WASHINGTON -- Food Marketing Institute here plans to get back to basics in 2001.
"After a couple of years dealing with issues that had to be dealt with, like Y2K, it's important that FMI returns to core issues like industry growth," Michael Sansolo, senior vice president, told SN.
"Obviously each FMI event comes at growth from a different angle. But overall, our theme for the new year will be to look at ways we can help the industry grow in terms of sales, profits and expertise."
According to Brian Tully, FMI's vice president, convention services, "We'll be promoting the growth theme more because it's something the industry needs to think about. The retail, wholesale and supplier communities need to think more alike to achieve real growth, and that's been eluding this business for some time."
Sansolo said he agreed. "We hear folks from a lot of companies telling us circumstances force them to think about a lot of things. But the basics of the business -- how we can become a stronger industry going forward -- is wrapped up with change and new challenges, and it all comes down to a question of how we can all work with each other and understand the relationships between suppliers and distributors to grow sales."
At FMI's annual convention in Chicago, scheduled for May 6 to 8, 2001, the theme of growth and how to achieve it will be woven into a variety of workshops, Sansolo said, "including sessions on understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your business; viewing your operations through the eyes of consumers; working with employees to deliver on your marketing promises; and understanding how technology underpins all you do."
Workshops will also feature futurists looking at changes in the ways consumers shop, work and eat; engineering professors talking about the evolution of the home kitchen; and speakers from companies outside the food industry sharing the philosophies and visionary thinking that make their companies successful, plus sessions focusing on advertising, marketing to singles, customer service expectations and changes in the work force.
"These are the kinds of basic issues that impact all levels of the industry," Sansolo said, "and our hope is that companies will bring teams to the show so they can hit a lot of sessions and compare notes later."
The Speaks presentation -- scheduled to open the convention on Sunday morning for the second year in a row -- will address competition, the work force, technology, consumers and government, Sansolo said.
In a new wrinkle at next year's Chicago show, Speaks will also close the convention on Tuesday afternoon. "Our purpose is to hit as large an audience as possible and to get people to think about the inter-relationships among all the issues they hear during the convention," Sansolo said.
The closing Speaks session may also be interactive, allowing audience members to voice their own opinions on the subjects covered in the presentation and in the convention workshops, he added.
Sansolo said the idea breakfasts that have been part of the past three Chicago conventions will be eliminated "because it's hard to get large numbers of people to McCormick Place at 7 a.m."
Instead, FMI will schedule "category close-ups" on the exhibit floor -- opportunities for suppliers and distributors to engage in "quick, hot seminars and instructive discussions about topics of interest," Sansolo said.
"These discussions could involve what's happening with sales in specific categories, like perishables or packaged goods, or how people can work together to grow sales. We see these close-ups as an opportunity to start discussions that can then carry over to the exhibit floor so companies can develop merchandising and marketing strategies."
FMI also intends to again offer a SuperTechMart presentation, which it introduced at the 2000 convention and which it intends to include as an annual part of the Chicago show. "This year's program is still in development," Tully said, "but we were pleased with the reception to our first SuperTechMart, and we're in the process of working to develop a 2001 version."
He said the exhibit will again be concept-driven rather than product-driven, presenting information about the connections between technology and marketing in an inclusive way.
Another new element at the 2001 convention will be the addition of a product display on the grand concourse at McCormick Place -- a prelude, Tully said, to the establishment of a new FMI award, called America's New Product Award, at the 2002 convention. The exhibit is intended to encourage manufacturers to introduce new products during the show, he explained.
FMI will also put a new emphasis on the supplier-diversity program it has pushed at the last three conventions that encourage non-traditional suppliers to exhibit. After three years of what Tully described as "modest success," FMI hopes to double the number of exhibitors next year -- from about 20 up to 40.
As the industry moves more toward electronic commerce, FMI plans to dispense with its traditional publications booth at the convention by offering the same services, information and products at computerized kiosks, Tully added. "Instead of throwing up walls and creating structures, we will leave it in a virtual form," he explained.
FMI's Marketechnics show, scheduled for Feb. 18 to 20, 2001, in New Orleans, will focus on the integration of supermarket merchandising, operations, logistics and in-store systems, with an emphasis on the role of and expectations for technology.
"But the issue of technology is moving and changing so fast that this show changes every year," Sansolo said. "Last year we focused on Y2K and this year we talked about Internet-enabled commerce. A year ago there were no business-to-business exchanges, and now we have those, plus exchanges for business-to-consumers and business within your own enterprise, as well as mobile businesses, so there have been enormous developments.
"At the 1999 conference everyone thought the Internet would roll over everything, and this year we talked about electronic alliances. Next year, it's the marriage of the real world with the virtual world. We're finding out how to use technology for what we do. We've learned that technology alone is not the answer -- it needs to be combined with real-world events."
According to Sansolo, "We're seeing the use of technology grow exponentially by the industry and the consumer, and that's one reason this event is so changeable year to year."
But Marketechnics is not just about technology, he added. "The key to Marketechnics is understanding how technology allows you to deal with operations issues, how we can use it to better serve customers, to drive costs out of the system and be better competitors."
He said the conference was never designed strictly as a technology forum but a combination of marketing and technology.
Sansolo also said technology is not just for large companies. "There are one- and two-store operators who say they're making increased use of the Internet to get product and using computer technology to improve the playing field. So Marketechnics is geared both to large, sophisticated companies and to independents just getting in and finding there's a lot there to help them do a better job of running their businesses.
"Technology can enable a lot of solutions, in terms of reaching out to new employees, trading information with wholesalers and suppliers, sharing information with a company and developing new relationships with consumers."
According to Tully, one new aspect of next year's Marketechnics schedule is a pre-convention session with Microsoft, which approached FMI about doing a half-day program the day preceding the show's opening. "If people registered for Marketechnics arrive in New Orleans on Saturday, Feb. 17, they will be automatically registered for the Microsoft presentation that afternoon," he said.
Two elements launched at the 2000 Marketechnics show will be repeated next year, Tully added: an orientation tour of the exhibit floor on Sunday morning following the opening general session, and DemoNet, a series of presentations by exhibitors over the three days of the convention.
In a new development for FMI, the institute will be working with the California Grocers Association next fall to present the Western Industry Food Exposition, a regional show for eight Western states. FMI will not be a co-sponsor of the show, Sansolo pointed out, but will provide input on exhibitor sales promotions and operational execution.
He said FMI did the educational portion of the Western Expo's 2000 convention.
"This new arrangement is a win-win partnership because the state houses are important to us -- they're our eyes and ears on the ground -- and this ties us more closely to the states," Sansolo said.
FMI's Midwinter Executive Conference, scheduled for Jan. 14 to 16, 2001, in Boca Raton, Fla., is an invitation-only meeting geared to top-level executives that will cover a wide range of topics, including human resources, technology, energy and store design, Sansolo said.
Conference sessions will include a presentation on how Wall Street views the industry; B2B exchanges; a reflection on the kinds of challenges business executives face in times of change; a presentation on the kinds of advertising images the industry sends to consumers; and a speech by Martin Luther King 3rd the day after Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.