From its Manhattan, Kansas headquarters, AIB International plays a pivotal role in building a safe global food system.
At the crest of North Manhattan Avenue, with the Derby Food Center and Kansas State dorms in the rear-view mirror, an east-bound turn onto Bakers Way takes you to a small business campus with several older buildings, most with flat roofs, brown metal trim, and profiles from the 1970s. A black and white sign with red highlights bears the company’s logo, AIB. The word “International” is in small print, almost unreadable from the main road, understating the influence and geographic reach of this little-known “company on the hill.”
“Most people in Manhattan have no idea what we
In 1938, immediately before World War II, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act granted authority to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to oversee the safety of food produced by commercial suppliers. This act created standards. The standards resulted in mandatory training. The training required inspections to ensure the standards were being followed. AIB became a niche expert in helping define and create standards within the industry, offering training and inspections to the world’s largest and most profitable food and beverage manufacturers.
Although originally founded in Minneapolis, Minn., AIB moved and was based in Chicago for many decades until the late 70s. At that time, the headquarters was moved to Manhattan in order to be closer to Kansas State University’s Department of Grain Science and Industry. The company originated in the baking industry as an educational organization, training commercial bakers in a very narrow and specialized field.
Over the course of time, their customer base grew amorphously but consistently. The “International” in AIB International is certainly no pretentious attempt. They currently conduct business in over 120 countries across the globe. With regional headquarters in the UK (Surrey), Mexico (Guadalajara), and China (Shanghai) and over 250 employees, they are arguably the most geographically-diverse and widespread employer in the Flint Hills area.
“Our clientele is so diverse around the world, we must go to them,” President and CEO Andre Biane says. “From a talent standpoint, we compete against anybody and everybody in the food industry. 70% of our talent is already operating outside of Manhattan, so we are, by default, a virtual company. For us to undertake what we need to in the next 100 years, that talent, leadership, and specialization may not come from the United States, let alone Kansas. How we can construct ourselves and operate in a virtual environment is a key attracting point to find solid talent for our needs going forward.”
Biane discusses how, in the years prior to their centennial, AIB took the opportunity to ask their customers, “What does AIB mean in our marketplace and industry? How can we position ourselves to be easier/simpler to work with in the future?” The answers they received served as a catalyst as they began a multi-year transformation from a quasi-educational/academic organization and re-organized into a focused business entity with four distinct service lines: training, inspections and consulting, research and product development, and certification.
Modern Training Opportunities
Over the last century, AIB’s training has continued to evolve. It includes face-to-face hands-on training that is part of their clients’ new-hire curriculum. A testament to their virtual nature, it also includes e-learning modules for companies to incorporate into their digital on-boarding training, including gamification. As an extension of their legacy baking expertise, some training requires seasoned experts to be on-site exercising and training on the sensory aspects of the industry: Seeing. Feeling. Touching. Tasting. Smelling.
A trend that started twenty years ago and that has continued to accelerate is how clients expect training to be done close to their location, or on-site. Many processes and technology are proprietary, limiting training in a public/group setting. This has resulted in more personalized and customized training on-premises with individual clients.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) passed in 2011 required company executives to understand, and be liable for, onerous regulations regarding how foods are grown, harvested and processed. AIB’s portfolio includes executive-level training that is used by many of the largest and most well-known brands in the industry.
“This is probably one of the greatest feedback points we received from our industry. Our customers see us as partners and a trusted entity that can be consultative in how to deal with new regulation changes–how to implement them, train their employees, and grow in the future to get ahead of the regulation curve,” says Biane. “We won’t just tell them what they want to hear. We provide inspections based on the globally-recognized standards, and we can train companies to build the necessary processes and procedures to achieve these levels of quality and consistency.”
By constantly remaining educated on various global food and beverage regulations and in many cases (due to their expertise) providing input to creating the standards, AIB is uniquely positioned to help consult newly-formed companies and existing companies how to remain compliant with complicated and ever-changing requirements.
Research & Product Development
The original draw to Manhattan and Kansas State still remains strong as AIB continues to leverage research to help tie regulatory issues and baking processes together. One of their current research projects is in conjunction with the American Baking Association (ABA), K-State and University of Georgia researchers to create what are known as “Baking Process Kill Step Calculators”. These calculators can be used by industry companies to be able to calculate the proper time and temperature of certain baking processes to ensure that pathogens such as Salmonella have been properly killed.
These freely-available calculators assist companies with complying with the FMSA regulation and help them avoid conducting their own costly research. AIB’s R&D web page includes procedures and calculators for a handful of products including round-top cake muffins, crispy cookies, cheesecake, tortillas, buns, breads, and doughnuts.
Biane views Manhattan’s addition of the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) as a huge strategic win for the region that will continue to attract more biotech and pharma companies to the area. “This will be the only place in the Americas where you will have biosafety Level 2, 3, and 4 labs all in the same place. Companies will be able to conduct heavy-duty research all in a single location.”
AIB’s product development services focus primarily on labeling, and provide the transactional means of creating any type of ingredient or nutritional “fact panel” for products ranging from water to complex multi-component foods. Their expertise on regulations allow them to help companies interpret regulation and establish what type of product claims they can place on their packaging or in their advertising. Can they claim their product is “organic”? Allergy-free?
Their broad international footprint also allows them to assist companies exporting or importing into a wide-variety of companies. If they can’t answer the question using their own in-house expertise, they can connect companies to the right resources within their broader client/partner network.
Between Farm and Fork
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is a private organization that maintains a scheme to benchmark food safety standards for manufacturers. AIB operates a wholly-owned subsidiary that is a licensed and accredited certification body that specializes in helping food and beverage manufacturers become certified in manufacturing, packaging, storing and distributing their products according to the GFSI standards. By focusing on their century-long expertise in the industry, their well-respected brand, quick response time, and their “human” touch, AIB has expanded their customer base throughout the world.
“Have you heard of the phrase “farm to fork”? We touch everything after the farm, and before the fork. We have expertise in everything that happens in the supply chain process,” says Mayes. “We may have a relatively small company compared to others in our industry, but we take pride in the fact that we have a relatively big impact on the industry.” And it’s clear that their impact continues to grow. The small “baking company on a hill” may not get a lot of attention
Brandon W. Savage provides fractional COO and management strategy consulting to companies throughout the Flint Hills area. He is also an instructor of strategy, ethics and operations at the K-State College of Business Administration and received his MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Cheryl, live in Manhattan with their eight children. Find him at www.thecxpro.com