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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When Bob Bartels assumed the chairmanship of the Washington-based Food Marketing Institute in 1995, he had two thoughts in mind."I wanted the opportunity to give something back to the industry and also to bring the independent operator's perspective to the highest levels of [the] FMI," said Bartels, president of Martin's Super Markets here.Confident of having achieved his goals,

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When Bob Bartels assumed the chairmanship of the Washington-based Food Marketing Institute in 1995, he had two thoughts in mind.

"I wanted the opportunity to give something back to the industry and also to bring the independent operator's perspective to the highest levels of [the] FMI," said Bartels, president of Martin's Super Markets here.

Confident of having achieved his goals, Bartels will step down this week as FMI chairman at the group's 1997 Supermarket Industry Convention & Educational Exposition in Chicago.

He will do so proud of the progress the FMI has made on his watch.

Those accomplishments include:

Promoting diversity at the store, management and distributor levels.

Making food regulations understandable and accessible to supermarket department managers by boiling 450 pages of food code down to 13 reference cards.

Christening six new self-directed share groups.

Increasing attention to work-force training.

Strengthening grass-roots public affairs programs through closer relationships with state representatives.

"I think the first area of real progress has been in diversity," he explained. "FMI has been committed to diversity, through the FMI diversity task force, by publishing The Store Managers Guide to Managing Diversity and by creating and expanding a good list of minority vendors serving our industry and trying to raise the profile of those vendors."

Among the "countless" benefits of the FMI, Bartels said, are the organization's conferences, trade shows, research programs and educational materials. Two years ago, Bartels said he would work to make independents more aware of such FMI resources. "With all of the emerging technology -- meal solutions, ECR -- the need for the independent to find a good resource has expanded," Bartels said. "And FMI has answered that call.

"There have been conferences that involve a lot of the technology that we're supposed to have now and in the future," he said. "I think Marketechnics has been a tremendous opportunity for independents to focus on the technological area. But [the] FMI has also done a lot of independent research and position pieces to help independents -- and everybody for that matter -- deal with technology."

Bartels credits the success of the FMI's initiatives to three factors: "The membership is high quality, the leadership is extraordinary and the FMI staff is just outstanding."

"The people who make up that staff are just a delight to work with, and it's been a thrilling experience for me to be associated with the various folks involved at the various levels of FMI activity," Bartels said.

"I was really delighted to discover that I was able as chairman to work on important things, and big ideas, and not really get ground in minutia and detail and negative dimensions," he added. "For me it's been a very, very positive experience."

Succeeding Bartels will be Michael W. Wright, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Supervalu, Minneapolis. The change in leadership follows the FMI's tradition of rotating an independent operator, a wholesaler and a chain store executive in the top spot. Bartels said there was never really a lack of independent viewpoint at the FMI, however. Seventy-five percent of its members are considered independents. Half of the trade group's members are one-store operators, said Bartels.

Prior to becoming chairman, Bartels was chairman of the independent operator committee, which had been elevated to a board-level committee. The chairman of that committee sits on the FMI's executive committee.

Bartels told SN his hope is that other independents will benefit from the FMI's knowledge base the way he has for some 20 years.

"Going back in time, [the] FMI has been an invaluable tool for me personally as an independent operator, as we have built our business here," he said.

After the convention, Bartels will continue with the FMI as immediate past chairman, an officer's position, for the next two years, and expects to remain active in food-industry affairs, albeit to a slightly lesser extent.

"I'll chair a couple of committees with [the] FMI -- the responsibility's not totally going to go away -- but I certainly will get some time back," he said.

"I think good old Martin's Super Markets deserves some time," he said. "I have been a little less active in community things. I'd like to give a little more time to that. And then I would like to be able to find a little more time for myself and my family."