The late 1930s evokes images of Franklin Roosevelt as president, a world moving toward war, and big-screen productions such as Gone With the Wind. But it was also the period when the old Super Market Institute was building a young industry convention into what would become a major annual food exhibition.
Jump ahead seven decades to 2006. The exhibition, now called the FMI show, is still an annual event, held under the umbrella of the Food Marketing Institute since 1977. Yet, the business world has been transformed over the decades. Many suppliers now have locations in customers' headquarter cities. Air travel is more complicated in the post-9/11 world. The ranks of manufacturers have been consolidating. Supermarkets no longer account for the overriding share of their suppliers' businesses. Moreover, the labor-related costs of annual exhibitions are prohibitive for suppliers, particularly in a city like Chicago, the longtime home of the FMI Show.
So FMI is considering a big change after mulling many options. As a news story on Page 1 by Retail Editor Mark Hamstra reports, the association's committee charged with long-range planning is proposing switching the annual exhibition to every other year. In the alternate years, under this plan, FMI would hold an educational forum with industry-leading research and presentations. Moreover, both shows could rotate to various locations around the country. These ideas were set to be presented to the board on May 6. If the concept generates interest, it is not expected to come to a vote until the fall. The changes wouldn't take effect until 2008.
While the reasons for these moves have been long in the making, the actual proposals still come as a surprise. After all, early May has become synonymous with the FMI Show in Chicago, and with that city's sights, sounds, hotels and restaurants. Which is part of the reason that some are seeking change.
"I think we've gotten a little bit ingrained in that one location, and this would bring some new life into it," said Jeff Noddle, FMI chairman, and chairman and chief executive officer of Supervalu, Minneapolis, in an interview with SN.
The new plan has some advantages. For instance, bringing the show to new locations could inject regional excitement and draw more members from around the country, making the gathering less reliant on Midwest attendees. A truly innovative educational program with exclusive research would also be welcome. Perhaps the best element is that the leadership is allowing ample time for the industry to discuss the proposal before a decision is reached.
FMI is far from the only association seeking solutions for a new era. Late last month, the Food Products Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association announced an agreement in principle to merge their organizations effective the beginning of next year, pending board and membership votes. Last month, a merger was also announced between United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association and International Fresh-cut Produce Association, although they will continue to hold two separate trade shows.
In making choices about their futures, associations mirror their own memberships in dealing with industry change. No crystal ball exists that can predict which moves will work. But you don't need to be a futurist to realize that trying something new is the only reasonable way to find models that make sense.