WASHINGTON D.C. -- Food Marketing Institute here is looking for a few good men and women.
Rather than putting signs in supermarket windows, however, the association will try to help members by posting a new Web site on the Internet -- SuperJobMarket.com -- and unveiling it at its annual convention and educational exposition in Chicago May 7-9.
According to Tim Hammonds, FMI president and chief executive officer, the Web site is designed to reach out to potential job applicants across all ages and at all industry levels.
"Putting a sign in the store window or advertising on sandwich boards or running newspaper ads doesn't attract people like it used to," Hammonds said, "and with kids and older, retired people already looking for jobs on the Internet, we felt it was important for the industry's needs to be represented there.
"Besides, if you're not represented on the Web, it sends a message that your industry is behind the times."
In an interview with SN, Hammonds commented on a range of issues related to the FMI convention and to legislative concerns, including the following:
The convention-floor debut of SuperTechMart, which will offer an overview of how various technologies are interconnected in running a business.
The debut of a Whole Health Pavilion, which will showcase a spectrum of health solutions from a variety of angles.
The threat posed by proposed regulations on ergonomics from the Occupational Safety and Health Association.
The desire for an easing of regulatory oversight, which could occur with a change in the U.S. Presidency.
Hammonds said the establishment of SuperJobMarket comes at a time when the surging economy and low unemployment rates make it difficult to recruit and then retain a workforce. "Supermarkets are in competition with all retail businesses, and if you're looking to hire college graduates, you're in competition with all the dot-com start-up companies," he said.
"So it's our hope to use the Internet as a general way to tell people who may not be considering the food industry as their first choice that this is a good place to work, and why. Then the Web site will provide links to employment situations in the local community, and those interested can fill out applications on line, forward them to the stores and make interview appointments."
SuperJobMarket.com will offer opportunities for people at all levels of the industry, utilizing a variety of search engine partners to help applicants seek out positions at the appropriate levels, including high school and college graduates, pharmacy-school graduates, foodservice personnel, middle- and top-level executives and retired people, Hammonds said.
"As we envision it, we hope to be able to get people as close to their desired level as possible. Once a person goes on the Internet, he can type in a query for a job and the search engines will find which sites are available and link him to the appropriate site. For store level positions, there will be a list of options and the applicant can pick one and go from there."
The Internet-based job site is one of several ways that electronic commerce is changing the food business, Hammonds said. Some of those changes will be discussed at FMI convention sessions, he said, including workshops on how to use electronic commerce for both business-to-business applications and business-to-consumer marketing, plus a Spanish-language session on e-commerce in Latin America.
Trend data from on-line shopping will also be part of the FMI Speaks session that will open the convention, he said.
"There's been a whole explosion of new Internet ventures, and we're just seeing the beginning of a revolution in the industry," Hammonds noted.
That revolution is already having a big impact of the association, he said, with dozens of new dot-com companies from the business-to-consumer side of the equation signing up as new FMI members and attending this year's meeting -- "companies that didn't even exist a year ago," Hammonds told SN.
Besides unveiling SuperJobMarket.com at the convention, FMI also plans to introduce SuperTechMart, a convention-floor exhibit that will highlight the use of real-world technologies and the connectivity those technologies have with each other, Hammonds pointed out.
"When companies look at technology, they don't look at all the new bells and whistles but how each piece integrates with other systems to provide a totally integrated environment," he explained.
The SuperTechMart pavilion will feature a one-hour guided tour through a simulated store, corporate headquarters and distribution and manufacturing facility to demonstrate how information can flow through the retail environment -- the first time a retailer-focused pavilion with live demonstrations has ever been built and exhibited at a trade show, Hammonds said.
"We've done tours like this at other, smaller conferences and they've been very popular, and we feel this will work very well at the Chicago show," he added.
Also making its debut on the convention floor this year will be a Whole Health Pavilion, a large exhibit area showcasing the expansion of whole health solution concepts, with input from companies associated with pharmacy, natural products, organics, supplements, health instruction and fortified foods.
