The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) hopes this year’s Future Connect in Orlando, Fla., April 29-May 2, will live up to its name and engage future and current leaders in a conversation about what’s ahead in grocery retailing and merchandising.
“We’re facing a dramatically changing industry, and so what FMI is trying to do in the context of Future Connect is help the future leaders of our industry get prepared for it,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, tells The Shelby Report.
Now in its third year, Sarasin says Future Connect is a conference built for learning and opening channels of communication at various levels of food retailing. FMI is expecting 1,400 to attend this year, and while plenty of those attendees will be grocery executives, Sarasin notes that wholesalers and suppliers also make an appearance, which lets industry members get to know each other better.
Future Connect resonates with some companies more than others, but those who attend, Sarasin says, are sending more members of their teams every year. For example, Kroger sent 150 or more members the first year.
“This year, they’re bringing almost 250,” Sarasin says.
The conference isn’t just for rising stars in the industry. Sarasin explains that CEOs who send their executives to the conference also attend.
“So not only do you have the folks that are going to be the future leaders sitting in the room,” she says, “but you have some of the folks that are our current leaders sitting there learning with them.”
Since the event is broken into tracks, attendees can get tailored information for their field—be it marketing or technology, which is new this year. While the tracks put executives with similar goals in the same room, everyone can attend the general sessions and network with executives of all specialties.
A highlight of the event will be “FMI Speaks: The State of the Food Retail Industry,” in which Sarasin will present the results of FMI’s latest consumer and retailer research. She says that this year is exciting because four research companies have partnered with FMI to produce the research—Booz & Co., Nielsen, CrossMark and Catalina; more than any previous year.
“We need to really understand what the significant shifts in the food retail landscape has been—and more importantly what we think they will be coming up in the future,” Sarasin says of the research, which seeks to prepare leaders for 2025’s marketplace.
“Some of the data points are not altogether wonderful,” she says. “So some of the trends are a little bit more sobering than perhaps we’d like.”
Find the 2013 Future Connect program here.