ASMC TO PLUG IN COMMUNICATIONS STANDARD

RESTON, Va. -- The Association of Sales and Marketing Cos. here is unveiling a new data communications standard for use by its members and the consumer-goods manufacturers they represent.The Internet-based standard, called CommNet, is the result of years of research and testing of an initiative called Project Info."This is going to be our communications standard going forward," Robert Schwarze, ASMC

RESTON, Va. -- The Association of Sales and Marketing Cos. here is unveiling a new data communications standard for use by its members and the consumer-goods manufacturers they represent.

The Internet-based standard, called CommNet, is the result of years of research and testing of an initiative called Project Info.

"This is going to be our communications standard going forward," Robert Schwarze, ASMC president and chief executive officer, said just before the association's annual business forum and expo, Dec. 5 to 8 in San Francisco. The ASMC changed its name from the National Association of Food Brokers a year ago.

He said the new data communications standard, which will be officially announced at the convention, will eliminate the need for brokers to deal with several different proprietary systems that principals use.

"Literally, what it will enable us to do is to have all of our principals communicating to us by one system -- one computer in the broker's office that can network with all of the other computers. That's where we hope to get a big savings from technology," he said.

The standard relies on the Internet and "thin-client" technology. The former enables almost instantaneous point-to-point communications with any person anywhere at low cost. Thin-client technology is the enabling infrastructure -- that is, software and process -- that allows trading partners to deliver their proprietary processes and tools to each other via the Internet.

To develop the standard, the ASMC worked with Mott's USA, which now uses CommNet with its brokers. The Stamford, Conn.-based company distributed data and interactive tools to every person who touched the business process. The cost of implementation was extremely low, compared with proprietary or dedicated delivery systems, and there was no cost for the sales force to receive the data. The original Project Info focused on extending Uniform Communications Standard transaction sets to deal with several common communications needs among trading partners. It was generally believed that using electronic data interchange in all forms of communication would provide trading partners with savings due to efficiency. New transaction sets were developed, but their use was less than anticipated.

"There will be a huge savings for the manufacturer with this new system," Schwarze said. "Our vision long-term is that this system can also be used with our customers, the retailers. So this is really very exciting for us."

He disclosed plans for CommNet in a wide-ranging interview with SN in which he discussed other topics, including the ASMC's new structure, consolidation, retail merchandising services, category management, continuous replenishment and home-meal replacement. He made these points:

The ASMC is evolving into an "umbrella" group for these internal associations: retail trade, food-service trade and international trade. It is considering adding an association for retail merchandising. "We're evolving," he said. "We're looking at the appropriate time to have a retail merchandising trade association. Right now we have a retail merchandising steering committee. Our directory this year has a separate section -- for the first time -- for retail merchandising."

Schwarze stressed that his members are not moving away from their core competency; that is, representing packaged-goods manufacturers selling their products in supermarkets.

"We believe that our members are the best there are at retail merchandising and performing sales and marketing functions, primarily in the packaged-goods industry," he said. "But we see opportunities outside the food industry for our core competencies to grow."

Consolidation among the ASMC's member companies has run parallel to consolidation among retailers and brand marketers.

ASMC members are perfectly positioned to do effective retail merchandising, an outsourced activity that is growing in importance as manufacturers reduce field sales forces and retailers reduce in-store labor. Category management is understood and embraced at retail headquarters, but not enough attention is being paid to it at store level.

Continuous replenishment is changing and is not advancing as quickly as many people had expected.

The ASMC is working with its food-service and retail groups to become a part of home-meal replacement as it grows in supermarkets. "We're looking to our principals as to how their brands can continue to play a role," he said. "I think they have a tremendous opportunity and challenge, as well, to develop products -- to develop meals, if you will."