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Content Guy’s Note: Each Monday, we are featuring an article previewing some aspect of the annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) show, scheduled for May 4-6 in Chicago.

The exhibit floor at this year’s Food Marketing Institute (FMI) will look at a lot different from the last few years. To get a preview of what attendees can expect at FMI 2003, we turned to Brian Tully, FMI's senior vice president in charge of convention operations.

MorningNewsBeat: Brian, we understand there are some major changes in store for attendees at FMI’s annual show this year in Chicago. Before we talk about the specifics, can you give us a sense of what precipitated these moves?

Brian Tully: Over the years, since we separated capital goods exhibitors from consumer packaged goods companies in order to make the floor easier to navigate, we have received a great deal of feedback, positive and negative, from exhibitors and attendees. The organization of the floor for this years show allows us to provide a little of both for everyone. In the north hall, there will be a mix of companies. This benefits exhibitors that like being located beside more exciting exhibits or compatible products and can feed off of their traffic. In the south hall, the east half of the hall will feature the CPG's and the west side of the hall will feature the capital goods suppliers. This helps companies that want to narrow the search process by being positioned in an area that is more focused for decision makers. This type of arrangement allows us the opportunity to give companies more of what they are looking for.

How will the FMI exhibit floor dovetail with the Fancy Food Show?

Brian Tully: The north hall will be divided down the middle by a central boulevard creating an east and west side. FMI will occupy the east side and the Fancy Food Show will occupy the west side. Participants in both shows will be able to move freely from one to the other regardless of your badge type.

Once again, the educational element of the show will find its way to the exhibit floor. Can you explain how this will work?

Brian Tully: This will be the third year for the Close-up theaters on the show floor. There will be one in each hall. Each has a full schedule of presentations from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm Sunday and Monday and 11:00 am to 3:00 pm on Tuesday ---- 28 in total. The theaters have been well received as a destination by attendees on the show floor.

The Supplier Diversity Program also seems to be taking on greater-than-ever significance. Talk about what’s going on there.

Brian Tully: At last years show, 45 women and minority owned companies with products sold in supermarkets participated as exhibitors. This has been an important initiative for a number of years now. The goal is for the show to be a resource for retailers to find these companies. We offer a special package price of bundled services to companies that qualify. This presents an economic value to these suppliers and also takes some of the headache and uncertainty out of the equation for companies that do not have as much experience exhibiting in a large international trade event and allows them to prepare for the audience.

Tell us about the New Products Showcase.

Brian Tully: New products are the number one reason why retailers and wholesalers come to FMI. Now we think there are other reasons too as I described above, but since new products is the high percentage answer to the survey question, we feel we should be bringing more focus to the new products that are being featured on the show floor. Ultimately we would like to do more then just provide suppliers with an additional promotion opportunity, but for now we want to encourage our exhibitors to think of the show as a place to introduce something new, perhaps more then they already are.

Sometimes people don’t think they don’t need to go to a convention because they attended it last year. What’s your best argument against this kind of complacent thinking?

Brian Tully: The pace of business change is faster today then anyone ever imagined. Also, this is a very dynamic business that is more complex and competitive then ever before. In addition, we are working very hard to make this a more strategic event by providing meeting rooms for retailers that send large groups to the show. If we can get the right level of trading partner executive sitting across from one another over the course of three days, that can be a huge productivity gain.

Clearly, the tradeshow of this century needs to provide different types of opportunity like this in order to be compelling year after year. And, we are offering customized education opportunities for large group participation. We will develop a program around a subject for a company for independents with common challenges within a share group or wholesaler. The business provides plenty of reasons why they should be convening every year and it is our job to provide them the environment in which to accomplish it.
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