MADISON, Wis. -- How has the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association changed its mission this year?
It hasn't. And that's the point.
According to Carol Christison, executive director of the trade association, IDDA's mission continues to be to provide "innovative leadership in promoting the growth and development of the dairy-deli-bakery industry by providing the highest caliber of support programs and services."
Sticking to the mission appears to be working. In an era when many trade groups and businesses alike are cutting back or refocusing their missions to remain competitive, IDDA seems to have discovered the formula for continued growth. Since 1982, when Christison took over the helm at IDDA, the trade group has grown from 119 member companies to more than 900. That growth has been reflected in the annual exposition. Fewer than 1,200 people attended IDDA's 1982 trade show, which featured only 66 exhibitors.
Early next month, IDDA's 1994 seminar and exposition, slated for June 5 to 7 in Baltimore, is expected to draw as many as 5,000 attendees, and the exhibit floor will feature 530 booths, Christison told SN in an interview prior to the event.
To what does she attribute the success? "I can sum it up in two words: We listen," said Christison.
"Almost everything we do is driven by a need: a consumer need, a retail need or a manufacturer/distributor need," she said.
The greatest need that is shared by all IDDA members, said Christison, is the need to sell more products.
"That's a simple goal, but it's made complicated by changing demographics, government regulations, media scares, health concerns and shopping alternatives. Consumers today are not loyal. If you can keep them for six months or a year, that's great. Our customer base keeps changing and so must we.
"There are a lot of 'warm-and-fuzzy' projects that create a lot of excitement and interest but really don't deliver anything new," she added. "Our challenge has been to make sure that we deliver something with some meat on it as well as a warm-and-fuzzy covering."
Some of the meatier projects under way at IDDA are programs that help retailers with the training and development of their employees.
"Not only do our customer bases change," said Christison, "but so does our pool of employees. Our goal is to find ways to sell more product to more people and to better prepare an ever-changing employee population by providing training that meets their needs, their employer's needs and the consumer's needs."
To that end, IDDA will unveil at the show the first segment of a new bakery training and recognition program that incorporates videos and workbooks and can be used in a self-study or classroom format. Similar to the deli training and certificate program completed by the association last year, the new bakery training aid will be a comprehensive, turnkey program designed specifically for supermarkets. The complete package of materials will be finished within a year.
The program is designed to train bakery clerks and department managers who are already on the job and may or may not have any actual experience working in a bakery, Christison said. "This program will teach them the basics and give them a solid foundation to continue to build their selling, product knowledge, customer service and managerial skills."
Christison said training is a top priority for its members and will therefore remain a primary focus of the association.
"Training is not a one-time, read-this-and-then-go-do-it affair. It's an opportunity to learn basic skills. It should be used as part of a career-track program to separate those who are just looking for a little extra spending money from the ones who are excited enough to look at advancement opportunities."
In addition to the bakery and deli training programs, IDDA recently released a video on category management. A video and slide program on European dairy merchandising is also in the works.
Training is not only an important part of IDDA's day-to-day activities. It's a very significant portion of the Baltimore trade show.
In addition to more than 25 workshops and presentations, IDDA is bringing training to the exhibit floor. For the first time, the show floor will feature what IDDA has dubbed the Retail Merchandising Challenge. It is part of the ShowPlace Merchandising Theater, an area devoted to showcasing new products and how to display them.
Three retail merchandising teams will set up case displays and will be judged on their own ideas in case merchandising, cutting and wrapping, sanitation, proper handling, labeling, signs, prep and customer service.
Teams are made up of four merchandisers from each of three supermarkets: Larry's Markets, Seattle; VG's Food Centers/ Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Tom Thumb, Dallas. All 12 were flown to Cincinnati earlier this year for a three-day training session to prepare them for the show.
"These teams are the cream of the crop and they are so excited," said Christison. "This will be a real challenge because it's like doing a store opening in three days while the building is being built around you and you're living out of boxes. We see this as a major learning and training event."
"This year we've done what everyone said couldn't be done. We got retailers to do the actual merchandising."
To complement IDDA's training and educational efforts, the association also has undertaken several research projects. In February, IDDA published a major study on warehouse clubs that showed that shoppers in the dairy, deli and bakery are willing to sacrifice convenience in order to save money at the alternate formats.
Preliminary finding of the report, "What Warehouse Clubs Can Teach Supermarkets: Learning from the Competition," were presented at last year's seminar and exposition.
Research reports that will be released at the show this year include two separate studies on consumer purchasing behaviors: one on bakery and one on deli.
IDDA has also devoted a lot of time in the past year, helping its members come into compliance with the new nutrition labeling regulations that went into effect May 8. Now that that hurdle is behind them, Christison said, more will take a leadership role in educating consumers.
"The public is scared and they want assurance that the food they eat is good for them and safe. Consumers will start to read and, more importantly, understand the labels and make the next logical conclusion that any food can be bad in excess, but moderation and balance offer them unlimited choices. Manufacturers who are quick to recognize these consumer concerns and educate them will reap major benefits."
What's the chance of teaming up with another trade association to consolidate conventions or programming? IDDA already is working with other associations to share resources and develop cooperative programs. And that will continue, Christison said. But it's unlikely that IDDA will combine shows with the Retail Bakers of America, for example, or any other trade association.