Seen and Heard: FMI 2022 Midwinter Executive Conference
Keynote by FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin
"The best thing we can retain from our past is our penchant to remain focused on the future," said Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI–The Food Industry Association, in a state-of-the-industry keynote at the organization's Midwinter Executive Conference. The event, happening in Orlando this week after being pushed back from January, is FMI's first in-person Midwinter conference since 2020.
In a wide-ranging address to FMI members, Sarasin said that that future will be inherently more complex and interconnected. It will require, she said, greater collaboration and creative new solutions to address thorny and persistent challenges such as supply-chain strains and attracting, retaining and developing talent both to meet today's needs and to help create the future of grocery.
"The ground-zero truth that we have to confront is that life and the world in which we live continues to get more complex," Sarasin said. And while 2022 "is going to demand some pivots of its own," she said, "our heritage is built on innovation and adaptability."
Keynote by Dana Peterson, Chief Economist, The Conference Board
"We're not calling [the odds] for a global recession," said The Conference Board's Dana Peterson in a keynote address March 30, "but we’re looking at significantly slower growth and higher inflation."
Peterson, chief economist and center leader of economy, strategy and finance for The Conference Board, said her organization had lowered its forecast for U.S. economic growth this year from 3.5% to 3%, with significant downward pressure on growth and rising pressure on prices resulting from the war in Ukraine.
Amid the "several simultaneous shocks on the global economy" induced by the war, she said, "our fear is that there’s going to be a food shortage" at a level that will require larger economies—e.g., the United States, Canada, India and Brazil—to increase exports to countries experiencing shortages. "I think certainly we now have the sense that Ukraine is not going to be over with quickly, which is going to put pressure on the global food supply," Peterson said.
Session on Digital Value Creation
"We are failing at loyalty," Accelerate 360 Chief Innovation Officer (and Chicago sports fan) Nikki Laughlin said in a session on digital value creation. Grocery retailers can see a staggering amount of leakage when it comes to customers turning to a competitor for the same items that could be found on their shelves, she said.
At one grocery retailer, Laughlin said, 87.3% of the company's customers said they buy pet products somewhere. But only 40% said they bought pet items from that retailer, and every percentage point worth of closing that gap would be worth almost $5 million for the retailer, she said.
"Habit is our superpower," said Laughlin, "but it's also our worst enemy." Busting up habits will require a more-personalized approach to promotions and customer outreach, "and first-party data won’t get you there," she continued. What's needed, Laughlin said, is zero-party data: data the customer wants the retailer to know about them so that offers can be more tailored based on what they do—and don't—buy regularly.
Workforce Panel Discussion
A keynote panel discussion on workforce recruiting and retention on March 29 featured the CEOs of Meijer and PepsiCo Foods North America. Meijer President and CEO Rick Keyes talked about the importance of digital upskilling and giving front-line workers access to technologies that not only will resonate with them and make them more effective and efficient at their jobs but also help prepare them for grocery jobs of the future.
PepsiCo Foods North America CEO Steven Williams said three things had made a big difference for Pepsi on the retention front during the pandemic: higher pay, making sure people got the time off they needed, and transparent dialogue with front-line employees.
Health and Wellness in Focus
FMI's Midwinter Executive Conference wasn't all business: In addition to a golf tournament, FMI hosted its fifth Sun Run 5K/Walk on March 30. Krystal Register (left, with WGB's Christine LaFave Grace), joined FMI in 2020 as senior director of health and well-being, and in a session with Kroger Health leaders on Tuesday noted the power of engaging with health-conscious and health-seeking shoppers online, even if they prefer to purchase in store.
"Even if a shopper is dedicated to a 100% in-store experience, before they get to the store, they are engaged online," Register said. "They’re seeing what’s online, what’s seasonal, what’s on special."
When it comes to helping customers manage health conditions, as through in-store shopping assistance to meet specific dietary needs or telenutrition consultation services, said Bridget Wojciak, RDN and director of nutrition at The Kroger Co., "there is loyalty that comes with someone helping you."