LAS VEGAS — The gamble appears to have paid off.
In its first year here after a run of 23 years in Chicago, the annual Food Marketing Institute Show moved to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center last week and seemed to have been rejuvenated, according to several attendees interviewed at the show by SN.
“It's different being in Las Vegas,” said Jerel Golub, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y. “There's an atmosphere that's new and fresh and different, and it's good to have a different venue, I think.”
The smaller space for this year's event — previous exhibitions were in Chicago's massive McCormick Place — delivered a more crowded show floor, although FMI declined to reveal attendance figures. In its opening presentation, FMI said the event included about 800 exhibitors at the FMI Show, plus about 100 at the Marketechnics show and another 200 at United Fresh, which were staged in the same hall.
“It's a smaller show, but the quality is very good,” said Ed Crenshaw, chief executive officer, Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., who said his company brought 47 people to the conference this year.
Hank Meijer, CEO of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer Inc., said his company generally sent more people to the show when it was in Chicago simply because many of them could drive there, but he said he had a positive impression of this year's event.
“It's more concentrated, and there's a good mix of new and established companies on the show floor,” he said.
Several attendees commented that moving the location to Las Vegas — where it is scheduled to be held again in May 2010 after next year's educational and training forum in Dallas — made the show an attractive draw. Many attendees also told SN they were either attending the show for the first time, or for the first time in several years.
“We brought more people this year, since we haven't attended the show in a while,” said Tod Nestor, chief financial officer at Penn Traffic Co., Syracuse, N.Y.
Lynn Leitzel, chief information officer at Penn Traffic, commented that the show seemed “well-attended.”
“And what we've seen is good as far as new product lines go,” he added.
Doug Lange, a merchandise manager in the meat division at Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., said he thought his company might have a had “a few more people” in attendance because Las Vegas was an attractive destination.
“The sessions were good,” he added. “On the equipment side, I saw some emerging trends in display cases and wrapping machines that we can inform our membership about.”
Leroy Hayward of The Supermarket Ltd. in Hamilton, Bermuda, said it was his company's first time sending anyone to the show. He added that he thought FMI should continue hosting the education sessions and expo annually, rather than moving to the new every-other-year schedule.
“I think they've done a good job — it's very exciting, actually,” Hayward said. “I've come across a lot of things that I think will help my business.”
Some attendees said they felt the combination of the Marketechnics show with FMI — this was the second year that the two were co-located — diminished the significance of the technology component.
“There are not as many technology sessions as in the past — it's smaller, from a technology perspective,” said Gary Herman, chief information officer, Unified Grocers, Commerce, Calif. “Still, it seems like a good event.”
Jim Behrens, senior director, Gelson's Markets, Encino, Calif., said he was “a little disappointed in the number of technology vendors.”
“I'm looking for warehouse management, procurement and inventory management technology,” he told SN. “When this was a separate Marketechnics show, there seemed to be more technology vendors. But my [product] buyers think it's a great show.”
He said he probably would not attend the Future Connect educational conference in Dallas next year.
Attendees to the FMI Pharmacy Conference seemed pleased, however.
“I liked what I saw,” said Charles Yahn, vice president, sales, retail development and pharmacy, Associated Wholesalers Inc., Robesonia, Pa. “We've seen some attempts to be more meaningful in the pharmacy presentation, and recognizing that it is an important force in the food market. Wellness is centered around it,” he said.
Associated also sent attendees to attend Marketechnics and the main FMI Show. “We are hoping to take away a lot of knowledge and information, and see what is new in the industry,” Yahn added.
Several attendees also commented on the quality of the general sessions, which included the state-of-the-industry Speaks report (see Page 18) and more general talks by speakers from outside the industry, such as John Patrick, a futurist who discussed the evolving role of the Internet in business.
“The super session on the Internet opened my eyes to some things,” said Jim Coddington, co-owner of C&J Foods, a six-store independent in Kansas City, Mo.
He said he came to the show this year because the company is planning to begin building a new store soon, “so I came to see the latest and greatest in-store equipment, like energy systems and refrigeration technology that take a green approach.”
Next year, however, he said he'll probably “just go to the [National Grocers Association] Show” instead of attending the Future Connect conference.
Coddington was one of several attendees who cited interest in sustainability-oriented offerings at the show, including Golub of Price Chopper and Ron Monroe, director of store operations at Buehler Food Markets, Wooster, Ohio, who also said he was seeking “technology to reduce labor costs.”
Although some attendees planned to skip next year's event, several retailers said they were interested in the 2009 educational program. Crenshaw of Publix said his company planned to send at least as many as the 47 people who attended this year.
Meijer said he also plans to send several people to Dallas.
“Everyone is wondering about the next generation of leadership,” Meijer said. “I think it's a great idea, and I think we'll bring a lot of people there as well.”
Joe Azzolina, president of Food Circus, a Foodtown operator based in Middletown, N.J., said he will probably send 10-15 attendees to next year's event, vs. the eight who were there this year.
“I think having an exhibit show every other year is good, and next year will be a great opportunity for training,” he said, noting that many of the FMI board members said at the board meeting before this year's show that they also plan to bring more attendees next year.
Reporting by Dan Alaimo, Matthew Enis, Julie Gallagher, Michael Garry and Mark Hamstra