The Final Proof: April 2009
March 20, 2009 By Final Proof
Bakers Association of Canada president and CEO Paul Hetherington sat down with Bakers Journal for a chat about the upcoming BAC Congress 2009 in Vancouver – and why you should attend it.
About halfway into my first meeting with BAC president and CEO Paul Hetherington since becoming editor of Bakers Journal, I discovered he and I share some major common ground – namely, we aren’t bakers. Hetherington’s background is in associations, but he’s been involved with the industry for so long – 15 years – that he knows a thing or two about what makes this business tick, and why bakers need any excuse they can get to socialize and have a good time.
Bakers Journal / What’s the difference between the major trade shows – Bakery Showcase and Congress – and how have they evolved over the years?
Paul Hetherington/ Showcase has more history behind it, but it’s always been held in Toronto and very national and international in scope. When we were forming the BAC [in the 1990s] we realized it couldn’t be just an Ontario-based group; it had to be national, and that meant we had to involve members from all over the country, and Showcase really wasn’t portable. So we looked at setting up Congress as more of a convention that we could move around the country with only a few exhibits. But the industry said ‘No, we don’t want that; we want more exhibits; we want it to be more of a trade show because not everyone goes to Toronto [for Bakery Showcase].’
Since that time it’s become a smaller form of what we do in Toronto. It’s exhibit-
focused, with an education component, but the main difference is there are more social aspects to Congress than Showcase. [With Congress] we’ve found there is a far greater demand for events that bring people together and foster a sense of community.
When I first came to this industry in 1994 there was a lot more socializing. At monthly meetings you’d get far greater turnout than you do now. People are working longer hours, they have less to work with – they’re the proverbial lean and mean. And it’s not unique to bakers. If you look at other associations, people are just time-challenged in general, and on a too-frequent basis they are not able to participate, but if you come up with a special event, like Congress, then yeah, they will come out. That’s part of the attractiveness of Congress – the ability to centre on the social aspect the industry lacks at certain times. We don’t have these opportunities that often.
BJ / This year’s Congress has a new venue and a fantastic lineup of special events, from a sunset boat cruise to a wedding cake competition to a social evening with Michael “Pinball” Clemons of CFL fame. How have these changes affected interest in Congress?
PH / In 2005 we had a great Congress in Vancouver. We were in a hotel and we were very pleased with attendance and participation. We did a boat cruise that year, as well, and we sold it out; we had to turn people away. But this year we wanted a venue that was more conducive to exhibits, and we’re going to be 50 per cent bigger than in ’05 [with 60 new exhibitors and 90 per cent of exhibition space sold as of press time]. That’s one of the key things from an attendee perspective – there’s a lot of new things to see; it’s not the same old, same old. When you’re doing trade events of this nature, one of the challenges is making sure there’s always something fresh and new. You want to give people a reason to go again year after year.
BJ / What will people be talking about at this year’s Congress?
PH / Obviously, the economy will be issue No. 1. But I’m hoping people will be talking a lot about opportunities involving healthier products. If you look at what’s happening to the food industry in general and the pressures being put on us, there’s a need for development of more healthy products, whether it’s lower fat, lower sugar, lower sodium, more whole grains, whatever. That’s an area the industry needs to look at for opportunities.
There’s also going to be discussions about what’s going to happen over the next year with commodities like soybeans, wheat and sugar. We went through a horrible year last year. In the first half we had the incredible appreciation in commodity prices, which was just unprecedented and went from a boom to a bust. Then through the summer and into fall we had the financial crisis and the credit crisis. It was crisis, crisis, crisis – an incredibly challenging year for the industry.
And then I’m hoping there’s going to be a lot of discussion about opportunities to work with the first-time exhibitors at Congress. For those who are considering coming to the event, it’s important for them to look at the event in that vein: ‘Here’s an opportunity for me to do things better within my company, and I should take advantage of it.’ This is going to be a tool for them to use. It’s up to the industry to take advantage of it. We try to package it and bring the right mix, and I think we’re on track with offering the best and largest baking-specific event ever held in B.C.
BJ / What would you say to someone who is still sitting on the fence about whether to attend or exhibit at Congress this year?
PH / Even though we’re in challenging economic times, it’s more important than ever to get out there and promote and market yourself. Yes, we may be more restrictive in our spending, but there’s still dollars out there that need to be spent, and that means there are fewer dollars and more companies competing for those dollars. If you’re not out there marketing and promoting yourself, you’re going to be losing out on those opportunities. Congress is a destination event that provides the means to meet the customer and talk to them one on one. Whether it’s new customers or reinforcing ties with existing customers, it’s incredibly valuable and cost-effective. And when you consider the economic environment we’re in, it’s more important than ever before. / BJ
BAC Congress 2009 takes place April 26-27 at the Bill Copeland Centre in Burnaby, B.C. To register, see www.baking.ca.
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