Members of the food retail industry will converge on Chicago for the annual FMI Connect show taking place June 20-23 at the McCormick Place conference center. SN asked Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of Food Marketing Institute, to preview what attendees can expect at the show.
Supermarket News: What do you anticipate some of the highlights of FMI Connect will be? About what are you most excited?
: It’s a privilege and an honor to deliver our most recent research on what’s driving shopper purchases in food retail aisles, and I especially enjoy the discussions and conversation this information prompts afterward. For the last 42 years, FMI’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report has outlined not only what’s on consumers’ shopping lists, but also what’s on their minds. This year we went a bit deeper into the drivers of their intentions and shapers of their shopping styles. We’ve found that the shopper dynamic is just as fluid and unpredictable as the current food retail environment.
This year, our approach in sharing the key Trends data will differ from previous years; in addition to sharing a summary of our top findings in the 2016 analysis, I will engage celebrities famed for charting flavor trends, culinary experiences and the practical artistry of home cooking in a discussion of our findings. Mario Batali and Robert Irvine will provide their opinions on our main research results and share some of their observations and predictions for what could literally be in store in 2016 and beyond. I am really looking forward to this conversation.
SN: Does the show have a specific theme?
Sarasin: This year we will create an environment to do business, discover trends and experience innovation in Chicago. We have instituted a mantra that we hope will offer motivation to the entire food retail industry to inspire consumers to gather under the halo of feeding families and enriching lives. This mantra, “Everyone to the Table,” has dual meaning. It is a call-to-action for what our industry does best and offers the tools, techniques and resources to everyday consumers to bring their families to the table for both nourishment and social engagement. Secondly, it is an invitation on the part of the association to join us in Chicago, June 20-23, for FMI Connect. We need everyone’s voice at the table, so the food retail industry can be heard loudly and clearly.
SN: What will be new at the show?
âSarasin: The powerful momentum around digital is the rationale for our special FMI Connect event that is dedicated to a growing tech space. Entitled Pulse, the event within our larger convention aims to help reconnect retailers and their evolving customer base with new omnichannel digital marketing ideas and constructive application. We talk a lot about technology and the need to offer our customers a personal experience that helps them engage with their food, and Pulse seeks to provide a solution oriented offering that brings all these pieces together.
Shoppers’ diverse palates are also inspiring food retailers to think differently about the way they sell food. In response to our members’ feedback, we have evolved the dynamic Supermarket Chef Showdown into Supermarket Chefs, an intensive two-day immersion experience for top culinary professionals in food retail as well as their respective fresh prepared executive counterparts to build mutual understanding of the business opportunities in the growing fresh prepared category. The goal of this redesigned program is to create a better business relationship between the right- and left- brain mentalities who serve two critical management roles in the fresh prepared category—chefs and sales leaders.
On a program highlight, I’m thrilled to have Steve Case, AOL cofounder and CEO of Revolution LLC, on our stage. I believe food retailers will relate to Case’s entrepreneurial business insights and will derive some key takeaways that will inspire them to think about how to better adapt and adjust to changing consumer demand and technologies. As a bonus, FMI staff will give the first 1,500 attendees through the door of his keynote a free copy of his new book, The Third Wave.
SN: E-commerce is growing in importance as more traditional brick and mortar retailers move into the space. Will FMI Connect address the topic?
Sarasin: Grocers are working with the reality that people are shopping differently – and their customers’ lifestyles demand many different shopping experiences. FMI Connect is expected to explore all areas that will impact e-commerce trends, especially consumer engagement, inventory and order management, purchase transactions and even human resources applications. We’ll take some lessons from European grocers who are already making e-commerce a viable business model and look at future engagement strategies, even some of the more controversial technologies like beacons.
SN: Tell me about the global food companies that will be represented at the show, and the relationship that FMI has forged with the Specialty Food Association.
Sarasin: What started as an idea to further tantalize international audiences and ensure they could maximize their time in the United States while attending FMI Connect, naturally morphed into a partnership with the Specialty Food Association’s summer Fancy Food Show in New York. The trendy food experiences will extend beyond FMI Connect and invite attendees to experience first-hand how Chicago and New York City’s Brooklyn borough are epicenters of culinary creation.
FMI Connect also promises to bring culinary influences from around the world to the Expo in Chicago. With more than 30 countries represented at FMI Connect, the international flare will manifest itself in demonstrations from food companies across China, Quebec, Mexico, Greece, Thailand and Italy to meet the need for shoppers’ insatiably ethnic-savvy palates.
SN: Connect Business Exchange debuted in advance of last year’s show to help match food retailers and suppliers for 30-minute business meetings. How did that help to enrich the show experience and can attendees leverage the tool again this year?
Sarasin: Just as more consumers are sharing and delegating duties when it comes to grocery shopping, supply chain trading partners need to be intently coordinated when it comes to bringing product to shelf. In particular, our Connect Business Exchange (CBX) allows attendees to preschedule one-on-one appointments with the sales and merchandising teams from respective food retail and consumer packaged goods companies to talk trends and pitch the latest new product offerings. We learned of numerous success stories last year — from a small juice manufacturer earning a contract with a supercenter to strategic conversations among long-term business partners. Since these meetings are timed, it offers a respectful way to maximize an agenda and be diligent with outcomes. From what I witnessed, CBX was a true reflection of the trends and storytelling among FMI Connect exhibitors.
SN: Is there anything more that attendees should know, or that you’d like to share?
Sarasin: Since the food retail industry is coming to the table both literally and figuratively in Chicago this year, we’ll again begin to build momentum for our National Family Meals Month campaign in September. With a collective voice and coordinated promotion, we as the grocery industry can rally families back to the table to share one more meal together each week, reminding them that easy, healthy and affordable mealtime solutions can be found in their supermarket aisles. FMI and its Foundation continue to help FMI members inspire a conversation around family meals, and we have aspirations to grow the program year over year by curating stories via social media using a common hashtag, #FamilyMealsMonth. We know the will and desire to come back to the table exists among consumers, and food retailers have the tools and inspiration for their customers to make more family meals a reality each week.
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