What is the future Future Connect?
As the third installment of FoodInstitute’s training and development conference kicks off Monday in Orlando, that question is looming over attendees after the announcement earlier this year that the FMI Show would return as an annual event in 2014.
Future Connect was launched in 2009 as an alternative to the traditional, vendor-oriented FMI Show, which had seen a decline in participation over the years. In its first two years, Future Connect was described as a success, attracting an estimated 1,800 attendees the first year and at least that many again in 2011.
The goal of the conference, as outlined by FMI at its onset, was to create a platform to develop future industry leaders as a flood of older Baby Boomers approached retirement, and to attract new talent to food retailing. Since those plans were set in motion, several things changed. Leslie G. Sarasin has succeeded the former president and chief executive officer of FMI, Tim Hammonds, and some of the key executives who led the planning for Future Connect have left the industry, including Jeff Noddle of Supervalu and Ric Jurgens of Hy-Vee. In addition the downturn of the economy — Future Connect was planned before the recent recession began — has impacted the industry in myriad ways, including slowing the pace of retirement for many executives.
In an interview with SN, Sarasin said Future Connect will continue in some form, at least as a part of future FMI Shows. A strategic review concluded that FMI needs to foster more collaboration and face-to-face dialog among industry partners, and the return to an annual FMI Show in 2014 is expected to be a part of that effort.
However, training and development in the industry remain important, as does attracting and recruiting talent. The industry has long struggled to project a positive image to potential recruits — a career in food retailing is often seen as one demanding long hours, without the sexy cachet of sister industries like consumer goods or even restaurants.
FMI has worked hard to improve that image, as efforts like the supermarket chef competiton at the 2012 FMI Show attest. Highting the creative opportunities in food retailing is one way to attract top talent, and it is encouraging to learn that FMI plans to continue that focus at the 2014 FMI Show.
As FMI ponders the future of Future Connect, the industry would be well served if the key missions of Future Connect are retained, even if the conference itself no longer exists as a stand-alone event.