Although some retailers and wholesalers said they thought attendance was a little lighter than they expected at FMI Connect and United Fresh 2014, they were broadly and enthusiastically supportive of the return to an every-year educational conference and trade show, and also appreciated having the event in Chicago again.

“I think it was a really good first step to bring the show back to Chicago,” said Kevin Davis, CEO of Bristol Farms, noting that relocating the show each year made planning more difficult for attendees.

Also, staging the show on an annual basis makes it easier for both retailers and vendors to keep it in their budgets from year to year, he pointed out.

He said he brought seven people from his company to the show this year, and plans to bring 20 next year.

“Everyone I spoke with at the show said they are bringing more people next year,” he said.

He cited in particular educational opportunities for store managers and for independent retailers (Davis is chairman of the Independent Operators Committee at FMI).

“We want to bring more store managers,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to get them energized, and they bring that back to their people in the stores.”

Other attendees said they were interested in everything from produce merchandising to educational sessions to the latest equipment and technologies. Following are comments from retailers and wholesalers interviewed by SN at FMI Connect and United Fresh 2014:

Brian Haaraoja, VP of fresh merchandising at SpartanNash, Grand Rapids, Mich., said he supports an annual conference.

“I think it’s important, it’s viable and it provides value,” he told SN, adding that “Chicago is a great place to have it.”

Haaraoja, who gave a presentation about SNAP incentives for produce purchases, said SpartanNash sent 15 people to the conference this year.

In addition to his role as a presenter, he also said he was at FMI Connect and United Fresh to check out the equipment on display and to “see the trends in produce, and talk about new programs we can use in our store.”