That's COOL as in country-of-origin labeling, one of the legislative issues against which Hammonds, as the president and chief executive officer of Food Marketing Institute, has led the industry's campaign.
"It's been a very good year for FMI," Hammonds told SN, listing several legislative issues against which FMI has recently thrown its lobbying muscle.
To win a two-year delay in the implementation of COOL regulations for meat and produce, FMI founded a coalition that has grown to more than 300 associations and organizations, he explained.
"I think he's done a marvelous job in turning around the legislation dealing with country-of-origin labeling," said Ron Pearson, chairman, Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, and past chairman of FMI. "It has been a big problem for the industry, and it looks like the momentum is going to change the legislation dramatically. [Hammonds] has led that."
In addition to holding off COOL legislation, FMI prevailed in its four-year effort to make the Women, Infants and Children Reauthorization Act more retailer-friendly. Nine new provisions supported by FMI were added to the food benefits legislation, Hammonds said, including one allowing WIC recipients to use their allotments to purchase store-brand or private-label items, and another that makes it easier for retailers to re-apply for WIC licenses.
"FMI -- and it has been through Tim's leadership there -- has developed a core of staff there who are highly respected on Capitol Hill," he said.
Hammonds also steered the association into a new, industry-wide food security partnership in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security.
Perhaps the most visible reflection of FMI's recent accomplishments was the revitalization of the FMI Show. By inviting several other associations to stake out their trade shows contiguous to the annual FMI confab at McCormick Place in Chicago and adding FMI's own pharmacy conference, FMI drove an estimated 55% increase in attendance, to about 34,000.
"It was successful beyond our wildest expectations," Hammonds said. "Attendance was up in total, for the key retailer and wholesaler buyer category and for international [attendees]...and all of the board members I have talked to say they are bringing more people because of the changes we have made."'
Consumers experienced a sudden pang of health-consciousness this past year, and it wasn't long before obesity, low-carb diets and trans fats put consumer packaged goods companies on the defensive. C. Manly Molpus used this newfound hunger for health to lead the organization of America's top CPG companies in new initiatives that are already active in the marketplace.
"Food labels are about to undergo substantive changes in many areas -- trans-fat label proposals we're dealing with, as well as new regulations regarding carbohydrate claims," Molpus told SN. "We're working with the Food and Drug Administration to look at other information that will make the food label more useful to consumers, about caloric information and serving sizes. I think one prediction that's safe to make is that the face of the food label is going to change significantly over the next few years."
While some of those alterations are government mandates, GMA companies are developing healthier alternatives to existing products and are pursuing allied, private-public partnerships spearheaded by a newly created food and health strategy group that works with government agencies as they craft new guidelines and regulations.
Health and wellness is only one area of progress, Molpus reported. He also observed that GMA's commitment to critical technology platforms is gaining critical mass and is nearing implementation. Certain key components, such as global standards, data synchronization and a global registry, are closer to reality today than they were a year ago.
"If we can put these three together, we really have built the infrastructure -- the industry highway, if you will -- and then individual companies can decide to what extent they want to travel on that road."
During the past year, an increasing number of CPG companies and retailers was enlisted to support and participate in the rollout of the technology. To that end, Molpus noted that both the health issue and technology efforts are tied together, in that the speed-to-market with which new and reformulated products are arriving on grocery store shelves illuminates just how quickly manufacturers can respond to consumer demand.
"It all fits together to bring about a more responsive and efficient CPG industry," he said. "There's much more collaboration across all channels on a variety of issues."
Key developments: Implementation of Wal-Mart customer loyalty survey, development of new educational programs, and strengthening of partnership with National Co-Operative Bank.
After years of feeling the competitive heat from supercenters and increasing market consolidation led by large, publicly traded grocers, independents are poised for a retail renaissance, according to Tom Zaucha, president and chief executive officer of the National Grocers Association.
Representing 1,500 companies with more than 25,000 stores, Zaucha is leading NGA members through a consolidation of their own, developing buying programs for fixtures and equipment, and aggregating electronic debit and credit payment systems to help lower card-processing fees.
A partnership with FMS Financial Services allows participating members to outsource retail accounting and payroll systems. NGA has recently ventured into the reverse auction arena.
A new technology applications committee on NGA's board of directors, along with NGA's developing partnership with the Food Distribution Retail Systems Group, are working toward making solutions like RFID and WiFi more available to independents in the future. New educational tools, such as a proprietary Wal-Mart customer loyalty survey and a supercenter share group that meets twice per year, are focused on helping independents understand the strengths and weaknesses of the supercenter channel.
"As you look at the overall market environment, independents don't have to defeat Wal-Mart. They just have to learn how to compete with Wal-Mart," said Zaucha. "You don't have to outrun the bear. You just have to outrun the people in the forest with you."
When Brian Sharoff walks into a Trader Joe's or a Wegmans Food Markets, he's entering private-label heaven. Wegmans' proprietary prepared meals are "better than any restaurant menu," he said, while proclaiming Trader Joe's own-label, shelf-stable products "better than what you'd find in the best gourmet shop."
