CHICAGO -- The mood in the food industry has shifted from negative to positive, Tim Hammonds, president and chief executive officer of the Food Marketing Institute, said here last week.
"Perhaps the biggest change in our industry is the improvement in feelings toward the future," he said. "Members all over the country -- with the exception of California -- see signs of an upturn, and they see consumers more open with their pocketbooks.
"Even the industry's mood toward warehouse club stores has improved as operators have learned how to cope with them."
Hammonds made his comments in brief introductory remarks during The State of the Food Marketing Industry: Speaks 1994 session. Hammonds said he detected the shift in the industry's mood during last January's FMI Midwinter Executive Conference, when "the industry decided it was tired of feeling depressed.
"Fed up with arguments over whether pessimists thought the glass of our future was half empty and cheered little by the optimists who thought it half full, the industry collectively decided on the realist's answer -- the glass was too big.
"As a result, companies all over the industry began to adjust
to today's new realities by resizing their companies, re-engineering themselves and developing innovative new alliances with their trading partners.
"The industry is now moving much more confidently toward its future."
Consumers also reflect a similar positive shift in attitude, Hammonds said, based on findings in FMI's annual Trends survey of consumers, which found only 32% of respondents mentioning economic issues as a major issue this year, compared with 53% last year.
After three years in which consumers told FMI that unemployment was the single most important issue facing the United States, only 9% cited unemployment this year, compared with 20% last year, Hammonds added.
The top consumer concerns this year were social issues "by a runaway margin," Hammonds said -- 48%, compared with 24% last year.
"This is a potential advantage for our industry because the supermarket can provide a safe haven for financial transactions at odd hours of the day if we position ourselves to do that.
"But at the same time, crime is a problem for all of us to cope with. As our companies seek new opportunities for cost control, I would remind the chief executive officers in this audience of the importance of their loss prevention departments.
"You need those professionals more than ever."
Hammonds' talk on signs of optimism coincided with the FMI's release of industry operating figures that offered a mixed view of recent performance.
Total sales growth advanced 0.8% in real dollars and 3.3% in current dollars in 1993, compared with increases of 1.5% in real dollars and 2.2% in current dollars in 1992.
Identical-store sales fell 0.5% in real dollars and increased 1.9% in current dollars in 1993, compared with gains of 0.3% in real dollars and 1% in current dollars in 1992.
Median weekly sales per square foot fell to $9.60 in 1993, compared with $9.70 in 1992 and $9.80 in 1991.
Median sales per labor hour were $107.50 for 1993, down from $108 in 1992 but above the $106 in 1991.