Leslie G. Sarasin , the president and chief executive officer of Food Marketing Institute, sees the association’s major alternate-year conferences — the exhibit show called FMI2012 and the educational forum known as Future Connect — as events that need to evolve and change over time to remain relevant with sponsors, exhibitors and attendees.
“Unlike the past, what I think you will see from FMI is continual re-evaluation of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, but always with a focus on making sure we’re doing what it takes to meet member needs,” she told SN.
This year’s exhibit show, set to begin April 30 in Dallas, demonstrates some of that evolution as it co-locates with the United Fresh Produce Association, the American Meat Institute, the National States Departments of Agriculture U.S. Food Showcase, and combines with the Private Brands Summit.
Other new additions to this year’s FMI Show, called FMI2012, include a cooking and recipe competition called the Supermarket Chef Showdown, designated Solution Centers on the show floor related to specific issues of interest, and a particular focus on meeting the needs of independent operators.
The moves come as FMI works to enhance the show experience after switching to an alternate-year event in 2008, rotating with the education-themed Future Connect conference, which is aimed at developing future industry leaders.
“Any time you make a major change like we made, when you go to an annual event to one that’s not held every year, it requires new thinking, not only among the folks internally at FMI but also within the industry,” explained Sarasin (left). “The industry was accustomed to going to the same event every year. But when you change that up a little bit, it requires some flexibility and some adjustment.”
Sarasin said having an alternate-year format has helped FMI more fully develop the Future Connect conference.
“One of the major themes that I hear from our members is about the need for developing future leadership in this industry, and this is particularly true among some of our smaller to midsized company members,” she said. “Those of us who grew up in this industry are looking around saying, who are going to be the leaders of the future, how do we identify those people, and how are we going to be able to make sure they are ready to serve in those roles when they become available?
“So Future Connect has provided an opportunity for the industry to really focus on that. Going to the alternate-year format has given us a chance to develop a top-notch program that will serve the industry well for many years to come.”
She said FMI has been considering how Future Connect will continue to evolve.
“I think as we move forward, one of the things we will be thinking about and talking about is whether the way we have delivered Future Connect in the past is the way we will continue to deliver it in the future,” she said.
Last year’s Future Connect conference, the second incarnation of the event, was well-received, according to Fred Morganthall , president and chief operating officer of Harris Teeter Supermarkets  and chairman of FMI.
“Participants at the 2011 version of this leadership development conference rated the array of speakers and presenters higher than ever,” he said. “This event continues to grow and meets a real need in our industry — to help cultivate the next generation of leaders.”
Morganthall, too, suggested that the Future Connect format could undergo some changes.
“We continue to work to improve this event, and make it a true must-attend educational event,” he said. “We all will get out of this only what we put into it as attendees.”
Morganthall commended Kroger Co. in particular “for the way they have structured their participation in the event to make it a great learning experience for their associates.”
At the 2010 FMI Show, the association formed a show committee comprised of representatives from member companies to discuss how to make the show more attractive to both attendees and exhibitors. The committee has been meeting both electronically and face-to-face for the past two years.
“The committee has been talking about all aspects of the design of the show to make sure we are striving to — and actually fulfilling — our obligation to respond to the needs of the industry and what they are looking for in the show,” said Sarasin, who noted that the 2010 FMI Show was her first as president and CEO of FMI.
Another benefit that derived from the committee meetings was the focus on independent operators that has emerged as a part of this year’s event, as result of the participation by independents on the committee, she said.
“That provided us an opportunity to better understand the kinds of challenges they face on the show floor, and helped us create opportunities to address those challenges,” Sarasin explained.
Among the new features geared specifically to independent attendees at FMI2012 will be a special day just for independents — April 30 — during which they will be permitted to tour the show floor before the show actually opens. In addition, the show has scheduled “Independent Power Hours” each day during which independent operators can meet with vendors, and has delineated several educational sessions of particular importance to independents.
In addition, independent operators were offered a discount on registration fees.
Also new at FMI2012 will be designated Solution Centers on the show floor that seek to address specific operator concerns.
The centers, each sponsored by multiple vendors, are designed to provide learning opportunities for attendees, Sarasin explained.
• At the Sustainability Solution Center, “a retailer will be able to go into a sector of the show and learn more about things like food waste issues, use of energy in ways that are more efficient, identifying sustainable sourcing opportunities, and just a whole genre of sustainability issues that the industry is concerned about,” Sarasin explained.
• Another area will be designated as the Front-End Solutions Center, with information about consumer behavior at the checkout and checkout-lane merchandising.
• A third area, the Center Store Solutions Center, will include tips for increasing shopping frequency, enhancing transaction size in Center Store, and increasing shopper loyalty through social media and other means.
• Finally, the FMI Solutions Center will provide information about the programs and services offered by FMI.
“We are very focused on making sure that the industry understands all of the opportunities for learning that exist here at FMI,” Sarasin explained.
Topics available for discussion at the FMI Solution Center will include government relations; education and research; communications and information services; membership; food safety; Safe Quality Foods (SQF); Partnership for Food Quality Education (PFQE); Food For All; asset protection; and health and wellness.
