Industry veterans attending last week's Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando would be excused if they failed to recognize two associations they have long known.
FMI has a new chief executive for the first time in 15 years and other changes in its management ranks. Grocery Manufacturers Association, meanwhile, has also introduced a new top executive.
Another big change is the accelerating drive for collaboration between the two associations. It will likely streamline events and more closely align FMI's agenda with that of GMA's. Trading partners have worked on collaboration for years, and now their associations are increasingly doing the same.
These transformations come at a crucial time for the food industry and also for the nation. Consumers and businesses are experiencing an unprecedented economic downturn and a new U.S. president is taking office.
It's natural to wonder if the industry's new leadership is up to the task of supporting its constituencies through the daunting hurdles ahead. The good news is that early signs are positive. FMI and GMA tapped highly experienced individuals to lead their organizations: Leslie Sarasin, FMI's new president and CEO, and Pamela Bailey, who now holds those titles at GMA.
Last week's FMI event was Sarasin's opportunity to set a new tone for the association, and she did not disappoint. “We need to increase the value of FMI for all of you,” she told a larger-than-usual group of attendees this year, displaying a personal speaking style that mixes energy with a bit of folksiness. “I am determined to build on the many strengths of this organization — and, candidly, to fix the portions that need repair.”
Sarasin promised to visit members around the country to learn about their concerns, and to “develop a high-performance business model — one that can be sustained, one that is fiscally responsible.”
The most dramatic development last week was the signing of a “joint memorandum of understanding” by the chairpersons of FMI and GMA.
That document set in motion the creation of a joint group called the Trading Partner Alliance, which will help build a more coordinated agenda for the two associations and the industry. Creating more closely linked plans is especially important on the government front in light of shifting political directions in Washington.
The memorandum also called for an audit of existing association meetings to improve synergies and eliminate duplication, which will lead to the probable melding of the executive conferences of each association within the next two years.
Last week's developments were encouraging, but hard work lies ahead for these organizations. Any good business executive knows that success rests on the execution of plans. In this case, it will also hinge on growing trust among association heads, as well as suppliers and retailers. After years of talking about more closely aligning association activities, leaders will now face their greatest tests.