023 and expect 2024 to track the 5% to 7% growth anticipated in the baking market. Last year, our newly launched products gained steam, we expanded our engineering team, and we invested in new operational technologies. These moves have put us in a great position, and our outlook for the future is very positive.

What are your expectations and priorities for 2024? How do you see the market evolving?

ECD has seen more bakeries – particularly large and mid-tier companies – embrace the science of baking and the need for precision verification of baking systems and baked goods. Thermal profiling is the only way to scientifically assess oven health and efficiency, baked product thermal transformation, and food safety compliance. Our M.O.L.E. thermal profilers, along with OvenBALANCER, BreadOMETER, and CakeOMETER sensors, are scalable tools that enable the measurement of critical data to yield a more robust, repeatable baking process. And, while there is definitely an art to baking, you can’t argue with proven science and its results. Data acquisition is vital for quality assurance, and I think the bakeries that don’t already employ these simple and effective technologies will soon begin to do so for their competitive well-being.

In line with this, ECD acted on our customers’ interest in an intuitive thermal profiler, and we developed the touchscreen M.O.L.E. EV6. Complete control and profile results can be managed and viewed on the device, in the palm of your hand. Profiled data can be analyzed immediately without a PC. So, as bakers increasingly integrate scientific measurement methods into their operations, they will find thermal profiling is more seamless and easier to manage than ever before.

Where did the growth opportunities come from and what is the most important lesson you have learned in recent times?

Much of ECD’s growth has come from the realization that data and its proper analysis and application can enable a higher-quality, higher-yield result. The less scrap a bakery has, the more consistent its quality and shelf-life, and the more efficiently its ovens run, the healthier the business. Thermal profiling was once viewed as something the big baking companies did and was a nice-to-have, but now it is becoming standard practice for bakeries of all sizes, and ECD is proud to be part of this evolution. Comparable historical data electronically recorded beats a pen and clipboard every time!

We also see an opportunity to transition current users of our previous-generation M.O.L.E. profilers to the state-of-the-art touchscreen version, which helps save time and reduces complexity. Finally, while bread, biscuit, and cracker bakers have long understood the value of thermal profiling, cake bakers are recognizing how beneficial in-depth process data can be.

What do you consider to be the most valuable asset you have in 2024 as a company?

Our team, its expertise, our loyal customers, and our proprietary technologies are ECD’s most valuable assets.

As part of your growth strategy, how do you prioritize your investments versus your R&D efforts?

R&D investments are prioritized by assessing customer needs, market viability, and the unique value ECD can deliver. This process and our in-depth technology roadmap planning have served us well over our 60 years in business.

What was unexpected in 2023 and how did it impact your business?

Read the rest of the story in the January / February edition of European Baker & Biscuit.

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