FMI Connect

When the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) started FMI Connect, its overarching goal was to provide a forum where industry leaders could come together to collaborate and enhance their businesses. The institute always held an annual show until a few years ago when it changed to every other year, but then re-annualized it last year based on member demand.

“Several years ago we did some research among various parts of the industry and we learned there is a general consensus that at one point during the year, the food and consumer product industry needs to come together to learn together, meet together, talk about what’s going on in the business and enhance their business together,” President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin tells Food & Drink International. FMI Connect is a unique, four-day gathering in Chicago for all things food retail that attracts more than 400 retailer companies. The trade show offers more than 40 education sessions and hands-on learning experiences, as well as space equivalent to five football fields for more than 700 exhibitors to display new products, services and innovations. 

FMI Connect has new programs to offer attendees this year, but it is also developing a whole new experience on the show floor. 

One of Sarasin’s favorite parts of the event – and the topic of her keynote speech – is trends in the industry. FMI conducts an annual trend survey that asks baseline questions about new trends, consumer behaviors and shopping behaviors. “We highlight what is new and different, and what are the things retailers need to be aware of and do to meet the demands and needs of the consumer,” she adds. 

Leadership Education

Unique to FMI Connect this year is its Future Leaders program, which will be held in conjunction with the trade show. Bringing even greater value to the Future Leaders experience, registrants for Future Leaders will have full and complete access to all FMI Connect offerings. Future Leaders will fulfill a need in the industry to create leadership skills and develop those skills among up-and-coming individuals to prepare them to lead in the future. “There is nothing more important than to be able to serve as a role model to enhance leadership skills and help everyone you come into contact with to be better,” Sarasin notes.

Future Leaders not only benefits those individuals looking to enter a leadership role, but it is also a benefit for those already in those positions to sharpen their skills and become better leaders. The Future Leaders program will offer education sessions on self-development, operational oversight and people management skills.

“We want to help companies in the food industry develop their people and make sure they are prepared for the future,” Sarasin says. “The leadership skills that come from Future Leaders, along with programming on trends and outside factors that influence the way companies function is an effective combination in developing skill sets.”

Table Talks

One of the perks of FMI Connect for retailers is meeting new vendors. Industry leaders have always had the option to walk the exhibit floor and spark up a conversation with a potential vendor, but FMI has made that process easier this year with its Connect Business Exchange (CBX) program. “CBX is like speed dating for food retailers,” Sarasin jokes. “It gives them an opportunity to have a brief time with a supplier, learn about their products and services and understand whether or not they have an interest in pursuing that relationship further.”

What makes CBX unique is that retailers can set up appointments electronically and in advance of the show. This guarantees them about 20 minutes to sit down and have a conversation with a supplier then move on to their next meeting. “At its core, it is a great opportunity for new collaborations that haven’t existed before,” Sarasin explains. “We created a venue for people who haven’t partnered before to determine whether there is a business opportunity.” 

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