As president of the Private Label Manufacturers Association, Sharoff works to get retailers products they can sell as their own to meet the growing demand for ready-to-eat meals, along with gourmet and ethnic foods.
To that end, PLMA's annual Private Label Trade Show has added fresh, refrigerated and gourmet food exhibits, as well as wine. Manufacturers and suppliers from the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy are now participants. Next up are Costa Rica, Mexico, France and the Benelux countries. PLMA's 2005 international show in Shanghai aims to nurture private label in China, a growing market for U.S. and European retailers.
The trade association, which Sharoff has led for most of its 25 years, continues to enlarge its four-year-old education program for private-label executives, launching a French-language version this year. While its trade show attendance has grown steadily and is expected to continue to do so, PLMA has expanded its four-year-old online trade shows.
Private label's growth of 17.9% from 1999 to 2003 outpaced national brands' 14%, but future success is no guarantee. PLMA still has work to do in educating those retailers who lag in seeing its potential or executing it well.
"Private label has matured to the point where it's seen as of equal quality to [national] brands, and that's great," said Joe Azzinaro, a San Diego-based consultant to PLMA. "But you need to keep marketing it. The brands, they're not going to give up."
PLMA hopes its Salute to Excellence Food & Drink Awards, new this year and co-sponsored by SN, will help showcase the high quality and newest twists in private label. While some retailers might carve out a niche by targeting customers who are national-brand loyal, "I don't think you're going to last with that strategy" in the long term, said Sharoff.
"When you're competing against the Wal-Marts of the world," agreed Dale Ohman, business development manager, Caputo's Fresh Markets, Addison, Ill., "[private label] is a point of differentiation."
In a complex, fast-changing industry, Silbermann provides a steady, guiding voice to PMA's membership of more than 2,400 companies. Silbermann took the reins of the Newark, Del., organization in 1996.
In the past year, he has ramped up PMA's efforts to respond more quickly to members' needs. That has meant new surveys, more educational events and de-centralization, including a restructuring that puts staffers in closer communication with members.
Furthermore, PMA has partnered with the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Food Marketing Institute, Canadian Produce Marketing Association and various regional groups to work on diverse projects, including radio frequency identification and standard definitions of produce item attributes.
"He brings a rare gift of high intellect and high people skills together, and can get people to understand very complex issues," said Bruce Peterson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, perishable food team, Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark.
Key developments: The association released a comprehensive "Merchandising for Success" study and launched a forward-looking data synchronization initiative.
David T. McConnell Jr. heads an organization that has consistently led the industry in education, studies and productive trade shows. The strength of the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., and McConnell as its helmsman, is the focus on never stagnating and always changing with the retail climate in the industry. "Dave continues to succeed because he continually tries to reinvent the services he provides. So he's always servicing the different, changing needs of his constituents," said Jeff Manning, managing partner, F&M Merchant Group, Lewisville, Texas. Manning is a former nonfood executive and longtime GMDC board member, and has served as chairman of the association.
Most associations, he said, get stuck in certain routines and attitudes, whereas McConnell's strength lies in an open-minded stance that allows him to push the industry forward. This is especially important in the highly collaborative environment of GMDC, industry observers said.
McConnell's leadership strengths continue to serve him well, according to industry observers, as the GMDC builds on the three core elements of its strategic approach: marketing conferences, the Educational Foundation, and cooperative relationships with other industry organizations. McConnell's continued success in rallying his membership to support those strategic goals, even as the specifics shift, continues to make him a highly effective association leader, Manning said.
"If you were to do this similar profile on an annual basis, I would expect to see Dave in it every year. He's that strong and that increasingly important in the industry," said Rick Tilton, president emeritus, GMDC.
McConnell's greatest strength, Tilton added, is his ability to take strategic planning and technology initiatives to new levels. "Dave is moving the association, and with it the GM and HBC segment of the industry, forward -- particularly in the electronic area -- in a very orderly and excellent way," he said.
At the GM Marketing Conference this spring, GMDC debuted two major initiatives: a groundbreaking study of merchandising best practices for GM and HBC, and a panel about data synchronization for its members.
The association is in the process of releasing the two-part "Merchandising for Success" study to the industry this year. The study shows retailers the higher-margin opportunities in the often-neglected GM and HBC categories.
"The piece [GMDC] presented on 'Merchandising for Success' is excellent and pointed out some changes that are taking place in the retail world. They continue to be leading-edge," said Manning.
The data synchronization session wasn't as well-received as McConnell would have liked, but he said it only makes him more determined.
"You can't use the fact that you didn't get your wake-up call as an excuse for missing the boat," McConnell said, repeating a message he gave retailers in a column for the association newsletter. "The GM manufacturing community, even some members of the HBC manufacturing community, and certainly members of the retail community have got to get involved in this process."
GMDC will continue to present information to its membership about data synchronization through business sessions, white papers, the association newsletter and by participating in other industry events, McConnell said.
McConnell's next goal for the GMDC, he said, is to reach out to more high-level, top-line industry executives beyond GM and HBC with his message about the importance of those categories to the overall health of the grocery industry.