FMI CONSIDERS ROTATING ANNUAL SHOW'S FORMAT, LOCATION

WASHINGTON - Sweet home, Chicago?Maybe not for much longer, if Food Marketing Institute's long-range planning committee has its way.The committee was scheduled to propose at FMI's board meeting on Saturday that the annual FMI Show rotate to different cities and alternate each year between being a product exhibit show and an educational conference beginning in 2008, officials from FMI, based here,

WASHINGTON - Sweet home, Chicago?

Maybe not for much longer, if Food Marketing Institute's long-range planning committee has its way.

The committee was scheduled to propose at FMI's board meeting on Saturday that the annual FMI Show rotate to different cities and alternate each year between being a product exhibit show and an educational conference beginning in 2008, officials from FMI, based here, told SN.

"Like any business model, you need to change it periodically and let it evolve and stay up to date," said Jeff Noddle, chairman of FMI and chairman and chief executive officer, Supervalu, Minneapolis. "I think we've gotten a little bit ingrained in that one location, and this would bring some new life into it."

The proposal, part of a broader look by the committee at FMI's role in the industry, comes as the show has seen declining attendance in recent years.

The board was not expected to vote on the proposal at this week's meeting, although committee members were hopeful that a vote could take place at the October meeting after the other directors - and FMI members and exhibitors - have had a chance to consider the idea. The plan has not been widely discussed outside the committee until now, although members of the committee have had informal talks with other FMI members and exhibitors about possible changes to the show's format.

The other trade shows with which FMI has been co-locating in Chicago had not been notified of the proposal prior to the conference, Noddle said, and it was not clear yet whether those shows would be invited to travel with FMI.

Committee members declined to specify what other cities would be considered to host the show. They noted, however, that there are more venues capable of hosting an educational conference than a product exhibit the size of the FMI Show.

They said switching to an alternating-year format would cut costs for vendors and allow FMI to invest more resources into producing a better educational conference, which presumably would also be supported by manufacturers, but without a show floor.

"We think the thing that is lacking in this industry is what we would call a world-class educational forum," Noddle said.

Tim Hammonds, president and CEO, FMI, said an education-only conference every other year would likely include multiple, high-profile speakers and a large number of sessions on various industry topics.

He said rotating the show to different cities could stimulate more interest from attendees.

"I think it would be interesting to people to have different restaurants to go to, and to visit different markets and take different store tours," he said.

Craig Schnuck, chairman of the long-range planning committee and chairman of Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, said rotating the show formats and venues was one of several options considered.

"There was a thought and an attempt to sell the show, and that did no go through," he said. "Failing that option, we said, 'What do we need to do to make it a continuing asset, and what can we do to meet our members' needs?'

"We looked at it through the eyes of all the different constituents of people who participate in the convention, and we looked at about 12 different options until we narrowed it down to this one," he said.

Although he said some attendees or exhibitors might be resistant to change, he believes the alternating-show format and rotating venues would benefit all parties involved.

"Each year it will be new and fresh," he said. "It's not going to be last year's show, slightly made over. And with the alternating years focusing on research and education, we can make that really strong, present some significant research, have some workshops and presentations that are meaningful, and make it a tremendously impactful event. Right now the educational piece of the show is not nearly as strong as it needs to be."

Some equipment companies, he noted, have already begun exhibiting every other year, and others have expressed an interest in doing so.

"It would make it something that every retailer is going to need to be at to find out what's happening," Schnuck said.

In addition, many vendors have said the cost of operating a booth at McCormick Place is exorbitant because of work rules there.

"I think it is fair to say that everybody, FMI included, is concerned about the expense of doing business in Chicago," said Hammonds.

Although the show has been held in several locations since its inception in the 1930s, it has been in Chicago since 1982.

FMI has made several efforts in recent years to boost attendance, including partnering with related food shows. In addition, the association last year held talks with conference specialist dmg word media, Larkspur, Calif., about the possibility of buying or managing the show.

Hammonds said the challenges FMI faces are not unique to business associations, as the nature of trade relations has evolved.

"We still have quite a successful exhibit floor in Chicago, and that has been a tremendous asset for us," he said. "Some shows have found that their exhibit floors have almost disappeared, so they have been forced into a situation as opposed to being able to develop a format by choice."