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This month, I had my favorite phone calls of our two-year show cycle – brainstorming with our councils on what type of food products we can produce at the 2025 EATS show, next October in Chicago. The core of this discussion is real simple, what products are out there in your segment that are “cool” and will draw the interest of food manufacturers? Once we have that answer, then we’ll figure out all the components that are needed in our production line to make that product but honestly, that part is easy when you have a bunch of engineers weighing in. We are the Food Production Solutions Association after all.

This first call is like a wish list for the Pet Foods, Meat, and Bakery segments. We start with great feedback from our trade pub partners, as they report on hot products every month. The ideas start there and move quickly. The first group settled on the “fresh category” for pet food. How did I not think of that? Every week I have to open up that fridge in the supermarket to get my 19-year-old lab the one food that she will devour quickly enough to keep her weight on. Price tag? That doesn’t matter. She’s my baby. It’s that type of consumer thinking that is sustaining amazing growth rates in the fresh segment.

Soon after that, I speak with the Meat Council (MISA). Unsurprisingly, they’ve already discussed this and come up with the product. Sliced dry sausage or pepperoni which we are going to see if we can distribute onto another product such as a frozen pizza or sandwich. Last year’s sliced bacon line was the longest we ever put together at our tradeshow. From the looks of it, I expect this line might be even longer.

And after that, the Bakery Council came up with two ideas (let’s say 1a and 1b) depending on availability of certain technologies for the show. 1a is a folded dough product such as a cheese Danish, while 1b is a cupcake or muffin line. We should know the answer to this one in the next few weeks. After that, we’ll be focused on the planning of how these get put together. FPSA members who have equipment in these types of lines should feel free to reach out to me to let me know they are interested in participating. Just know that I won’t have the process flow chart until late summer when staff and the Design Build Network determine which companies will be the Project Manager for each line. Once that is done, I’ll have a much better idea of the equipment we are looking to place.

So, what’s with the teaser in May then? Well, on the one hand we want to get the word out so that more members who have never participated in one of our production lines are made aware of this great opportunity. On the other hand, when the time comes to start signing up participants after Labor Day, I will no longer be writing this blog. On May 31st, I am stepping down from my position at FPSA after 24+ years and moving abroad. I will however continue to organize these lines from the luxury of my cabin in Patagonia, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.

It has truly been an honor to work with such amazing people in this industry. I only expected to spend 3-4 years at this company and then I would move on to the next opportunity, as I had for the previous ten years of my career. The list of exceptional people that made me rethink those plans time and time again is far too long to share here. I would rather just say thank you to all for your support and for helping us get some great projects done and done well. I look forward to the next year and a half building these great lines and continuing to collaborate with awesome people who work hard to advance our industry.

Thank you.

Andy Drennan