SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - A "call to action" intended to awaken the food distribution industry to the need for a unified disaster-relief plan was issued last week by Jeff Noddle during the Food Marketing Institute's Midwinter Executive Conference here.
Noddle, chairman and chief executive officer of Supervalu, Minneapolis, as well as chairman of FMI, told an audience of conference attendees that the experience of the food industry in its many well-intended efforts to provide relief to those in hurricane-stricken areas of the Gulf Coast last year illustrates that a new template to guide the industry in future relief actions is required.
What happened during that tragedy, he said, is that the manifold efforts of many segments of the industry lacked coordination, and that the attempts of governmental agencies to direct efforts did more harm than good. He pronounced that situation "unacceptable" and asserted that a new planning initiative must start.
"Today I'm issuing a call to action for this entire industry. We need to work together more to plan in advance for actions we can take together when tragedy occurs. This will be a very large project, but one that's central to our role and central to our communities.
"If you look back at Katrina, you can see all the work that was done by the food industry: by manufacturers, by retailers, by distributors, by brokers and by everybody involved. There is an endless list of people who did things on behalf of the industry. And you know what? I don't think we got the proper credit for it. But this isn't about credit, it's about service.
"But how to serve? What if we were more coordinated? What if we had a template of how to respond, of who to call at all the 800 numbers and the governmental agencies? What if we worked together with our vendors and suppliers to move quickly? And who in this country is better positioned to do this than the food industry? We do [complex and speedy distribution] every day anyway, and did it during Katrina and when other tragedies occurred.
"We are not trying to replace the government, but we know government is not suited, not set and not established - they do not have the procedures to know how to respond with first-responder-type needs. There are other things governments can do. This is something we can do."
"We don't want to see again what we saw [after Katrina] with food and help parked outside an area waiting while the government determines who is going to get what. That's unacceptable.
"We must be sure we have the opportunity to be the first responders and that we are helping communities get back to normal immediately. We have got to make sure the entire supply chain works.
"This is an effort that is going to require the full resources of both FMI and [Grocery Manufacturers Association]. It will likely take guidance and manpower from a range of areas inside all our companies."
Noddle said that in upcoming time, companies across all industry sectors will be asked to identify potential committee members who can formulate action plans to be used when the next tragedy strikes.
"You will be hearing more about this. We will make this a joint project between FMI and GMA. We are going to ask for people to volunteer for this."
Moreover, such broad and cooperative thinking can be applied to find solutions to other vexing industry issues, including backhaul, supply-chain issues, legislative agendas and credit- and debit-card fees, he said.
Noddle's talk about the need for industry coordination was preceded by a presentation from Joseph H. Campbell Jr., president and CEO, Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La., who was in close proximity to Katrina events.
Jay Campbell showed numerous photos of the devastation wrought upon New Orleans, which hammered home the need for planning. He said planning needs to be done on the business and household level, with considerations that include the ability to relocate, insurance, electrical generators, fuel, food, cash and the like.
Indeed so. Not many hours after Supervalu's proposed buyout of Albertsons was made known, Noddle found himself on the podium at a business session of the Food Marketing Institute's Midwinter Executive Conference here. Noddle, in addition to being chairman and chief executive officer of Supervalu, is FMI chairman.
So, while at the podium to give a talk on an unrelated matter last Monday morning, Noddle announced that Supervalu had agreed to acquire Albertsons. Although the deal had long been anticipated, the news that it had actually happened hadn't reached the ears of many in the audience.
In recognition that the deal had been anticipated by many members of the audience, Noddle remarked at the onset of his talk, "It's strange to come to a convention, particularly when you're the chairman, and have people look at you and say, 'I didn't expect to see you here.'"
Then, after talking about several industry-cooperation initiatives (see Page 1), he returned to the matter of the acquisition.
"My speech today wasn't about consolidation in the industry," he said, "but we did announce this morning that along with several partners, we acquired all of the Albertsons company."
After explaining a few details of the transaction, Noddle concluded, "Obviously, this is a unique time in the industry and it's a very unique transaction. They say it will be the largest single transaction that split a company up in one transaction. It was announced early this morning, and it should take about four or five months to close.
"We're very excited about it. It has a lot of implications and ramifications within our company and obviously in the Albertsons company as well. We will be bringing together what we hope are the best markets in both companies, the best talent and the best resources from both companies."
Noddle's announcement later created quite a stir at the conference. Much chatter in the meeting venue's lobby was created with suppliers - particularly technology and other service vendors - wondering how their actual or anticipated business relationships with Albertsons would develop in the future.