Other convention highlights will include the following:
A two-part presentation of FMI Speaks, the state-of-the-industry report -- one on Sunday, May 7, and the other on Tuesday, May 9, with some overlapping data but with different speakers: on Sunday, Daniel R. Wegman, president of Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y.; Mike Read, vice president, Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, and Gregory B. Calhoun, president, and chief executive of Calhoun Enterprises, Montgomery, Ala., and on Tuesday, Ross McLaren, president and chief executive officer of Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass.; Jeffrey Noddle, executive vice president and chief operating officer, wholesale food companies, for Supervalu, Minneapolis, and Jim Chambers, chairman and chief executive of Netgrocer.com, North Brunswick, N.J.
A closing convention session on Tuesday afternoon -- featuring political observers Mary Matalin and James Carville -- marking the second year FMI is scheduling its closing session immediately after the floor exhibit closes "to provide a special incentive to hold people on the convention floor," Hammonds noted.
Two Spanish-language workshops, up from one at last year's convention, on tendencies among Latin American consumers and e-commerce.
An increased presence by IGA, with more prominent booth placement on the exhibit floor. According to Hammonds, IGA will observe its 75th anniversary at next year's FMI show, "and having it play such a large role in our convention is a good way to remind the industry that half our members are single-store operators."
Floor exhibits by 20 to 25 minority- and women-owned businesses to give them greater exposure to potential customers. According to Hammonds, several companies that started out getting reduced-rate booths have graduated to regular free-standing exhibits.
A series of idea exchange breakfasts on Monday and Tuesday, May 8 and 9, respectively, in which attendees will have an opportunity to participate in interactive discussions on employee loyalty, retention and turnover; the use of benchmark data to review operating performance; consumer preferences; competition; global initiatives; consumer privacy; improving the bottom line, and ergonomics.
Ergonomics is one of the hot-button issues facing the food industry today, Hammonds told SN, expressing deep concern over an OSHA proposal Hammonds said would be "the most burdensome, expensive and complicated new regulation our industry has faced in decades. it will regulate every ache, pain and sprain whether it was caused in the workplace or not."
The proposed rule applies to any manual handling job that could cause a musculoskeletal disorder, including such symptoms as numbness, burning, pain, tingling, cramping or stiffness. According to Hammonds, OSHA scenarios for implementation of the rule suggest reconfiguring checkstands, raising bagging stands and adding scales to ensure that no grocery bag weighs more than 15 pounds.
"So what do you do if a customer buys a 20-pound turkey?" Hammonds asked rhetorically.
Although the proposed regulation would apply to all industries, "supermarkets and warehouses are among the prime targets because we are in the business of handling heavy products, and there's no way to eliminate that," Hammonds said.
FMI was able to extend the period for OSHA to hear comments about the proposal, "and we've seen over 500 comments from FMI member firms and state associations, which is an unprecedented response," Hammonds said. "But we feel OSHA is only going through the motions and will probably formalize the rule before the end of the year. If that happens, we may have to go to court to stop them."
Because this is an election year, "OSHA doesn't want to take a chance that a change in Administrations will view the rule differently, and approval is more likely under a President Clinton or Gore than under a Republican president," he said.
Hammonds said the election of a Republican president would probably be beneficial to the industry because it would mean less government regulation. "I think we can safely say that under a Republican president, the heads of key agencies would have a better understanding of the business community than exists today, and they would tend to be much easier to work with on regulatory issues.
"But under the Clinton Administration, we've learned that what can't be accomplished in Congress often shifts to the regulatory agencies."
According to Hammonds, other legisative issues of concern to the industry include the following:
Minimum wage increases. "We are working with the Republican side of the aisle as we continue to oppose another increase, but it may happen this year," he said. "And if it does happen, we need to keep in play as many offsets for business as we can."
The House version of the minimum wage legislation includes a provision for estate tax relief that independents have long considered desirable, Hammonds said. "The House version says that if the minimum wage is raised, then the burden is on the employers, who should be granted estate tax relief.
"While we would certainly prefer no minimum wage increase and would like to introduce estate tax reduction as a stand-alone issue, we would like to get as much relief coupled with any increases as we can muster."
Electronic fund transfers. FMI supported a bill that will make EFT benefits portable across state lines by 2002. That bill has already been passed and is expected to be sined into law later this year.
Another benefits bill, which FMI opposes, proposes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture allow retailers to obtain licenses to participate in the WIC (Women Infants Children) program only every three years, "which would mean that a retailer who builds a store and misses the deadline for a license by one day would have to wait three years. We're working closely with the U.S.D.A. to rethink that proposal."