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Baker: FMI Connect Will Continue To Adapt As Industry Needs Change

Douglas Baker

Last updated on June 13th, 2024 at 11:51 am

As the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) brings together food retailers and manufacturers for its FMI Connect conference each year, it adjusts the offerings as industry needs change, just as grocers adapt to meet the evolving needs of their shoppers.

This year, for example, FMI Connect’s “Supermarket Chefs,” a two-day immersion experience for culinary professionals, replaced the “Supermarket Chef Showdown” contest held last year.

“This year looks different than last year and next year will look different from this year,” said FMI VP of Industry Relations Douglas Baker. “But we’re trying to make sure that the things that happen in the show are things that are important to the industry, making sure that the topics that we’re addressing are those topics that retailers and manufacturers need to be addressing.”

Baker spoke with The Shelby Report’s Geoff Welch, who attended FMI Connect in June.

Baker said the industry has embraced the event, which drew 54 of the top 75 retailers in the U.S. Still, there are issues that will need to be addressed.

The education piece was “phenomenal,” he said, but there was some concern that traffic was light on the show floor during those sessions.

“For any trade show, foot traffic is always a ‘wish.’ No matter how much you have, you wish you could have more,” Baker said. “That’s one thing with a show of this size, when you have this much education, is trying to understand where to put it so that it doesn’t cannibalize from another area of the show.”

He said there were plenty of opportunities for people to engage, and as the industry continues to consolidate, “it’s not the quantity of meetings and people that we see, it’s the quality and it’s making sure that the right people are at the right place at the right time. That’s what FMI continues to try to strive for.”

General session speakers this year included comedian Jerry Seinfeld and entrepreneur Steve Case. In addition, FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin led a session with Mario Batali and Robert Irvine, restaurateurs known from their Food Network appearances, about marketplace and consumer predictions. All those sessions were very well attended. Some were standing room only.

“That’s been really exciting, especially the general sessions. It goes to show that the topic and the individual is extremely important when you give a presentation, but we have been extremely lucky. From the general session to the Brand Bites, the Fresh Bites, the smaller (20-minute) education sessions on the show floor, every single one of them has been extremely well attended,” Baker said.

One of the sessions Baker attended drew just enough people to huddle around a table. It became more of a share group/workshop, but those also are productive, he said.

“Not everybody is going to take away something, but it’s making sure that somebody takes away something. That’s the most important thing,” he said.

As FMI looks ahead to FMI Connect 2017, which will return to McCormick Place in Chicago June 13-15, Baker said the organization will continue to add new elements to the show.

“We’re talking to a number of different companies with a focus on dietitians, a focus on natural,” he said. “We are absolutely going to continue to grow technology at food, e-commerce at food, so for that particular community within grocery, you should see a lot of additional things next year.”

A focal point for the year leading up to and including the 2017 event will be foodservice at retail.

“As grocery stores continue to learn and want to engage their stores into the ‘groceraunt’ type format and bring that consumer in for the quick serve or the meals, we have to bring those educators to them to help them embrace that avenue,” Baker said.

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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