044: Mark Prendergast (AB Mauri North America)

Mark Prendergast on Innovation City

“It starts with a why: why are you doing it? Are you actually passionate about doing it, or is it just a job?” — Mark Prendergast

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in cooperation with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community. Venture Cafe is the largest combined gathering of entrepreneurs and innovators anywhere in the world. Events are held every Thursday in St. Louis, Miami, and other leading innovation cities around the globe.

Today’s guest is Mark Prendergast, President of AB Mauri North America. Headquartered in St. Louis, ABMNA is the largest division of AB Mauri, a global yeast and baking ingredients business. AB Mauri is also home to AB Biotek, a yeast innovation startup. Mark has over 20 years in the baking industry and he is also a non-executive director of Bridge Bread Bakery, a St. Louis-based nonprofit bakery that provides job opportunities for people experiencing homelessness or who are housing insecure. Mark sits down with our team today to talk about the baking industry as a whole, his time working at startups in the early 2000s, the importance of developing a passion for your work, and the power of fully-engaged employees.

They discuss:

  • AB Mauri: supplying baking solutions to the world’s bakers
  • AB Mauri’s headquarters in the Cortex Innovation District: the bakingHUB™, AB Mauri’s 5,000 SF experimental baking kitchen and yeast lab
  • AB Mauri is a division of Associated British Foods—they are not affiliated with Anheuser-Busch in any way
  • Mark’s background in baking; he knows pretty much everything there is to know about baking
  • 150 years of producing Fleischmann’s Yeast
  • How innovation fits into the baking business
  • Yeast business and ingredients business
  • Turning a thumbnail of product into 50,000 lbs. of yeast in 5 days
  • The science of yeast creation and food preservation
  • Enzyme technology
  • The science behind the squeeze test
  • Baking challenges: gluten-free, reduced sugar, reduced salt, reduced fat
  • The explosive growth of tortilla sales
  • The technology behind tortilla wraps
  • The difference between being a local baker and being an industrial-size baker with long supply chains
  • Being considered crazy when he committed AB Mauri to being the 2nd tenant in the Cortex’s 4240 Building
  • Mark’s brief entrepreneurial background: working in startups, working at an incubator, selling toys online
  • More similarities between startups and industry giants than not
  • AB Mauri products in roughly 40% of homes across the U.S.
  • Why every business needs a unique value proposition
  • How small business experience can give leaders a stronger understanding of how their businesses work
  • The importance of finding your business’ “Why?”
  • The importance of building a passion for the work
  • Being passionate for baking is the key to AB Mauri’s growth
  • Technical sales bakers working in the field in bakeries around the country
  • Explaining the why at every level of production
  • Overt and subtle engagement of the why throughout the company
  • The benefits of a satisfied and engaged customer
  • The importance of having the right people
  • Engaged staff are safe staff; the importance of providing safe working environments
  • The humble nature of the baking industry
  • The power of 1:1 interactions
  • Doing what needs to be done and going where you’re told to go
  • The optimism inherent in Venture Cafe
  • Novel uses for yeast: AB Biotek’s work developing fermentation yeast
  • Serving as the largest supplier of yeast to the Scotch Whisky industry
  • The importance of yeast to recent developments in fake meat
  • 6 bakers currently working at AB Mauri have graduated from Bridge Bread Bakery’s bakery training program, with about 20 total alumni who have moved on to other careers
  • The lack of hope that contributes to hopelessness, and how Bakery Bread helps rebuild their employee’s sense of hope