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Content Guy's Note: On Tuesday, at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Show in Las Vegas, the trade association unveiled some of the details for the 2009 event – which will be an education-only program entitled Future Connect and is scheduled for May 4-6 in Dallas, Texas. (Future Connect will alternate with the more traditional FMI Show, which is next scheduled to take place on May 10-13 in Las Vegas.)

Leading the effort for FMI in terms of designing the new event is our own Michael Sansolo, who spent 13 years as the organization's senior vice president of education before going off on his own about a year ago. So it made sense to ask Michael to explain exactly what Future Connect is going to be, and the rationale behind it…

The closing of the FMI show in Las Vegas today marks the beginning of a new era. A year from now, FMI will take a hiatus from its annual exhibit show and open in its place a brand new event geared to building leadership throughout the industry.

Few can debate the need for the new event. As Denise Morrison of Campbell's explained at the FMI show, demographic realities loom large for the staffing of every company. Over the next decade, the children of the massive Post-War Baby Boom will begin retiring. The impact of that event will create a gulf of 10 million jobs in the United States. More frightening, those retirees will deplete the management and leadership ranks of companies throughout the economy. FMI's new event, Future Connect, is aimed at filling that gap.

Future Connect, which was designed by a committee of retailers, wholesalers and suppliers, aims to build leadership and management skills for current employees ranging from front line store level or sales jobs all the way up to top management. The range of courses includes basic skills such as how to hire better and manage an increasingly diverse workforce; how to improve financial and budget skills; and more difficult skills such as improving trading partner relations or understanding the changing nature of food, shopping and shoppers themselves.

The new educational program will feature tracks for front line managers, middle managers and top management, as well as focus on building personal performance, better guiding the people around you and building store and company profit. Courses will be designed to maximize discussion and networking by including team exercises in problem solving. Among the speakers already signed up to participate are management guru Dr. Stephen Covey, business publisher Knight Kiplinger and a host of industry leaders and topic experts.

(Additional information on the program, including early registration discounts, can be found at

Other FMI Show notes from the Content Guy…

In comments made about the newest study done by the Coca-Cola Research Council, the current chairman of the council, Sweetbay Supermarkets CEO Shelley Broader, noted that the notion of drawing a direct line between food and health/wellness is a tremendous opportunity, "but it also is a tremendous risk" because of the disconnect between what consumers say and what they do. Not only do shoppers not believe that supermarkets are the best connection between food and health, but while they say they want to eat healthy, they simply don't follow through on those statements when making shopping decisions.

There is, Broader said, the wide chasm between "stated importance and derived importance," and it is not unique to health and wellness. She said the same gap existed in the area of sustainability, when consumers would say one thing and do another, "but then something happened to close that gap." In the case of sustainability, it was the high cost of energy…which has driven consumers to start to follow through on the statements they were making. "Something will happen to close the gap in health and wellness," Broader said. "We don't yet know what it will be." It could, she said, be a personal health issue for some shoppers, or it could be a macro event affecting the health care system. But it is all a matter of both timing and patience…and being ready to deliver on the promise when those events occur, and not being "outfoxed by another channel of trade."

In the same session, Christopher Dimos, president of pharmacy operations for Supervalu, suggested the idea role of the in-store pharmacy – "solution center for the sick, and destination center for the healthy." Which sounded like a pretty strategy to us.

A panel of retailers and manufacturers – including Coleen Wegman of Wegmans and Sandy Douglas of Coca-Cola – participated in a panel discussion about industry collaboration, based on a pilot program designed to help trading partners work together more successfully.

Essentially, the bottom line was this – that as trading partners work together to jointly own the process of moving product through the system, the goal ought to be to focus on working together to satisfy and sell products to the end consumer, rather than on just fixing trading partner problems.

The four pillars of such an effort should be, according to the panel:

• Focus on the consumer;
• Connect business information with trading partners;
• Prepare your people for a new world;
• Share the supply chain.

Martin Lindstrom, author and self-described "brand futurist," revisited remarks that he made at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference earlier this year, but one of his points was certainly worth reiterating – the role of the senses in in-store marketing. He suggested what he called "5-D space management," which endeavors to engage all the consumer's senses as he or she walks through the store.

Of particular merit – especially in the supermarket – was the role of smell. While Lindstrom talked about "sensory chaos," in which colliding smells cancel each other out and confuse the consumer, it would actually be more accurate to suggest that most supermarkets – which should, by their very nature, be filled with enticing and appetite-inducing aromas – have little nose appeal. They simply aren't designed that way.

One would hope that at least some of the audience members might return home to their stores and try to figure out how the aromas of fresh breads and cookies, for example, might be used to bolster their image as compelling, food-driven retailers.

More tomorrow…

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