ARLINGTON, Va. — Food Marketing Institute here will be focused on the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act in the year ahead, as well as regulations related to health care reform, according to Leslie G. Sarasin , president and chief executive officer.
In an interview with SN prior to this week’s FMI Midwinter Executive Conference, Sarasin shared some of her thoughts on the year ahead, including the Future Connect conference scheduled to begin April 30 in Orlando, Fla.
SN: What are the major initiatives planned for FMI this year?
LESLIE SARASIN: FMI is in the midst of developing the next iteration of our strategic plan.
What has come through loud and clear is how very important our members consider FMI’s work in several vital areas: government advocacy, food safety and looking for FMI to be the voice of food retail — which includes readily identifying and providing resources that prepare our members to address emerging issues.
Our process in cultivating this plan included extensive surveys and — in many cases – one-on-one interviews with our membership to get their thoughts about: The direction FMI should be taking; elements that are important we retain and strengthen; and what should be foremost in our considerations, thoughts and actions for the foreseeable future.
The extensive input from our membership into this plan has not only provided practical guidance in shaping our direction, but I trust will set FMI in a stronger position to take serving our members’ needs to the next level.
SN: What are the benefits of combining Midwinter with the GMA Executive Conference?
SARASIN: Our partnership with GMA continues to grow stronger. By combing our executive events, while we retain the integrity and the unique attributes of our respective conferences, we have the opportunity to bring our food retailing and manufacturing executives to one location and add a new layer of perspective. I’m enthusiastic about the energy for bridging our executive meetings, especially through networking and a shared sense of industry commitment.
SN: What are the biggest challenges FMI faces in the year ahead?
SARASIN: As the president and CEO of FMI, I am proud of the food safety programs we offer our members and the work all of us do in keeping America’s food supply the safest in the world. In 2013, we’ll certainly be focused on the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA.
We just welcomed FDA’s release of two proposed food safety regulations critical to safeguarding the U.S. food supply. The proposed rules — Preventative Controls for Human Food and Produce Safety — are important components to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which FMI supported when it was enacted by Congress and signed into law two years ago.
The food retail community shares the commitment to selling safe, quality food to its customers. Food safety is the highest priority for FMI and its members, and FMI appreciates the opportunity to review and comment on the proposed rules, in order for the final standards to properly safeguard the risk of product contamination. FMI food safety and regulatory teams, and their respective retailer committees, are proactively working with FDA in order to help the agency develop effective and workable regulations. We trust the outcomes will demonstrate how hands-on retailers want to be when it comes to safeguarding their customers and community from food safety threats.
On another note, health care reform presents mammoth challenges to the labor-intensive food retail industry, which includes introducing ourselves to and educating nearly 100 freshmen in Congress about our concerns with the reform and regulatory issues. We see this new, diverse Congress as an opportunity to educate and hear new opinions of members of Congress and the Administration. We will encourage Congress and the Administration to keep the health care law flexible so that food retailers can continue to offer benefits to their employees.
FMI Future Connect
SN: What can people expect from FMI Future Connect this year?
SARASIN: I witness each day how leadership development has been inherent in the food retail industry, demonstrated by so many stories of the industry’s senior leaders rising up through the ranks; in fact, many of today’s grocery CEOs started as bagger associates at their local store. However, like so much else in our world we must take what has been inherent, sharpen it and become much more transparent and intentional about it.
I also recognize that there are unique qualities that grocer executives must have that set them apart from most corporate CEOs — even retail CEOs. Our industry averages a 1% profit margin, which is arguably not the most attractive net return, but there’s a pride in doing business at that razor-thin margin and succeeding at what we do each day, which is feeding families and enriching the lives of so many in our communities.
We’ll see this pride and enthusiasm at our educational symposium, FMI’s 2013 Future Connect, which will be promoted from the main stage at our Midwinter Executive Conference. Midwinter Conference Chairman Jerry Garland  and I will emphasize how Future Connect is an opportunity for senior executives to recognize the opportunities within their teams and help groom future leaders. Future Connect will feature development in:
• Talent management and retention.
• Skill-building from technology to operations.
• Opportunities to enable successful trading partner relationships.
Future Connect will offer attendees valuable tools to help track their progress and set goals for their own professional growth. In other words be intentional about doing their part in developing their leadership skills and potential.
SN: What do you think some of the biggest accomplishments were at FMI in the last year?
SARASIN: The FMI team’s greatest successes in the past year must be counted in the arena of strategically building on our traditional strengths and bringing a renewed energy to crucial, but often unglamorous, concerns. We have fortified FMI’s core competencies that provide maximum member benefit, strengthening our advocacy efforts, food safety offerings and communication assistance.
Specifically, FMI seamlessly connected our rich past with a bright future by hosting a very successful FMI2012 show in Dallas. Educational offerings focused on the theme of “Know Your Customer,” effectively linking what participants heard from the research and the experts’ presentations in the educational sessions with what they experienced on the show floor — especially in the realm of technology. Plus, we introduced the new element of the Supermarket Chef Showdown to highlight the culinary artistry taking place day-in and day-out in supermarkets across the nation.