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FMI Anniversary Spotlights Retailer Leadership

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This 35th anniversary year of Food Marketing Institute is nearing its close, so it’s a good time to revisit one of the articles I most enjoyed writing at Supermarket News: a 1997 piece at the time of FMI’s 20th anniversary.

I got to interview 11 of the 12 FMI chairpersons who had served up to that time, and was struck by the strong leadership that set the tone for succeeding generations.

I came across some great anecdotes. Irving Raab of Stop & Shop Cos, the first FMI chairman, told me he happened to be absent from the very meeting in which industry leaders picked him to lead the effort to form FMI from a merger of two industry  associations.

“I missed a meeting, and it was the one in which they decided to merge, and they decided I was the one to do the merger,” he recalled. “I learned that you don’t miss meetings.”

I discovered that Jack Crocker of Super Valu Stores (the prior company spelling), who was FMI’s second chairman, used a little bit of 1776 to help hold factions together during disagreements.

At board meetings he would quell unrest by pointing to a banner he had hung on the wall. It displayed a quote from Benjamin Franklin that read, “We must hang together, gentlemen, or most certainly we will hang separately.”

The FMI story had lots of drama. Donald Schnuck of Schnuck Markets was chairman when President Jimmy Carter enacted voluntary wage and price controls. Carter called in industry leaders to try to strong-arm them into lowering the price of meat. But Carter’s data was wrong. So Schnuck led the battle to defend the industry.

Speaking of drama, Richard Currie of Loblaw Cos. assumed the chairman’s role just as the industry was trying to understand the new dynamic of alternative retail format competitors cutting into supermarket business.

Read more: 12 Who Mattered: Early FMI Leaders

Currie’s tenure included a groundbreaking study on that topic.

In 2002, at the time of FMI’s 25th anniversary, executives interviewed by SN identified the following as among key issues for the next five years: alternative channels, understanding trading partners, changing lifestyles, shifts in technology and food safety.

Do you recognize any of those as still relevant today? How about all of them!

FMI’s central role continues 35 years after its founding.

Happy anniversary FMI!

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David Orgel

David Orgel is executive director, content & user engagement, of Supermarket News (SN) and its website, SupermarketNews.com. Orgel delivers his opinions on industry trends through a bi-weekly...

Jon Springer

Jon Springer has been writing about food, food retailers and food retailing for more than 10 years, and is in his second tour of duty with Supermarket News. His prior experience includes covering the...
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