It has been a long road the past two years. I know I don’t have to tell you that, but it seemed a good way to start. Actually, it has been a long decade, with many ups and downs — Atkins, trans fats, food safety recalls and of course, the economy. We’ve said goodbye to colleagues — some by choice, some not — and competitors. After stating all that, it appears there were more downs than ups. But not so fast.

Consider what the past decade has forced the industry to do. Looking at the grand picture, which I admit is an impersonal thing to do, the industry has become more lean, more green and more efficient. Baking companies are more aware of their role in the health and wellness of consumers, and vice versa, consumers realize the role grain-based foods have in a healthy diet. Supplier innovations answered bakers’ calls for functional ingredients to make health claims, improved employee safety as well as equipment sanitation and advanced changeover speeds and overall quality.

The industry held its own through continued consumer demand for indulgence in the face of wellness; whole-grain products that don’t taste like sawdust; bars for every conceivable day part and circumstance; artisan and European bread varieties — once considered exotic — becoming a mainstay at home, restaurants and QSRs; and on and on.

On the downside, equipment suppliers have faced considerable hardship starting with skyrocketing stainless steel prices mid-decade to pullbacks of baker capital construction projects because of the economy. Bakers successfully squeezed more efficiency out of existing operations — good for them, not so good for equipment suppliers. Nevertheless, numerous suppliers report having a banner year.

What can we conclude from all this? Fortunately, I think we are on the cusp of a surge. While bakers are nearing peak efficiencies, they cannot output more products without additional equipment or physical space. New ingredients, product ideas and packaging continue to impress consumers, and the respect for grain-based foods continues to advance.

Interestingly, this issue of Baking & Snack hits most of the key buttons: the construction survey and report; a profile of a QSR bun baker with added success in fine indulgent pastries; a market report on bars; ingredient reports on fruits and fats; and equipment features on belting, and tortilla and cookie/cracker processing innovations.

As we shake off the ’00s and prepare to enter the second decade of the 21st century, changes are inevitable, and consumer attitudes will continue to evolve. Keep things fresh. We are.

Watch for our new material presentation in 2010 that will not only keep up with changing technology and society trends but will also take a few leaps as well. More on that in the coming months.