TAKING AN ACTIVE STANCE

WASHINGTON -- The Food Marketing Institute here hopes 1997 is the year the industry moves from education to action on a number of issues.The organization's trade shows are being shaped with that in mind, said Michael Sansolo, group vice president for education, industry relations and research."In a number of areas, we need to move away from the learning, 'gee whiz' stage to the get-it-done stage,"

WASHINGTON -- The Food Marketing Institute here hopes 1997 is the year the industry moves from education to action on a number of issues.

The organization's trade shows are being shaped with that in mind, said Michael Sansolo, group vice president for education, industry relations and research.

"In a number of areas, we need to move away from the learning, 'gee whiz' stage to the get-it-done stage," Sansolo said. "Implementation will be the theme for 1997. That will be the case for meal preparation, technology and other areas. Companies must work on all these issues simultaneously."

Sansolo pointed to the fledgling MealSolutions show as a prime example. FMI launched the event last September in Phoenix to positive reviews and stellar attendance. Next year, the show -- which includes workshops and an exhibit floor -- will be held Sept. 14 to 16 in Los Angeles.

"We envisioned the '96 event as a wakeup call and gave stores an idea of where to go," Sansolo said. "In '97, we want to concentrate on where to start and how to implement meal programs. How do you do menus or find help? It will be more of a how to."

Because many of those issues touch on consumer affairs, next year FMI plans to hold its Consumer Affairs Conference at the same site to run concurrently with MealSolutions. It will be held Sept. 14 to 17.

Brian Tully, FMI vice president of convention services, said FMI is hoping for substantial growth in the number of MealSolutions exhibitors and modest growth in attendance. For MarkeTechnics, the FMI technology trade event, the theme of taking action will shape much of the agenda next year.

"We need to talk about the implementation of technology," Sansolo said. "How do we start using it? There are so many hot buttons. How can we use it as a marketing and cost-cutting tool?"

MarkeTechnics will be held Feb. 7 to 9 in Houston, and this year it will overlap by one day with the annual convention of the Reston, Va.-based National Grocers Association, which begins Feb. 9. "One benefit is that independent retailer members of NGA will be able to see the MarketTechnics event," Tully said. FMI and NGA haven't planned any future links between the two shows and will evaluate the results before making that decision, Tully said.

One of the biggest changes of 1997 will be in FMI's annual Convention and Educational Exposition, to be held May 4 to 7 in Chicago. Because of expansion at the McCormick Place convention center, FMI will be able to hold its entire mammoth trade exhibit on a single level, Tully said. That level will span two buildings -- McCormick North and the new McCormick South -- with a connection in between.

FMI will devote the north end to equipment and technology exhibits and the south to consumer products. Registration will be held between the two areas. There will be new transportation options for getting to the show and a tram service for moving around the event.

"We're fortunate because there aren't many shows of our size that can be on one level," Tully said. Also at the show, FMI will initiate a program to schedule manufacturer/retailer appointments, Tully said. FMI hasn't decided on the fate of the Independent-Operator Program it unveiled at last year's event. That track condensed the varied workshop topics into a focused presentation for independents who didn't have the manpower to cover all the individual workshops. "We're not sure if we'll do that again or instead just flag sessions of particular importance to independents," Sansolo said.

FMI's Midwinter Executive Conference, set for Jan 19 to 22 in Scottsdale, Ariz., will focus on big-picture issues that will determine the industry's overall direction, Sansolo said. Those issues will include technology, diversity and Wall Street's view of the industry. Keeping to the focus of implementation, the event will host an in-depth look at database marketing presented by the Coca-Cola Research Council of Europe.

One of FMI's most ambitious shows in recent years has been AsiaMart, a food industry event sponsored twice in Hong Kong. The second installment, held about a month ago, is now being evaluated by FMI executives, Tully said. The attendance of 2,250 was below expectations of about 3,000 and below the previous year's figures, Tully said. About 35 countries were represented. The number of exhibitors also was below the year-ago period. Despite the lower numbers, FMI received positive feedback from attendees and exhibitors. FMI has learned that is has a role to play in the region and is now evaluating the best direction for its Asian ventures, executives said. The association is studying a number of future options, though it continues to schedule its next AsiaMart for Oct. 14 to 16, in Singapore. "The last two years represented a listen, look and learn experience in Asia," Tully said. "We have a lot of information to sort and evaluate to best see how we can fill a role in Asia. We'll look at what we've done and think about how best to amend it."