FMI Connect breaks new ground in a familiar venue.

The Food Marketing Institute is returning to familiar ground as it switches back to an every-year schedule for its major trade show and brings the event back to Chicago, but much about the conference has evolved from its previous incarnations.

FMI Connect — The Global Food Retail Experience is set to take place June 9-13 at Chicago’s McCormick Place with a lineup of exhibits and educational programs that reflect the opportunities and challenges that industry faces today and is likely to face in the future.

“Over the last couple of years we went through a process with our board — specifically our strategic thinking committee — to better understand from the industry what the industry’s hopes and expectations are from FMI, and how we can be a real partner to the industry in advancing their business needs,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, in an interview with SN. “One of the things that came out of that process and the discussions we had with the various industry sectors and their representatives was the need for one event where everyone in the industry comes together, and there was a real consensus that there was a need for the industry to get together on an annual basis.”

Part of what was driving that, she said, is the speed at which change is occurring in the food retailing industry.

“We need to come together on at least an annual basis, so that we can all understand what’s changing, what are the new opportunities, what are the new challenges, and what do we need to be thinking about as we plan for the future of our companies. We’re trying to meet the need as expressed by our retailers and wholesalers.”

The industry appears to be responding well to the plan, as indicated by advance registrations, Sarasin pointed out.

“Our registration numbers are very strong,” she said, noting that as of early May, FMI Connect registration was 36% ahead of the 2012 event in terms  retailer and wholesaler registration counts. “We are trending up on retailer registration, which will drive other types of registration as well. We are feeling pretty good about where we are [this early], and so I think it will be really strong.”

She noted that thew high number of advance registration is particularly encouraging because in the last few years, FMI has noticed that registrations tend to come in later and later for events.

In addition, Sarasin said the trade show portion of the event has been “trending very well” in terms of exhibit booth sales.

“It’s going to be a very impressive floor at the show,” she said.