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The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) this morning announced that it is cancelling its signature 2017 FMI Connect show, saying that it had concluded in the months since the 2016 event that it is "not the right formula" with which to go forward.

FMI president/CEO Leslie Sarasin told MNB that the intention is to continue with and "reinvigorate" the Future Leaders conference that has been part of FMI Connect, as well as continue with "other events" that have made up the organization's show portfolio, such as the Midwinter Executive Conference, which she said continues to grow in terms of industry participation.

Sarasin said that based on calculations, the metrics for 2017 simply didn't work, and that ultimately "it will be a better deal for the FMI supplier community, as well as for our retailers and wholesalers," to cancel it.

"Obviously we'll have to deal with issues related to the cancellation," Sarasin said, but the economics simply were better if FMI cancelled the show and paid the various penalties and refunds that will be due as a result.

In response to a question from MNB, Sarasin said that despite the cancellation of the show, she remained convinced of the viability and purpose of an organization like FMI. "As everyone's business model changes within the industry," she said, "FMI becomes even more important in terms of where they should expend resources and time. In many ways it is the only legal way for competitors to sit across the table from each other" and work on common challenges and opportunities. Sarasin pointed to the organization's food safety initiatives and government relations/lobbying efforts as places where FMI continues to be - and must be - effective.

Sarasin conceded that between the 2015 and 2016 shows, changes happened that made this decision inevitable. The number of retailers and wholesaler who attended were down, in part because of consolidation and in part because of economic forces that reduced their willingness or ability to spend money on attendance. "There's a new mentality," she said.

in a prepared statement this morning, Sarasin said that "FMI aims at all times to be as agile and as bold as required to serve the needs of our members as well as the broader food industry. Therefore, we must design new occasions more appropriate to the faster paced rhythms of food retail, and in unique formats more attuned to the specific needs of our industry. With the elimination of having to fill football fields’ worth of space as ‘The Show’ configuration required, FMI will be liberated to explore new, focused and more flexible events."
KC's View:
To those of us who attended the 2016 show, this does not come as an enormous surprise, since the diminishing returns were obvious in the low traffic that seemed to be walking the show floor. (I think I've missed one FMI in 30 years, and the lack of attendance was striking.) At some point, FMI must've done the math and seen that it was going to be less costly to cancel the show and deal with the consequences than it would be to take the show out for one last ride and be seen as out of touch with the current needs of an industry that continues to be in transition.

I do think that one of the things that FMI ought to do is consider bringing back two events that it used to do - MarkeTechnics, a technology show, and Meal Solutions, a foodservice-oriented event - that were folded into the main show years ago. I've heard from people in the industry that the advantage of targeted shows is that it is easier to determine return-on-investment, because the lines are a lot clearer and the responsibilities a lot more distinct. In the case of these two events, FMI could make them shorter, highly targeted, and develop relevant educational programming and an exhibition that would appeal to specific constituencies.

I saw firsthand this year how powerful a targeted show can be when I went to, for example, the Organic Produce Summit and the Global Market Development Center (GMDC) general merchandise show ... they are highly focused, and there was a ton of energy and enthusiasm at both events.

It'll be interesting to see how this decision by FMI affects the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show in 2017. I suspect that there will be a number of FMI exhibitors (I've already talked to a couple) who will use the dollars they were going to spend on FMI at the NGA event, since there is a lot of overlap in the audiences. And if I were NGA, I'd probably start saying that if you're not a top 10 retailer, you're an independent ... and promote its show that way. Full disclosure: NGA advertises its show on MNB.

In the end, I think, this is not just about a show. Business models are changing for everyone, and there's no reason that traditional associations should be exempt from this trend. What companies need in terms of industry representation and education is changing, and how it should be delivered and to whom can and must evolve.

I'm sure that after decades of doing the FMI Show,. this decision was a little like swallowing castor oil. But FMI did what it had to do, and now has to figure out how to be increasingly relevant to a changing world. And so, by the way, must every other organization that has a business model that is even remotely similar to FMI's.