FMI HOPES TO GENERATE RETURNS WITH CHANGING FORMAT

WASHINGTON -- Food Marketing Institute here is continually challenged to attract returning attendees to its annual FMI Show at McCormick Place in Chicago, scheduled this year for May 1-3.To maintain its attendance and boost show patronage, FMI continues to reinvent the trade show format, Brian Tully, FMI's senior vice president, convention services, told SN."We are making significant changes to the

WASHINGTON -- Food Marketing Institute here is continually challenged to attract returning attendees to its annual FMI Show at McCormick Place in Chicago, scheduled this year for May 1-3.

To maintain its attendance and boost show patronage, FMI continues to reinvent the trade show format, Brian Tully, FMI's senior vice president, convention services, told SN.

"We are making significant changes to the show this year. These changes have a lot to do with how the show floor is organized," he said.

Consumer packaged goods exhibitors in the general exhibit area like Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, Pepsi, Kellogg and Nestle, along with equipment suppliers, will occupy middle positions in the hall and be spread throughout the floor, Tully said. Up-front exhibit space, in the past dominated by the big CPG companies, this year will feature four focused product segments: meal solutions, ethnic marketplace, technology, and general merchandise/health and beauty care (see story on Page 72).

Next year, the up-front exhibit area will again change to showcase private label, meat/seafood/dairy, perishables and beverages.

Tully said in focusing on these product segments, FMI is creating sourcing opportunities for retailers. FMI is also trying to attract a more diverse exhibitor base, comprising the focused product segments. While these manufacturers tend to be small and don't take up as much space, there are more companies participating, Tully pointed out. By changing the focus categories each year, FMI expects to attract different attendees in teams dedicated to the product categories.

FMI has attempted similar strategies in the past. It even held its own conferences -- GM/HBC, meal solutions and whole health -- to capitalize on industry growth opportunities. However, those conferences quickly ran their course as interest and participation faded. In 2000, FMI featured the Whole-Health Pavilion, with 55 exhibitors in 17,000 square feet. Last year's Healthy Living Pavilion was more educational in content.

Tully said past efforts to highlight growth categories were executed in a smaller footprint and were positioned in more obscure areas of the exhibit hall.

"The smaller footprint meant they weren't large enough in mass to generate attendance from people largely responsible for health and wellness," he said.

FMI expects the larger space and up-front positioning of these specialized areas will attract enough participation to make them worthwhile. Except for the space devoted to ethnic suppliers, Tully said he was generally pleased with the turnout of focused category exhibitors to date. He said FMI has picked up 30 additional exhibitors because of focused product areas. However, Tully said some potential ethnic exhibitors like Goya Foods have chosen to go into the general exhibit area rather than be part of the focused area.

Interactive workshops will complement the focused product offerings with presentations related to trends in the four areas of concentration.

This year, out of 1,500 exhibitors expected for the overall FMI event -- including those participating in the Fancy Food Show, United Produce Expo & Conference, All Things Organic and U.S. Food Export Showcase -- between 750 to 800 companies will participate in the FMI Show. The entire show will encompass 1.2 million square feet. As of late last month, Tully reported that retailer/wholesaler pre-registration was up 2%. Last year, 34,000 people attended the show, up 27% over the previous year, Tully said.

Tully intends to fully capitalize on the co-location of other non-competing trade shows this year with more retailer participation. Beginning with the 2002 co-location of the Fancy Foods Show, sponsored by National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, FMI has brought two other events -- United Produce Expo and Conference, sponsored by the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association; and All Things Organic, sponsored by the Organic Trade Association -- under its umbrella last year.

The U.S. Food Export Showcase has been a feature of the FMI Show for more than a decade. This year, the export exhibit will be repositioned at the very front of McCormick's South Hall, making it the first exhibit space buyers see. The FMI International Trade Center will be moved to be adjacent to the U.S. food Export Showcase.

According to co-location partners, either pre-registration or exhibitor participation is running ahead of last year. Mark Overbay, spokesman for the UFFVA here, said the number of exhibitors was up about 19% to 250 over last year's 210 exhibitors. Exhibitor growth is coming from more produce companies participating this year, he said. It was difficult to break out attendance from that of the FMI show, said Overbay, because UFFVA's registration is part of FMI's registration process.

Ron Tanner, a spokesman for NASFT, New York, reported that buyer registration was up 5% going into the show, with about 7,500 buyers expected. He also predicted about 350 exhibitors, about the same as last year.

According to Holly Givens, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., early registration was up for All things Organic, although she couldn't give an exact number. On the exhibitor side, numbers were lagging from last year's 480. About 450 exhibitors were slated for the All Things Organic Show at the start of this month.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Washington, reported a 23% increase in the number of exhibitors for the U.S. Food Export Showcase, from 130 last year to 160 to date. International attendance is expected to be up due to the weakness of the American dollar on foreign markets.

This year's FMI theme, "New Ideas Easy to Apply," is a variation of last year's theme, "Solution for Growth."