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Outgoing IDDBA Executive Readies For Retirement After Show

Mike Eardley

Mike Eardley, president and CEO of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, is getting ready to wrap up a decades-long career in the food industry. He will be retiring following the IDDBA Show, to be held June 4-6 in Anaheim, California.

Eardley recently reflected on his years in the industry and his plans for retirement.

Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eardley worked at his father’s small supermarket when he was young. While in college, he began working part-time with D&W Food Centers in Grand Rapids. That job led to an almost 30-year career with the company.

His boss at D&W asked Eardley to take over the deli. Even though Eardley said he didn’t know much about the department at that time, his boss recognized his love of food. “He said, delis and bakeries need to take care of a customer need…so we really started focusing on what the customer need was that we were filling and how did we do that.”

Eardley recalled how the late Carol Christison, then president of IDDBA, took him in the mid-1990s to San Antonio for a retail management forum and introduced him to H-E-B. When D&W was sold, H-E-B reached out and asked him to come to Texas. There, he served as director of deli, cheese and prepared foods. 

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Eardley served on the board of directors for IDDBA. Christison died in March 2014, and the board began a search for her replacement. Two board members contacted Eardley and asked for input as to what to look for when hiring a new president. 

He put together a position paper on six influencers, or foundational elements, that he saw as changing the industry: food safety, consolidation, technology, competition, lack of young people seeking jobs in the industry and building a sense of community and connection. After reading his paper, the board asked Eardley to interview for the position. “They agreed with what my vision was and hired me.”

Beginning his new role in August 2014, he said the first thing he did was “to learn.” He sat down and talked with every staff member, from receptionist to vice president. He brought back the association’s long-range planning committee to help define IDDBA’s role going forward.

Van's Kitchen
Theresa Motter and Michael Eardley at IDDBA 2022

After looking internally and externally, they came to realize that buyers and sellers intersect around food. 

Eardley said he often talks about bakeries and delis being less about products and more about customization to customer needs. “We give you that opportunity to customize the product mix – what you need – instead of telling if you want this, you have to buy this.”

IDDBA is “an essential resource and a leader to enable those buyers and sellers to align. And if they’re aligned, then we can deliver those relevant solutions to the consumer to fill their needs. We help them find the answer to their needs.”

As IDDBA has evolved over the years, Eardley said changing the show to become customer focused, making it easy to shop and have conversations was important, along with providing education and relevant information to members.

“I feel great that we’ve moved those things forward.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and two years of no IDDBA Show and no revenue was one of his most difficult challenges. “We had to focus very much on how are we going to hold ourselves together so that we can fill the needs of the industry as we come back together. I think we were able to do that.”

He said IDDBA staff has “done a phenomenal job” working alongside the board of directors and to achieve the long-range planning goals. 

“It’s a challenge. It’s managing through change, but I think those things that challenge you make you stronger in the end. I firmly believe that Dave [Haaf, new president and CEO] and the leaders that are here are going to be able to come back around.”

While he can’t predict the future, Eardley said he believes the areas of deli and bakery need more networking, not less, adding it is “very necessary to still get the industry together in one place.” 

Consolidation of companies, new technology and increased competition are bringing different people to the show now.

“I think that IDDBA is uniquely positioned to bring the people together to find solutions for the evolving industry.”

Eardley said the association is focused on attracting young people to the industry, whether through scholarships or bringing students to the show floor. This year, a group of culinary students from Los Angeles will be working in the What’s In Store Live area.

“They’ll see our show floor, and they’ll have time to have conversations and networking opportunities with the exhibitors and retailers. They’ll be able to see how the work comes together in the supermarket world. And we’re hoping that some of those culinary students are going to say, you know, this is a much better opportunity for our future than working in a restaurant.”

Noting that a number of his contemporaries are retiring, Eardley said “it’s pretty necessary that we bring new, free thinkers who can really take our focus of taking care of a customer with needs for higher quality food and take them to a whole other level.”

Eardley, who describes himself as focused on lifelong learning, said he is looking at retirement as a career choice. He has a three-ring binder, separated into sections – needs, wants, desires and directions. He has a bookcase filled with books he has wanted to read over the years but “never had the time to do it the right way.” He wants to devote time to reading, exercising, relaxing, volunteering and staying in contact with people who can challenge his thoughts and ideas.

“If you don’t challenge yourself, you’re going to get old and you’re not going to be happy. I hope to have conversations, and I hope that somebody decides that I can help them, whether it’s my ideas, my knowledge, my skill sets. I would hope that somebody could see that value to their work. Whether it’s a phone call or whether it’s a consulting gig, I’m wide open to that as long as it’s positive for me and positive for them.”

Eardley will miss the staff and board of directors at IDDBA and all the people who have helped him to learn, grow and evolve over the years.

“That’s why I have that call section in my book. I don’t ever want to lose those connections with all the people that are out there. It’s pretty amazing how many people do so much and stay so connected in this industry.”

Eardley will be recognized at a celebration for his retirement at 6 p.m. June 5 at the IDDBA Show.

For more information, visit iddba.org.

To read Eardley’s retirement announcement shared by The Shelby Report, click here.

About the author

Treva Bennett

Senior Content Creator

After 32 years in the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her new career exploring the world of groceries at The Shelby Report.

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Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Chicago, Illinois
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