What to expect from FMI Connect

The Food Marketing Institute brings a revamped, annual show to Chicago. 

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) wants retail food professionals to see the future, and hopes its new annual event will help.

7139520733_b686bc1f95_oThe Washington, D.C.-based association debuts a revamped trade show this year, FMI Connect-The Global Food Retail Experience. The event, which takes place in Chicago at McCormick Place June 10 to 13, invites attendees to do more than walk the floor and attend seminars. Dagmar Farr, senior vice president of FMI Member Services, says the show presents opportunities for industry professionals to gain insight through an education program, learn about upcoming trends and find new ways to manage the changing retail environment.

“FMI Connect is designed to directly address challenges in the retail food business, such as growing basket size, increasing customer trips, improving margins, expanding market share and developing leadership among staff,” says Farr.

Among the highlights will be a trend forecasting session by FMI president and CEO Leslie Sarasin. At that Wednesday morning session, called “The World is Not a Stage, It’s a Supermarket: The Industry Speaks,” Sarasin presents the findings from FMI’s 2014 U.S. Shopper Trends research, a collaborative effort with the Hartman Group. The research examined how supermarkets can successfully respond to cultural, economic and behavioral trends.

“The session will demonstrate how the ever-changing grocery landscape will redefine our notions of commerce now and in the future,” says Farr.

FMI Connect continues that forecasting theme in its new Retail of the Future concept, an exhibit that was influenced by comprehensive research conducted by FMI with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“The exhibition was designed to encourage all FMI Connect attendees to consider how they might evolve their businesses to meet changing consumer needs and pursue further conversations and actions to do so,” says Farr. These conversations and actions include micro personalization, display tactics and marketing and other technology that can help retailers create a better shopping experience.

The setting for Retail of the Future is 2024, and attendees will see how consumers will shop for food over the next 10 years, and what changes to make today to remain relevant to these shoppers. “We’ll challenge the reality of traditional food retail and provoke new thought,” Farr says.

Other exhibits designed to provoke new thought include the PMMI-PACK EXPO Possibilities in Packaging Innovation Pavilion, where the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI) will help retailers who are developing a private label learn about innovative packaging design, sustainable packaging and technologies for increasing shelf life.

Another new pavilion this year is the Fresh Pavilion, which will highlight the growing areas of bakery, deli, floral, prepared foods and other on-trend areas. Also trending is health and wellness, and attendees at the Health & Wellness Pavilion can find out how to make their stores destinations for consumers interested in measuring and improving their health. This includes setting up in-store cholesterol and diabetes screening, nutrition courses and other services. Other pavilions include the Technology Pavilion, which will have demonstrations of everything from shopper apps and digital couponing to inventory management and e-commerce.

In addition to the pavilions, FMI Connect offers seven workshop tracks. The Focus on Fresh track covers topics such as food safety, animal welfare and how to make the supermarket the best restaurant in town. The Retail Technology and Innovation track examines emerging platforms for mobile technology, technology trends that are shaping the shopping experience and also technology for back-of-the-house operations. The Insights for Independents track offers best practices and techniques for handling everything from the Affordable Healthcare Act to big data. The Future Connect Leadership Development track shows operators how to build a first-class team. The Consumer Engagement track provides insights into Millennial shoppers, how to build the front end for more impulse purchases, supplier chain diversity and other topics. The Health and Wellness at Retail track educates retailers on how to appeal to wellness-minded shoppers. The Private Brands Summit looks at industry leading private label programs.

Another new educational opportunity will be the Learning Lounge, where special presentations and discussions will take place throughout the day. FMI officials say this setting combines the classroom with the family room, where participants can learn from industry experts and colleagues.

Time for fun
For attendees looking to have fun after all that learning, there will be entertainment too. Chicago is a food town, says Farr, so it makes sense for the entertainment at FMI Connect to evoke a strong sensory experience. Wednesday the 11th is the second Supermarket Chef Showdown, where Honolulu-based Foodland Super Market’s corporate chef Keoni Chang will return to defend his title. “From what I’ve seen from the finalists’ recipes, the competition will be fierce this year,” says Farr.

This year the Supermarket Chef Showdown competition received 130 entries from 30 different retailers. In April, FMI announced the 25 finalists, which represent supermarkets ranging from large chains such as The Kroger Co., Publix Super Markets and Whole Foods Markets to much smaller entities such as Balducci’s, Roche Bros. and Dorothy Lane Market. The finalists entered recipes in one of five categories: Healthy Meals, Family Meals, Ethnic Meals, Desserts and Side-Dishes/Mini Meals/Snacks. The recipes had to use at least three eligible sponsor ingredients and take 20 minutes or less to prepare. The sponsors include Campbell’s, ConAgra Foods and Hershey’s among others. The prizes include a trip for two to Mardi Gras in 2015, cash and food prizes.

The contest is expected to last much of the day, so there will likely be many opportunities for attendees to find innovative recipes. Another presentation that should inspire retailers to explore new foods, or new ways to prepare or deliver certain foods, will be the Thursday general session, “Reinventing the Weeknight Dinner with Retail Food Innovation,” presented by Mattson, an independent developer of foods and beverages. Steve Gundrum, president and CEO, and Barb Stuckey, executive vice president of marketing and sales for the Foster City, Calif.-based company, will look at innovations such as a chilled meat provider that delivers within hours of ordering, Amazon’s fresh food program and a flash-food-court on wheels. The goal is to help retailers help consumers answer their own important question, “What’s for dinner?”

Also on the agenda will be the keynote speech by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will speak on Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Prepare for the show
There will be many more activities, from store tours to store manager awards to invitation-only receptions. FMI Connect will close with an Anheuser-Busch Wrigley Field event, which will involve the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales.

For the multitasking types, there will be four other events located at McCormick. InterBev Beverage, United Fresh Produce Association, PMMI-PACK EXPO and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture’s U.S Food Showcase will all have exhibition space.

If it all seems overwhelming, help is available before the show. Farr says FMI Connect will help attendees navigate the programs and events. FMI even implemented a new event app with detailed features and better functionality. In addition to this mobile assistance, the FMI Solutions Center will serve as the information booth on the exhibit floor.

“For suppliers, my best advice is to attend sessions and walk the floor with your customers in order to fully make the best of the learning opportunities together,” says Farr. “In turn, for food retailers and wholesalers attending FMI Connect, I would emphasize growing and building your network by leveraging your own communities within retail.”

FMI expects to attract 15,000 participants from 75 countries this year. The previous FMI show, called One Big Event, was in Dallas in 2012. At that show, Sarasin announced the FMI show would return to Chicago in 2014, partly because the city is home to 19 member retailers. The FMI shows had been in Chicago 24 times from 1980 to 2007, and FMI Connect will remain in Chicago for an annual show the next few years.

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