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Grocery execs get back to FMI Midwinter conference

After a pause and then a postponement, the grocery industry came together this week at FMI-The Food Industry Association’s 2022 Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando, Fla.

Held March 28 to 31, this year’s FMI Midwinter Conference originally was scheduled for Jan. 21 to 24 in Boca Raton, Fla. However, the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases triggered by the Omicron variant led FMI to pause plans for event on Jan. 10 and then less than two weeks later to reschedule it for the last week in March.

“2020 brought drastic changes to the way we do nearly everything — the way we work, the way we shop, the way we send our kids to school, the way we socialize. But even as we struggle to reach some degree of equilibrium with all of these modifications to our lives, COVID-19 continued to build in 2021, with additional new impacts on multiple levels,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI-The Food Industry Association, said in a keynote yesterday at the Midwinter Conference. 

“Even as we seem to be emerging from the worst of the pandemic, I think we still feel the residue in our industry. And that impact is being further exacerbated by the global destabilization created by war in Eastern Europe. COVID-19 energized digital transactions and put omni-commerce on the fast track. You responded, but that solution sprouted new challenges to your delivery systems and cost structures. It spawned new issues in sustaining customer loyalty, and it raised new problems in responding to the increased production questions posed by the electronically empowered shopper,” Sarasin explained. 

“The pandemic took the pre-pandemic experience that life is getting more fast-paced and complex and elevated it to an even higher level than we could have imagined,” she said. “So perhaps that’s one of the key lessons we’re meant to learn from our COVID-19 experience: Life is just getting a lot more complicated than it used to be.”

According to FMI, the 2022 Midwinter Executive Conference drew 922 registered attendees, including 203 retailer and wholesaler attendees; 179 product supplier and associate member attendees; and 228 first-time attendees from retailers and brands such as Albertsons, Keurig Dr. Pepper, Weis Markets, Trax Retail, United Natural Foods Inc., Trigo Vision Ltd., Upfield, Wegmans Food Markets, Tate’s Bake Shop and Chef’s Store, among others.

The program included 631 Strategic Executive Exchange business meetings, 10 education sessions (covering the supply chain, grocery shopper trends, health and wellness and sustainability, among other topics); 10 FMItech Talks sessions focusing on technology strategy; and six keynote presentations, including a discussion between FMI’s Sarasin and Noah Phillips, commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission. Six industry executives also were presented with FMI Executive Leadership Awards, including Neal Berube of Associated Food Stores, Jonathan Mayes from Albertsons Cos., Steve Cahillane of Kellogg Co., Mike Stone of Mollie Stone’s Markets, Todd Schnuck of Schnuck Markets and Norman Mayne of Dorothy Lane Market. 

Importantly, the 2022 Midwinter Executive Conference marked the first time that FMI has gathered top industry executives in person in over two years.

“As you’ve heard in the presentations here throughout Midwinter, we have significant challenges before us. We have a lot of work to do to retool the supply chain, making a more responsive supply chain to the needs of consumers, who are demanding to know more, participate more and expect more from the suppliers and stores that they support,” FMI Chairman Randy Edeker, president, CEO and chairman of Hy-Vee, told attendees in a Wednesday keynote.

“As our whole nation undergoes the dramatic workforce reform, we have to work to do, the work of defining who we will be as an industry and helping recognize the vocational possibilities awaiting people in the food industry,” Edeker noted. “Emerging from the fog of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to lead the way in shaping a more promising future. This will be playing a role in the country’s economic recovery, recapturing a sense of national pride and confidence and making sure American families have nutritional, affordable and safe available food, for everyone. We often speak of grocery stores as the cornerstone of the community, the place folks first turn for solace and comfort amid disaster or catastrophe. That aspect of our customer service to the community — as we went through a global pandemic together — will now take on even more, another layer of value, as we watch the world struggle with a conflict that’s rocking international stability and adding additional anxiety to a world already stressed to the limit.” 

Looking ahead, FMI has scheduled the 2023 Midwinter Executive Conference for Jan. 20 to 23 in Orlando.

“We’ve all changed,” Boxed CEO Chieh Huang said in his Tuesday keynote at FMI Midwinter. “Our industry has changed, but we are still here because we are resilient as an industry.”

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