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The second in a series of previews of this year’s annual Food Marketing Institute Show…

There may be a central lesson that food retailers can learn from this year’s revitalized and reorganized Food Marketing Institute (FMI) show in Chicago, and it has nothing specifically to do with the products on display or the lessons being taught in “super sessions” or “learning labs.”

Rather, it has to do with philosophy and strategy – being willing to completely rethink how the show is presented to its audience, reaching out to new attendees while expanding its appeal to its regular and usual audience.

That’s not just a good way to create a trade show. It’s also a good example to offer food retailers, many of whom could learn from the effort and go back home and rethink how their stores are presented to shoppers, reaching out to new customers while expanding their appeal to regular and usual consumers.

If it makes them think, says FMI senior vice president Brian Tully, that’s a good thing. “One of our roles as an organization…is to lead,” he told MNB in an interview, and that “everything we’ve planned and plotted” will result in a show that is “leading by doing.”

That’s a critically important position to stake out in 2005, a time when consumers are visiting supermarkets less often than in any recent year and when competitive pressures mean that there is less room for error than at any time in memory.

Tully told MNB that the 2005 edition of the FMI Show is the result of continuous examination as the association has sought to create a show that “can be more useful to both sides of the equation. On the manufacturer side, he said, exhibitors are “concerned about making a statement to their customers, to Wall Street people, to analysts, to a whole range of people. These are their consumers,” and the show needs to help them make a compelling case about the value of their brands.

On the retail side, Tully said, the goal has been to create an environment that will not just offer attendees a range of choices, but to offer an expanded range of choices that will put to ever-greater use the time spent at the show. As a result of this goal, FMI has been growing through acquisition – not by merging with other trade associations, but by creating alliances and partnerships that offer greater diversity and depth of knowledge. Part of this is simply having more categories represented on the exhibit floor…but it also means drawing straighter, thicker lines between what is taking place on the floor and the show’s educational offerings.

The FMI Show this year will actually abandon the familiar layout of years past and, rather, will be divided into focused product segment areas: meal solutions, ethnic foods, technology, general merchandise/health and beauty care (GM/HBC) and a general category featuring a mix of consumer products, capital equipment and b-to-b services. At the same time, there will be more than 40 educational sessions following the theme of “New Ideas Easy to Apply” will augment the experience, along with an expanded New Product Showcase.

Content Guy’s Note: We are pleased to be moderating the new products-oriented Super Session this year, scheduled for Monday, May 2. It should be an exciting hour, loaded with the opportunity for audience interaction…and we hope you’ll stop by ands say hello.

Among the partners working with FMI this year are: the United Produce Conference & Expo, presented by the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (UFFVA); All Things Organic, presented by the Organic Trade Association; the Fancy Food Show, presented by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT); and the U.S. Food Export Showcase, presented by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

One of the comments that Tully said he heard a lot last year from FMI members was, “we should have brought more people,” and he said that the goal this year was to give more people more to see and do.

It’s also an ongoing process. Tully said that plans already are underway for the 2006 show, which will feature different product segment areas on the exhibit floor, including private label, beverages, and fresh product that is not produce.

Tully told MNB that this process really “is what a trade show should be,” as it reinvents itself year after year to take advantage of and address the new realities of the marketplace.

FMI 2005 is scheduled for May 1-3 in Chicago, Illinois. For more information about attending, go to:
KC's View:
We’ve been writing for some time that competitive realities make it critical for food stores to make dramatic changes in how and what they offer their wares to consumers. That’s why we think the new FMI approach makes so much sense; Tully is absolutely right on this, because it allows the organization to lead by example.

It isn’t just retailers that have to remain relevant. It also is trade associations. And a little reinvention is good for everyone’s soul.

By the way, as noted above, we’ll be attending, participating in and covering the FMI Show in Chicago this year…and we’ve decided to repeat something that we did last year to a good deal of success.

On Sunday, May 1, we will be hanging out at the bar at one of our favorite Chicago bistros, Bin 36, from 6-7:30 p.m. And we thought that if any members of the MNB community would like to stop by, say hello, and chat for a bit…well, the first couple of bottles of wine will be on us.

It’ll be a great opportunity for all of us to put faces and voices with the names and words that appear on MNB plus an excuse to drink good wine. (Not that we need an excuse…)

(Bin 36 is located at 339 N Dearborn on the west side of Marina City, between the river and Kinzie.)

We’ll see you in Chicago.