That was the consensus of executives attending Food Marketing Institute's Pharmacy Conference here this month, which convened at the same time and in the same place as the FMI Show.
On the one hand, pharmacy executives were pleased to see the scope of the industry as represented at the vast FMI Show, which also included All Things Organic, the Fancy Food Show, and the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association Produce Expo & Conference this year. They told SN it was a good idea that senior management and other category managers would be exposed to the pharmacy content.
On the other hand, the executives missed the intimacy of having their own meeting, held in one hotel. They also noted that they didn't see other people from their companies much anyway.
In general, those interviewed by SN at the conference said it was a good event, with solid content and attendance levels. A final decision has not been made on the future of the conference. However, multiple sources approached by SN said, "The jury is out." They seem inclined to give the co-location concept more time to work.
"I've been to the regular show before. So that's nothing new to me," said David Meador, who is director of pharmacy at Dierbergs Markets, based in Chesterfield, Mo. "I'm still out on the vote as to whether it is a good idea to have them together. It's hard to get [the grocery category managers] to come over here. They're pressed for time and trying see 18,000 things over there [at the main FMI Show]. I'll be lucky to even catch up with them today."
Yet, Meador concluded, "It's a nice show. I think they ought to do it another year this way to see if we can get a little more interaction between the two groups."
"It has worked out well," said Gary Smith, manager of Central Pharmacy at Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y. "We're missing a little of the intimacy that we always found to be a really good aspect of this conference. But the trade-off is the opportunity for us to participate in the FMI Show, and a lot of us have never been there before. All in all, I am certainly supportive of the co-location."
Smith did acknowledge that he had seen little of non-pharmacy attendees from his company at the show. "This is the first year, and I think some of that occurred. If we do it again, more of it will occur."
"I think the jury is still out in terms of the co-location," said John Beckner, director of pharmacy and health services, Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va. "We need to probably try this for a couple of years. I don't think you can make a decision after one year. If we are going to continue to have a viable Pharmacy Conference, we need to try this type of format."
"There are advantages to the co-location, like the ability to pull in more senior management," said Michael Halliwell, pharmacy director, Ball's Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan. "[Yet] my fear is that our smaller show will get lost. We've always been a really tight group. The conference is part of what differentiates us as grocery pharmacists. It gives us the ability to share and grow and move forward as a unit."
"I love the show format this year," said Don Clark, director of pharmacy operations, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va. "It provided an opportunity for people who would not be able to attend the Pharmacy Conference to see things that they normally wouldn't. We've accomplished the goals we set."
For one independent retailer, the co-located pharmacy event was part of the draw this year. "We are considering putting a pharmacy into the store, so co-locating the Pharmacy Conference with the FMI Show was perfect timing for me," said John Zagara, president, Zagara's Marketplace, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Attendance at the conference was "strong," confirmed Laurie Gethin, senior manager, pharmacy services, FMI, Washington. There were about 300 pre-registrants, she said, but a final count would be difficult because of the commingled shows. She declined to compare it to past years.
"I thought the conference was very successful," said Gethin. "We got good feedback from attendees that they enjoyed seeing the big picture of the supermarket industry at the show, and having the chance to walk the show floor and having pharmacy-focused sessions at the show that they and some of their retail colleagues could attend."
"We'll be debating shortly whether to co-locate with the FMI Show again next year," said Curtis Hartin, director of pharmacy, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, and current chairman of FMI's Pharmacy Services Committee. "That is still up in the air, but it's looking favorable," he said.
"The jury is still out on that," said Mike LeBlanc, pharmacy business development manager, Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., and incoming chair of the committee. "From my perspective, it was a strategic decision we made. I think it was a good move." For years, the committee has discussed how to create more synergies between pharmacy and other parts of the store. "We are going to look back historically and say this was the right thing for us to do as an association and as a department within FMI," he said.
"This is a unique venue that we as pharmacy need to take advantage of and help educate the grocery side of our business, so that they understand the value that we bring to it," said John Fegan, senior vice president, pharmacy, Ahold USA, Quincy, Mass.
"I enjoyed seeing the grocery side and produce side of the business in depth -- I've never been exposed to that before," said a pharmacy director with a Northeast retailer who asked not to be identified. "The pharmacy educational program is always good, and the vendor meetings have been very productive this year."
The pharmacy director didn't like McCormick Place being located so far from the hotels. He preferred a format where conference attendees stay in the same hotel as the event, or at least in a hotel within walking distance.
"The sessions on the show floor were very good. It was helpful for us to interact with non-pharmacy people," said Michele Snider, pharmacy director, Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif.
"Hearing about health care at the main talk [FMI Speaks] with all the executives in the Grand Ballroom was good. Pharmacy could have been included more, but hearing about it in that venue was positive," added Phil Smith, pharmacy administrator, Save Mart.