RETAILERS ENJOY LEARNING LABS, FANCY FOOD SHOW

CHICAGO -- Some of the changes that the Food Marketing Institute made to this year's conference received positive reviews from the retail attendees who were interviewed here at the show last week by SN.Retailers said they appreciated the co-location of the Fancy Food Show in the McCormick Place convention center, and several also said they enjoyed the three-hour, in-depth Learning Lab educational

CHICAGO -- Some of the changes that the Food Marketing Institute made to this year's conference received positive reviews from the retail attendees who were interviewed here at the show last week by SN.

Retailers said they appreciated the co-location of the Fancy Food Show in the McCormick Place convention center, and several also said they enjoyed the three-hour, in-depth Learning Lab educational presentations.

"I like the changes FMI has made this year in the education portion of the convention, in terms of offering fewer topics in more detail," said Dean Peterson, president, Harmon's, Salt Lake City. "They chose some good topics this year, and they're going into more depth on each one, and I'm getting more out of it."

Stan Sorkin, corporate director of marketing and government relations, Krasdale Foods, White Plains, N.Y., agreed.

"I thought it was a nice change in the presentation format because it gave you a lot more food for thought, in-depth analysis and cross conversation during the session," he said.

John Hooley, executive vice president, Supervalu, Minneapolis, and Kristin Hayes, vice president, strategic planning, Supervalu, said they enjoyed Learning Labs on branding and loyalty marketing, respectively.

Some attendees, however, said they avoided the longer Learning Lab sessions because they would have cut into the time they normally spend on the floor.

Retailers and exhibitors alike said they enjoyed the adjacency of the Fancy Food Show, which was presented with the FMI show for the first time this year.

"We come to FMI every year, but this is the first time we came to the Fancy Food Show," said Ersin Bayraktar, general manager, L&L Food Centers, an 11-unit retailer based in Lansing, Mich. "It exposes us to more product lines, and we're not at the mercy of the specialty food brokers."

Joel Wilson, general merchandise coordinator, Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, said his company spent a lot of time at the Fancy Food Show.

"I think it's wonderful because you get three shows in one," he said, referring to the inclusion of the Food Export Showcase. "What more could you ask for?"

Eric Felix, regional vice president, retail operations, Bashas', said as he walked the aisles of the Fancy Food Show, he got the idea that some of those vendors might be ideal for supplying a traveling "road show" in which certain specialty foods could be demonstrated in stores.

"Grocery shopping is a mundane exercise," he said. "That's what I like about [the Fancy Food Show]. Maybe it will give us the opportunity to do some of those road shows and bring some excitement into the supermarket."

Several attendees also commented on the extensive array of ethnic offerings, in terms of both product and seminar topics.

"There seem to be a lot of booths and a lot of studies that talk about how we need to address those customers and service them better," said George Fiscus, vice president, general merchandise, Bashas'. "Also, organics and natural foods continue to be a hot topic. We've seen a tremendous amount of those products."

Pamela Kohn, senior vice president, Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., said she "saw a lot of new packaging ideas to make products easier to open, prepare and store. Traditional glass containers were changed to shelf-stable plastic, and some pop-open packages were easier to handle."

Greg Smoker, a Piggly Wiggly operator in Union Springs, Ala., said he attended an enlightening ACNielsen presentation on the growth of dollar stores.

"They said some things we already knew, but it was interesting as far as how much they are growing," he said. "They are just exploding, and they are going after our demographic. We're going to change some things as far as the way we market and merchandise now."

Several retailers mentioned that they especially appreciated the equipment exhibits, which help them in planning construction or remodeling projects.

"We were looking at equipment for service, meat cases and produce cases," said Tom Murray, vice president, operations, Roche Bros., Wellesley, Mass. "We were able to find what we were looking for, so that's a good show for us."

Although several people said they noticed that attendance was down and that there were fewer exhibitors, they still expressed enthusiasm for the show.

"Those people who want to learn are here," said Ray Stewart, divisional executive vice president, perishables, Hy-Vee.