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Leslie G. Sarasin, the president and chief executive officer of Food Marketing Institute, sees the association’s major alternate-year conferences — the exhibit show called FMI2012 and the educational forum known as Future Connect — as events that need to evolve and change over time to remain relevant with sponsors, exhibitors and attendees.
“Unlike the past, what I think you will see from FMI is continual re-evaluation of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, but always with a focus on making sure we’re doing what it takes to meet member needs,” she told SN.
This year’s exhibit show, set to begin April 30 in Dallas, demonstrates some of that evolution as it co-locates with the United Fresh Produce Association, the American Meat Institute, the National States Departments of Agriculture U.S. Food Showcase, and combines with the Private Brands Summit.
Other new additions to this year’s FMI Show, called FMI2012, include a cooking and recipe competition called the Supermarket Chef Showdown, designated Solution Centers on the show floor related to specific issues of interest, and a particular focus on meeting the needs of independent operators.
The moves come as FMI works to enhance the show experience after switching to an alternate-year event in 2008, rotating with the education-themed Future Connect conference, which is aimed at developing future industry leaders.
“Any time you make a major change like we made, when you go to an annual event to one that’s not held every year, it requires new thinking, not only among the folks internally at FMI but also within the industry,” explained Sarasin (left). “The industry was accustomed to going to the same event every year. But when you change that up a little bit, it requires some flexibility and some adjustment.”
Sarasin said having an alternate-year format has helped FMI more fully develop the Future Connect conference.
“One of the major themes that I hear from our members is about the need for developing future leadership in this industry, and this is particularly true among some of our smaller to midsized company members,” she said. “Those of us who grew up in this industry are looking around saying, who are going to be the leaders of the future, how do we identify those people, and how are we going to be able to make sure they are ready to serve in those roles when they become available?
“So Future Connect has provided an opportunity for the industry to really focus on that. Going to the alternate-year format has given us a chance to develop a top-notch program that will serve the industry well for many years to come.”
She said FMI has been considering how Future Connect will continue to evolve.
“I think as we move forward, one of the things we will be thinking about and talking about is whether the way we have delivered Future Connect in the past is the way we will continue to deliver it in the future,” she said.
Last year’s Future Connect conference, the second incarnation of the event, was well-received, according to Fred Morganthall, president and chief operating officer of Harris Teeter Supermarkets and chairman of FMI.
“Participants at the 2011 version of this leadership development conference rated the array of speakers and presenters higher than ever,” he said. “This event continues to grow and meets a real need in our industry — to help cultivate the next generation of leaders.”
Morganthall, too, suggested that the Future Connect format could undergo some changes.
“We continue to work to improve this event, and make it a true must-attend educational event,” he said. “We all will get out of this only what we put into it as attendees.”
Morganthall commended Kroger Co. in particular “for the way they have structured their participation in the event to make it a great learning experience for their associates.”
At the 2010 FMI Show, the association formed a show committee comprised of representatives from member companies to discuss how to make the show more attractive to both attendees and exhibitors. The committee has been meeting both electronically and face-to-face for the past two years.
“The committee has been talking about all aspects of the design of the show to make sure we are striving to — and actually fulfilling — our obligation to respond to the needs of the industry and what they are looking for in the show,” said Sarasin, who noted that the 2010 FMI Show was her first as president and CEO of FMI.
Another benefit that derived from the committee meetings was the focus on independent operators that has emerged as a part of this year’s event, as result of the participation by independents on the committee, she said.
“That provided us an opportunity to better understand the kinds of challenges they face on the show floor, and helped us create opportunities to address those challenges,” Sarasin explained.
Among the new features geared specifically to independent attendees at FMI2012 will be a special day just for independents — April 30 — during which they will be permitted to tour the show floor before the show actually opens. In addition, the show has scheduled “Independent Power Hours” each day during which independent operators can meet with vendors, and has delineated several educational sessions of particular importance to independents.
In addition, independent operators were offered a discount on registration fees.