“The Solution Centers are something I am very excited about because I think it is going to be a new way for the industry to learn via FMI,” Sarasin noted.
Another new feature at this year’s show — designed as much for entertainment as for education — will be the Supermarket Chef Showdown, a cooking and recipe competition that will take place on the show floor.
Contestants will be judged by a panel emceed by Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru and SN contributing editor. Five finalists in each of four categories (ethnic, health and wellness, family meals and indulgent) will compete each afternoon on a stage, and the winner of each category will be awarded $1,000. The “Grand Chef” winner will receive a trip to a Culinary Institute of America Boot Camp Experience.
“This is going to be one of the most fun things we do at the show,” said Sarasin. “Plus it gives us an opportunity to highlight a sector of the industry that we have not really focused on in the past.”
She said interest in the event has been strong, with 147 entries from 57 different companies, including both retailers and wholesalers, one associate member and 11 who are not even members of FMI.
At opposite ends of this year’s show floor at the Dallas Convention Center will be the United Fresh Produce Hall and the AMI Meat, Poultry and Seafood Processing Hall. Each of the two shows will also have their own educational sessions and other industry-specific events.
In addition, FMI has combined its Private Brands Summit with FMI2012.
“I think in general it’s always a positive development when you can broaden the opportunities that exist at any event, and I think this year we have tremendous opportunities with four shows essentially in one,” Sarasin said.
One of the advantages of combining shows, she pointed out, is that it can result in less traveling overall for industry executives attending these events.
“Like most industries, we are all looking for opportunities to do fewer trips, and attend fewer events if possible, spend less time on the road, and spend fewer resources in attending those events,” Sarasin said. “But we all want enhanced experiences when we are there. So what we are trying to do is make sure that the experience we provide at the FMI show is an enhanced experience, and one of the really important ways to do that is to co-locate the show with other events and other activities that our members are interested in.”
Out for Dinner — Dallas
The Dallas-Fort Worth area is known for its steakhouses, but it also offers an eclectic array of alternative dining options, from casual to upscale. The following list was culled from those Dallas eateries currently rated as “hot” by users of online reservation system OpenTable.com. Information was obtained from OpenTable and the individual restaurant websites.
* Del Frisco’s Grille *
3232 McKinney Ave., Suite 175, Dallas
Price: $31 to $50
More casual than its famous sister restaurant, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, located in Fort Worth, Del Frisco’s Grille features steaks, seafood, salad and more. It includes an extensive wine list, two separate bar areas, and outdoor seating for what has been described as some of “the best al fresco” dining in Dallas. Located in Uptown Dallas, the heart of the city’s dining and social scene.
* Private/Social *
3232 McKinney Ave., Suite 150, Dallas
Price: $30 and under
Private/Social offers two distinct themes — an upscale, full dinner service menu in Private, and a more casual lounge area featuring shared plates in Social. Executive chef and partner Tiffany Derry, a veteran of Bravo’s TV show “Top Chef,” creates imaginative foods using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Familiar American dishes with global culinary influences.
* Kenichi *
2400 Victory Park Lane, Dallas
Neighborhood: Victory Park
Price: $31 to $50
A modern restaurant and lounge featuring contemporary Asian cuisine and what has been described as some of the best sushi in Dallas, incorporating both traditional and innovative preparations. Located in the Victory Park neighborhood, near the American Airlines Center. In addition to what it describes as the “largest sake list in Texas,” Kenichi also has an award-winning wine selection.
* DISH *
(214) 522-DISH (3474)
4123 Cedar Springs Road, Suite 110, Dallas
Neighborhood: Turtle Creek/Oak Lawn
Price: $31 to $50
Described as “modern comfort food,” DISH’s menu features seasonal American cuisine from Chef Doug Brown. DISH was named the Best New Restaurant of the Year for 2011 by Texas Monthly Magazine. Includes outdoor dining and a modern, nightclub-like decor inside.
* Marquee Grill & Bar *
33 Highland Park Village, Dallas
Neighborhood: NW Dallas/Love Field Area
Cuisine: Contemporary American
Price: $31 to $50
The Marquee Grill & Bar — so-named because of its location over the historic Highland Park Village Theater — features a menu of “Modern Texas” cuisine from Chef Tre Wilcox, another veteran of Bravo’s Top Chef TV show. Marquee’s cocktail menu was developed by author and celebrity bartender Jason Kosmas. The elegant décor gives a nod to 1930s Art Deco style.
* Primebar *
2520 Cedar Springs, Dallas
Price: $30 and under
Describing itself as a “modern-day ale house,” Primebar features a menu of burgers, “two-handed sandwiches” and an eclectic mix of affordable American entrees, all made with fresh local and regional ingredients. The decor features recycled wood, tiled floors, salvaged lighting, oversized leather booths and plasma TVs.
* Nobu Dallas *
Hotel Crescent Court, 400 Crescent Court, Dallas
Price: $50 and over
Nobu Dallas, located in the Crescent Court Hotel, serves innovative new-style Japanese cuisine by executive chef and owner Nobu Matsuhisa. Designed by noted restaurant architecture firm The Rockwell Group, Nobu Dallas features an onyx sushi bar reminiscent of the original Nobu in New York.