ARLINGTON, Va. — Food Marketing Institute here might have a difficult time rescheduling the FutureConnect conference that was supposed to take place last week, industry executives told SN last week.
“I think it will be hard to get it going anytime this year,” said Dick King, vice president of Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City., although he said he “hopes they can get it rescheduled.”
FMI announced just four days before the event was slated to begin that it would seek to reschedule it amid concerns about the influenza outbreak, “out of an abundance of caution.” The conference was scheduled to take place in Dallas, where seven cases of the flu had just been confirmed that week. The flu, which was reportedly a new strain dubbed Influenza H1N1, is thought to have originated in Mexico.
Local health authorities in Dallas, as well as state health officials in Texas and the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, had advised FMI against staging the conference because at the time experts were still uncertain how dangerous the virus might be. In the days following FMI's decision, however, the threat seemed to diminish.
Several retailers contacted by SN, however, agreed that FMI made the right move by putting FutureConnect on hold for the time being.
“[FMI President and Chief Executive Officer] Leslie Sarasin and her people made a great call at the time, given the information available to them,” Mike Proulx, president and chief operating officer of Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., told SN last week.
Jack Brown, chairman and CEO of Stater Bros. Markets, San Bernardino, Calif., said he agreed with FMI's decision: “They took all the risks into consideration, and while I wasn't concerned [about the flu outbreak], they had information that I didn't have.”
Asked about rescheduling, Brown said he thinks it would be “very important to reschedule it as soon as possible. Scheduling may be difficult because there are only a few cities that can accommodate the number of people attending. But FMI has a terrific staff, and if it can be done, they'll do it.”
Chris Michael, president and CEO of Associated Wholesalers Inc., Robesonia, Pa., also said he supports the decision, and agreed that rescheduling would be difficult.
“Even before the decision was made, we had received calls from a number of associate and retail members who were planning to attend who expressed some concerns about going, especially after schools were closed in the Dallas and Fort Worth area,” he said. “That alarmed a lot of our people.”
Al Plamann, president and CEO of Unified Grocers, Los Angeles, said FMI probably made the right call based on the information available, especially given Texas' proximity to Mexico.
“And maybe they were already getting some cancellations,” he added.
Sarasin told SN that FMI had not received an inordinate number of cancellations.
Maria Brous, spokeswoman for Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., which historically had sent a large contingent to FMI's annual trade show, said the company “typically sends associates to FMI's annual conference, and this year was no exception.”
Asked about the decision to seek a postponement, she said Publix “defers to FMI to make the best decision for them.”
A spokeswoman for Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion said that chain had planned to send about 10 people to the event, and added that Food Lion “supports the organization's decision to postpone the conference as a precautionary measure.”
One retailer who did not agree was John Catsimatidis, chairman of Red Apple Group, which operates the Gristedes chain in New York. “I think they overreacted,” he said.