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Be Prepared Because The Times They Are A-Changin'

Be Prepared Because The Times They Are A-Changin'

By Christina Veiders
Managing Editor

The opening presentation of Food Marketing Institute’s Speaks was clever. A stopwatch ticked off two-minute intervals with factoids of statistics — births/deaths, world net gasoline consumption, miles driven, drugs consumed — every two minutes. Did you know Yankee third baseman A-Rod earns $95 every two minutes?

Change — rapid, gradual and future — was Speaks’ focus last week. Given this ever-popular theme with trade associations, I decided to look back to 1993 when I first began covering the food industry and the FMI Show.

At the time, FMI was happily running in Chicago. The big news out of the show was Tim Hammonds, then senior vice president, was named to succeed Robert Aders, who had headed the association since its founding in 1977, as president and chief executive officer. SN reported the search committee’s criterion for a candidate was to find someone who could devote 10 years to the position. FMI’s big leadership change has lasted more than a decade.

Commenting to SN about Hammonds’ elevation was Robert Bolinder, executive vice president of Smith’s Food & Drug. Both Bolinder and company have survived those 15 years, although Smith’s is under Kroger ownership. E. Dean Werries, chairman of Fleming Cos., also weighed in with his 2 cents. Werries survived, but Fleming didn’t. Danny Wegman endorsed FMI’s pick of Hammonds. Today, Wegmans Food Markets has grown into a regional powerhouse, and Danny Wegman’s daughter, Colleen, is president. Change can be quick or gradual.

A major focus at the show was Efficient Consumer Response. It was called the new frontier and consultants promised the industry it could save $30 billion if it adopted the process of being more efficient and squeezing costs out of the distribution system. Today, $30 billion sounds kind of paltry given today’s billions that private equity spends on deals. A big industry push now is on RFID and data storage. Technology is changing how the industry does business.

Consumer confidence in the food supply also was on the wane, falling from 82% in 1991 to 73% in 1993. This year, confidence went into a freefall due to food safety scares in produce, plummeting 66%.

As these examples from 1993 illustrate, some things change while others remain the same. In 1993, while FMI was securely running the show in Chicago, it was facing a period of mergers and acquisitions that would have a negative impact and reduce membership and show exhibitors. This period of consolidation was an early indication of what was to come and it set the stage for next year’s move to Las Vegas. In 1993, FMI delivered its first co-located (show within a show) event at the FMI Show. Last week, it was the “Power of Five” shows at FMI. Next year, some of the co-located shows will not be with FMI in Las Vegas.

“It is always about change,” said Michael Sansolo, the Speaks master of ceremony. For the good of the food industry and FMI, let’s hope the future holds positive change.