Purchasing Seminar

A Powerful History

When the Sosland Publishing Company’s Purchasing Seminar was launched in 1978, an impetus for its creation was the sense that within the food processing, food service and food retailing worlds, the role of purchasing manager was in a real sense neglected. Purchasing executives often were not provided with the resources needed to succeed at their jobs. This despite the highly material and often unpredictable impact of commodity ingredient costs on the bottom lines of food businesses. The seminar helped begin to right this omission both through the richness of the content provided at the event and by valuable interactions the seminar facilitates with others in the field and with those seeking to provide products and services to ingredient buyers.  

Since 1978, the Sosland Publishing’s Purchasing Seminar has been held in June each year as a forum that has brought together purchasing executives and suppliers. Over three days each year, executives associated with purchasing gather for an intensive look into the commodity market situation and outlook, for networking and to conduct business.

Initially dubbed Seminar on Purchasing for Senior Executives in Breadstuffs, the first Purchasing Seminar was held June 12-13, 1978, at the Crown Center hotel in Kansas City and attended by 200. As suggested by the name, the milling and baking industries accounted for nearly all in attendance. Announcing the first seminar, Sosland Publishing said the event was “timed to provide guidance on purchasing decisions at the opening of the 1978-79 season.” As much as the program for many years was “baking centric,” presentations on grains, sweeteners and oils proved appealing over time to purchasing executives representing a broader swath of the processed foods industry. Attendance eclipsed 400 in 1992 and topped 850 in 2017.

Today, executives from hundreds of companies touching every corner of the food business register for the seminar each year. Among these, the largest 15 publicly traded food companies represented at the event generate annual revenues of more than a quarter trillion dollars. This total does not include the revenues of the large privately traded food processing companies, the food service companies, the food retailers or the food ingredient suppliers in attendance. The figure also doesn’t include the smaller and in many cases younger companies beginning to reach a scale where effective and efficient purchasing hits the radar screen as prerequisite for future success.

While many of elements of the 1978 program remain intact today, the number of presentations offered has broadened over time to reflect the changing profile of registrants. While most purchasing executives in attendance each year have extensive experience in procurement, a sizable percentage are new or have been in purchasing fewer than five years. An optional purchasing primer on the first day of the seminar has been offered for more than 15 years and draws attendance of about 150 annually.

While presentations on topical subjects such as purchasing organic ingredients have been introduced over the years, the core of the Purchasing Seminar program remains closely aligned with what was offered at the first seminar in 1978. Basic outlook reports were presented that year by, from left, Robbie M. Westmoreland, The Pillsbury Co., Minneapolis, bakery flour; Donald M. Mennel, The Mennel Milling Co., Fostoria, Ohio, soft wheat flour; Bruce Burnham, Connell Commodities, Inc., Westfield, N.J., fats and oils; Merrill Bateman, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, sweeteners; and Neil N. Sosland, Milling & Baking News, Kansas City.

A panel discussion on futures the second day of the seminar in 1978 featured, from left, Robert B. Gelbort, Mayer-Gelbort, Inc., Chicago; Daniel G. Amstutz, Cargill Investor Services, Inc., Chicago; and Ivan H. Auer, ContiCommodity Services, Inc., Chicago.