‘Technology will transform the food industry,’ FMI head says at WMU Food Marketing and Supply Chain Conference

Industry leaders, including CEOs of Albertsons and Kellogg, told a packed house in Kalamazoo, Michigan, about grocery’s challenges and opportunities.
Albertsons Cos.
From left: Steve Cahillane, CEO of Kellogg's, and Vivek Sankaran, CEO of Albertsons Cos. / Photo courtesy: Diane Adam

The Western Michigan University Food Marketing and Supply Chain Conference returned to the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Wednesday and Thursday, bringing a new format and an all-star lineup of speakers.

The conference kicked off on Wednesday with a presentation by Leslie Sarasin, CEO of FMI–The Food Industry Association. With a packed audience of 600 in-person conference participants and over 400 online conference attendees, Sarasin provided an overview of the state of the industry, including how the grocery sector is responding to inflation, the record-high prices of commodities and supply chain issues, all while continuing to be the engine that feeds the United States.


Sarasin took the opportunity to break down six issues that FMI has identified for the grocery industry in 2023: supply chain disruption; changing marketplace and societal dynamics; evolving consumer behaviors; rising ESG expectations; labor shortage and workforce challenges; and accelerating technology transformation.

She also recognized the importance of technology and the significant role it plays in the industry going forward.

Technology will transform the food industry,” Sarasin told the packed room.

Wednesday's conference also included a conversation with Vivek Sankaran, CEO of Albertsons Co., and Steve Cahillane, CEO of the Kellogg Company, moderated by Dr. Russell Zwanka, director of the event and associate professor of marketing.

In an engaging format, the two CEOs shared their thoughts on their companies’ major transformations—Albertsons’ proposed merger with Kroger and Kellogg splitting into three companies.

When asked how they were keeping workers focused during this season of great change, Sankaran admitted that when the news broke of the proposed merger “there was quite a bit of apprehension” from store employees. He said he took this time in addressing the news by going to “every single market to spend time with every team answering questions.”

When asked what challenges lie ahead as consumers are interpreting these changes, Sankaran said, “What we believe is through this merger they’ll [consumers] see better pricing.”

Day one of the conference ended with A Taste of West Michigan—the first-ever such event at the conference.  It featured foods from around the area. “The new Taste of West Michigan is something to be especially proud of and cements our local connection in Kalamazoo,” said Zwanka. 

The conference will feature another round of  keynote speakers and breakout sessions on Thursday, including an update from independent grocery retailer Don Fitzgerald, co-CEO of Dom’s Kitchen & Market in Chicago, and a leadership panel including Greg Ferrara, CEO of the National Grocers Association; Cynthia Herrera, CEO of Sun Bum; Derek Steele, VP of customer strategy at Meijer; and Tom Gillespie, VP of customer development at E & J Gallo Winery; moderated by Kevin Coupe.



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