CHICAGO -- The Food Marketing Institute will unveil a warehouse and distribution pavilion at its Supermarket Industry Convention here in May.
The 5,800-square-foot pavilion is intended to boost the show's roster of productivity service exhibitors and retailers and to unify exhibitors within that category, according to FMI officials.
"The big decision-makers are at the May show. The warehousing and distribution executive meets a vendor at one show," an FMI spokesman said. "Now it's time for the vendor to meet the chief executive officer, the higher-level exec, to finally sign the paper and make the deal."
The move to dedicate a special pavilion to warehousing and distribution exhibits underscores the growing importance of productivity issues among manufacturers and retailers.
However, some industry observers indicated the special pavilion could add congestion to an already crowded show calendar. For the concept to succeed, said retailers and manufacturers, it needs to quickly secure a solid identity, distinct from other warehouse and distribution shows.
"Certainly the FMI show is one of the premiere conferences, so I think there'll be a lot of interest in what FMI's doing," said a source, who asked not to be identified. "It's probably an attempt by FMI to cover some areas where there's going to be lots of interest, areas that there haven't been as much emphasis on in the past."
Joe Ciolino, national sales executive at Ryder Commercial Leasing & Services, Miami, said, "Each convention serves a niche of the industry. Competition has
gotten so fierce in the supermarket industry that [retailers] are looking toward the distribution arm of their industry," he added.
News of a warehousing and distribution pavilion at the May show, however, raised questions of "choice" among some traditional attendees.
Among the supermarket industry's productivity conferences are the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association/International Foodservice Distributors Association show in Memphis, which was held last week, and FMI's distribution convention coming up in February. Although other FMI conferences, such as the successful Marketechnics, trace their roots to FMI's May show, it's too early to determine if the new pavilion could lead to a stand-alone event, FMI officials said.
"If there's an FMI distribution conference and they tried to get people into Chicago also, I'm not sure the companies would allow their distribution executive to go to both," said one retailer, who asked not to be identified. "How many contacts do you have to make in a year? If you make all your contacts and discussions in February, why would you have to go to another one?"
But FMI views its Fort Lauderdale conference as targeted to distribution personnel, while its new pavilion at the Chicago conference is geared for higher-level executives.
"If you've got contacts to make and people to see, if you do it twice a year, you're doing a lot," another source said. "I doubt very much our company would let us go to three in a year, and rightly so. But if the Chicago show turns out to be better than the [distribution conference], people might start going to that instead."
Chep USA, a pallet-rental firm based in Park Ridge, N.J., said the pavilion shows the increased importance that logistics is playing in previously isolated areas of merchandising.
"Logistics is being incorporated in both corporate and merchandising strategies," said Gary Garkowski, vice president of marketing. "So it doesn't surprise me that that would happen. It's not just about the taste of the food and the packaging anymore.
"Whether it's going to be successful or not at that show is going to depend on a lot of factors, especially real estate," he said, adding that exhibitors who have been attending the conference may be reluctant to relocate.
"Would companies that are doing logistics participate or would they keep their [former] booths? A lot of those guys have impressive real estate and probably wouldn't give it up, but maybe they'll put up something smaller in the new pavilion.