FMI Connect breaks new ground in a familiar venue.
The Food Marketing Institute is returning to familiar ground as it switches back to an every-year schedule for its major trade show and brings the event back to Chicago, but much about the conference has evolved from its previous incarnations.
FMI Connect — The Global Food Retail Experience is set to take place June 9-13 at Chicago’s McCormick Place with a lineup of exhibits and educational programs that reflect the opportunities and challenges that industry faces today and is likely to face in the future.
“Over the last couple of years we went through a process with our board — specifically our strategic thinking committee — to better understand from the industry what the industry’s hopes and expectations are from FMI, and how we can be a real partner to the industry in advancing their business needs,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, in an interview with SN. “One of the things that came out of that process and the discussions we had with the various industry sectors and their representatives was the need for one event where everyone in the industry comes together, and there was a real consensus that there was a need for the industry to get together on an annual basis.”
Part of what was driving that, she said, is the speed at which change is occurring in the food retailing industry.
“We need to come together on at least an annual basis, so that we can all understand what’s changing, what are the new opportunities, what are the new challenges, and what do we need to be thinking about as we plan for the future of our companies. We’re trying to meet the need as expressed by our retailers and wholesalers.”
The industry appears to be responding well to the plan, as indicated by advance registrations, Sarasin pointed out.
“Our registration numbers are very strong,” she said, noting that as of early May, FMI Connect registration was 36% ahead of the 2012 event in terms retailer and wholesaler registration counts. “We are trending up on retailer registration, which will drive other types of registration as well. We are feeling pretty good about where we are [this early], and so I think it will be really strong.”
She noted that thew high number of advance registration is particularly encouraging because in the last few years, FMI has noticed that registrations tend to come in later and later for events.
In addition, Sarasin said the trade show portion of the event has been “trending very well” in terms of exhibit booth sales.
“It’s going to be a very impressive floor at the show,” she said.
Sarasin said FMI sees the conference addressing three major themes that encompass what its retailer and wholesaler members are experiencing — or can expect to experience in the future — in the food industry.
The first major theme is reflected in the “consumer insights” aspect of the conference.
“We will be focusing through the consumer insights segment that we as an industry are really rooted in customer service,” Sarasin said. “We really have to have that in order to maintain our competitive edge and provide the kind of service customers want with the kind of environment we are in, with the shoppers’ mobile mentality, and their own personal preferences, and their willingness and demand to be able to shop where and when and how they want to.”
To help attendees address this aspect of the industry, FMI Connect will offer seven different tracks of educational programs and nearly 50 workshop sessions.
One of the key pieces of consumer research that is scheduled to be presented at the conference will be the results of a study FMI conducted with research firm The Hartman Group. The study involved researchers interviewing consumers in their homes about the contents of their pantries and their refrigerators, to learn more about how they think about shopping.
In addition, FMI will present:
• Demographic data from Pricewaterhouse Coopers that Sarasin said “will really help inform the future of shopping.”
• The latest Shopping for Health research, by FMI and Prevention Magazine, which is compiled on an annual basis. “This will be more about consumers’ attitudes about health and nutrition, and how that affects what they buy when they shop,” Sarasin explained.
• A new report called The Power of Fresh, which will include new data on the fresh categories, and will explore how people are shopping for different things in different channels is changing, hand how meat and poultry decisions are made. “It will also look at what the role of convenience versus value plays in the whole fresh environment, so I think that’s going to be particularly interesting for our members,” Sarasin noted.
• A focus on the male shopper — “after spending many, many years of really focusing on the female shopper,” Sarasin explained. “We have spent a lifetime in this industry referring to the shopper as ‘she,’ but what we are learning is that ‘he’ is doing quite a bit of shopping as well.” FMI will present research from Daymon Worldwide about how men shop, what they look for, and how to develop more long-term loyalty with male shoppers, she said.
• Research from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council on the use of social media by consumers as it relates to the food-retailing industry. Sarasin, who is on the CCRRC, noted that FMI will present the conclusions of more than two years of study on this topic, and will explore “the kinds of things that retailers ought to be thinking about as it relates to their social media strategies.”
• A presentation from Jason Dorsey — “The Gen Y Guy” — who gave a much-discussed presentation on this important demographic group at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference in January.
The Retail Environment
The second of the three themes that will be presented at FMI Connect relates to what’s happening in the overall retail environment — “what the grocery landscape looks like,” Sarasin explained.
“As we have begun to talk more about the shifting shopping patterns of our consumers, we have to really talk about what that means and what is happening in our stores and with our suppliers to meet this new wave of shopping patterns that we have to deal with,” she said.
Part of that discussion will revolve around big data, and how retailers can better leverage it to further their success.
In addition, consultant Harold Llyod will present a store manager survey that will take a closer look at what motivates employees to work harder and to achieve more in the current environment.
Several sessions will also more closely examine the role of fresh categories in the current environment, and Sarasin noted that the co-location with United Fresh 2014 further allows attendees to enhance their experience around this aspect of the business.
Another session will examine the role of mobile apps, with research from St. Joseph’s University. FMI Connect will showcase the second part of a three-part series St. Joseph’s has assembled on this topic, which will examine how consumers are using these apps and “how supermarkets should be thinking about them and managing the kinds of apps that customers are using,” Sarasin explained. The first part of the app research was presented by FMI through a webinar series last fall.
Also in terms of the retail environment, FMI Connect will look at the global economy, and how retailers can deal with the increase in risk, and how to implement cost-effective cyber-security measures.
Also included in the “industry landscape” aspect of the conference is the return of a focus on the culinary aspect of the industry, with the second incarnation of the Supermarket Chef Showdown, for which SN is a media sponsor and which is hosted by Supermarket Guru and SN contributing editor Phil Lempert.
“There’s a lot that is changing in the grocery landscape, so we will try and explain some of that, and help our members understand it better, and if they aren’t engaged in some of these projects already, we will look at how they can begin to engage,” Sarasin explained.
The Future of Food Retailing
Another aspect of FMI Connect will include an exploration of what may be in store for the future of the supermarket industry, “and how we should be thinking about that,” Sarasin explained.
One of the key presentations along those lines will be the FMI Retail Experience of the Future, a special exhibit that will seek to assemble a picture of how food retailing is expected to change during the next two to 10 years. The exhibit reflects “exhaustive research” done by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Sarasin explained, to help attendees understand “how they can evolve their businesses to meet changing consumer needs, and begin to have more conversations about what the shopping experience should be going forward.”
The FMI Retail Experience of the Future will explore such topics as the store as a hub of the community; how to reach shoppers through micro-personalization; how current technologies can dictate display tactics and marketing; turning the store into a health and wellness destination; and supplier partnerships in the age of the “local” movement.
In addition, she noted FMI’s co-location with the InterBev 2014 beverage showcase event and the PMMI-Pack Expo Possibilities in Packaging Innovation Pavilion will also allow attendees to see some forward-thinking aspects of the beverage and packaging industries, respectively.
Other sessions will look at food trends in fast-growing categories like natural and organic products and specialty foods, and how companies can leverage big data to focus on these areas.
“I think retail attendees, supplier attendees and our service-provider attendees will have the opportunity to get the tools that they need to prepare for the future, and also more of a validation of the kinds of insights that they have been seeing for a while, with opportunities for them to more thoroughly think through how they can operationalize some of those trends into their owns businesses.”
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