New FMI Format Has Ups and Downs
Commentary by Ronald Margulis, Managing Director, RAM Communications
The Food Marketing Institute held its first annual meeting last week in Las Vegas under a new format in which the trade expo will be held every other year, and the reviews were decidedly mixed. The show floor seemed crowded the first two days, but that may have been due to a shrinking hall, which was considerably smaller than the South Building at McCormick Place where FMI + MarkeTechnics was last year. Also, the configuration of the floor reminded many of the casinos nearby with disjointed aisles that confused attendees. And it was clear there was no need for a third day of exhibits, as most retailers left Tuesday night or early Wednesday.
The educational workshops were mostly well attended, and even the last general session on Wednesday morning attracted more than 200 people. The Speaks session, delivered solely by out-going FMI president Tim Hammonds after former senior vice president Michael Sansolo had led the effort for more than a decade, was filled with good information. Mr. Hammonds even tried to give the industry a wakeup call on the pending human relations crisis in the supermarket business, but is leaving it and other challenges to his successor. This is what I viewed as the biggest problem with the conference — there was an almost palpable sense of malaise at the show, and it wasn’t just from the state of the economy or the never-ending presidential primaries.
The industry certainly needs a wakeup call on the pending human relations crisis, and could use a kick in the pants on things like food safety and trading partner collaboration. Without a sense of vibrancy, really a passion for the business and its consumers, supermarkets will continue to be targeted by both government regulators and new competitors. There are still several questions to be answered, including how next year’s conference will turn out and whether exhibitors will return to the show in 2010. Whoever is chosen as the new chief of FMI must have this passion or the trade show, the association and the industry as a whole will suffer.
Discussion Questions: What should be the priorities of the incoming president of FMI? What are the most important issues facing the food retailing industry and what role must FMI play in these to remain a vibrant trade association?