For coal miners, it was a canary that warned of trouble. For the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), it was the Twinkie. When Hostess, the venerable snack food’s parent company, declared bankruptcy ﬁve years ago, it was an indicator of larger forces at work, nibbling away at the triennial wholesale-baking show’s attendee and exhibitor bases.
In addition to industry consolidation, in recent years IBIE has dealt with the recession, low-carb diet fads, and niche competitors. And yet the most recent show — IBIE 2016, held Oct. 8–11 at the Las Vegas Convention Center — was the biggest yet. There were 23,000 attendees and, for the ﬁrst time ever, a sold-out exhibit hall, with 1,004 exhibitors spread over 700,000 square feet.
IBIE is sponsored by the American Bakers Association (ABA), Bakery Equipment Manufacturers and Allieds (BEMA), and Retail Bakers of America (RBA), and run by a volunteer committee made up of ABA and BEMA members, representing attendees and exhibitors, respectively. “We all work in the industry,” said IBIE 2016 Commit-tee Chair Michael Cornelis, vice president of American Pan, “and are heavily invested in the success of our show.”
Most operations are outsourced—including attendee acquisition, communications, and public relations, which since IBIE 2007 have all been handled by MDG, a tradeshow marketing agency headquartered in San Diego.
“They brought us in to turn things around and stop the bleeding,” said Jacquelyn Wells, a senior account strategist for MDG. “Essentially, their goal was growth and repositioning.”
Here’s what IBIE’s recipe for growth and repositioning has included:
Rolling Out More Categories
“When we were brought in, one of the opportunities we saw was to really expand and unite all segments of the grain-based foods industry,” Wells said. “Wholesale baking makes up most of that particular market, but we also brought in the retail-baking segments—tortillas, biscuits and crackers, snack foods, pizza. For all of these different segments of the grain-based foods industry, someone had to go to a different trade show to get what they needed.”
Now, they can just go to IBIE. RBA has been folded in as a sponsoring organization. The Tortilla Industry Association (TIA) co-locates. PMQ Pizza Magazine has been a partner since IBIE 2013, staging “a unique town-hall-style pavilion” called PMQ Pizza Village on the show ﬂoor. “Our goal,” Cornelis said, “is to bring the entire grain-based foods industry together to promote collaboration, commerce, and the overall advancement of the global baking industry.”
But it’s not enough to bring more market segments and thus more attendees to the show. You have to give them a reason not just to stay but to come back — and these days that means experiential learning.
“Consumers in general expect an experience,” Cornelis said. “It’s no longer good enough to walk up and down the aisles at a trade show. They want to be engaged.”
More than 15 different show features at IBIE 2016 were designed to do that, including the B.E.S.T. (Becoming Environmentally Sustainable Together) in Baking competition; RBA’s Pillsbury Baker’s Plus Grand Champion Creative Decorating Competition; TIA’s Technical Conference; the Idea LAB, featuring the Innovation Spotlight Theater, an ask-the-experts bar, and Bakers’ Dozen Café; and PMQ Pizza Village, which hosted not just the World Pizza Challenge but the Midwest Culinary and Acrobatic Trials, where “Pizzathletes” competed in “freestyle pizza acrobatics,” according to the IBIE 2016 website. “Can we turn a trade show into something like a retail-dining experience? Probably not, because we build up and build down,” Wells said. “But I do think that there are things that we can do to make it have more ambience and more energy and more buzz and excitement.”
While IBIE is always held in Las Vegas, “International” is right there in its name. How international exactly is the show? About 30 percent of IBIE 2016 participants — attendees and exhibitors alike — were from outside the United States, a number that’s “grown marginally over the last several years,” Wells said, “as we’ve ramped up that strategy.”
Ramping up has included working with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Buyer Program, partnering with baking industry organizations and publications in countries all over the world, and exhibiting at leading trade shows overseas such as IBA (Germany), Europan (France), MOBAC (Japan), Fipan (Brazil), and Bakery China.
IBIE 2007 “maybe had 12” education seminars, according to Wells. At IBIE 2016, there were more than 90 — initially bolstered by RBA, but also featuring participation from groups such as the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers Association, the Global Cold Chain Alliance, and the Grain Foods Foundation. Programming was offered in nine tracks: AIB Technical, Retail, Bread Bakers Guild of America, International, Management, Sales & Marketing, Ingredients & Processes, Food Safety & Sanitation, and Retail Hands-On (Cake & Pastry Decorating).
“It was really important that our audiences felt like the show was for them,” Wells said. “Our partners helped a lot in this area, so that we could tell that story and make it more compelling and ensure that people felt like this was their show, too.”