CHICAGO — Former Vice President Al Gore might have actually made a bigger impact on the Food Marketing Institute Show here last week by not showing up than he would have if he had given his scheduled keynote address.
Gore, who FMI said canceled his appearance “for personal reasons” just over a week before the event, found himself the butt of repeated jokes throughout the conference.
“I looked on my milk carton this morning and it said, ‘Have you seen this man?’ and there was a picture of Al Gore,” said Michael Sansolo, senior vice president, Food Marketing Institute, before introducing the alternate keynote speakers.
Gore's reasons for canceling remained a mystery, although on his website, algore.com, he discussed his travels and other speeches he gave within a few days of FMI, including an address to the American Institute of Architecture.
“Clearly it was very rude of him not to come, and the reason he gave wasn't a good one,” said Neil Golub, chairman and chief executive officer, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y. “But the two speakers we had were very interesting, and I think I got a lot more out of that than I would have if Al Gore had spoken.”
The two substitute speakers, Marc Gunther of Fortune magazine, and Chip Heath, a marketing professor at Stamford University and a columnist at Fast Company magazine, addressed the issues of sustainability and crafting memorable marketing messages, respectively (see Page 20).
The 2007 FMI Show was the last to be scheduled for Chicago, at least for the next two years, as the show begins rotating to different locations and alternating between an exhibit show and an educational conference.
Most retailers interviewed by SN at this year's show said they supported the changes.
“I'd view [changes to the FMI Show] as a positive, because it's a little overwhelming as it is now,” said Gary Rygg, director of marketing for Red Apple Stores, Northwest Grocers, Seattle. “I've only got three days, and it's tough to get in all I want to see in that time. So I'll be looking forward to next year.”
He said he would like to see more focus on the educational aspect of the conferences, especially as it relates to marketing topics.
“I've been to a few seminars this year, and quite frankly I wasn't that impressed,” he said.
One locally based retailer said it would be difficult to travel to the conference when it begins rotating to different cities.
“We won't be able to go to the show when it moves,” said David Trestle, owner of Hometown Foods, Gilman, Ill. “The biggest reason is that we're only an hour away from here. We always bring all of our full-time employees as a kind of extra bonus.”
Ed Crenshaw, president, Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., said his company, which usually brings a large contingent to the FMI Show each year, will reassess who it brings to the educational forum based on the topics to be covered.
“We'll evaluate who we send,” he said. “We'll make sure we pick the right attendees.”
Joe Azzolina, CEO of Food Circus Supermarkets, Middletown, N.J., said he thinks the show will be improved by alternating to an every-other-year format.
“I think FMI will be a bigger and better show, because for a lot of the show people, especially the refrigeration and technology people, it's very expensive to do every year,” he said. “I think we'll get more turnout if we do it every other year.”
This year also marked the first time that FMI combined its annual show with its technology expo, Marketechnics.
“The Marketechnics exhibit aisle was quiet,” said Bill Macaloney, owner of Jax Markets, Anaheim, Calif. “I'm not sure it attracted the same people as it did in the past. I'd like to see more people there.”
Mike Brown, general manager of retail technology, Unified Western Grocers, Commerce, Calif., agreed that the technology show was a little slow.
“I don't think I saw one-quarter of the retailers I would see at Marketechnics in the past,” he said. “We've started going in January to the National Retail Federation Show, which I think has taken the place of the Marketechnics show. But I think the Marketechnics show still has a value and needs to keep going.”
Some retailers, however, said they appreciated the chance to expose different sides of their organizations to other aspects of the business by having the two shows together.
“It gives everyone a chance to cross-pollinate,” said Rich Parkinson, president and CEO, Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City. “It's a chance for everyone to see the bigger picture.”
Don Swofford, manager of retail technology products, Unified Western Grocers, Commerce, Calif., supported that idea.
“I was glad for the opportunity to see the regular FMI Show,” he said. “I would normally not have that opportunity.”
Additional reporting: Michael Garry and Jon Springer