Published on: January 13, 2009Notes and comment from “Content Guy” Kevin Coupe…
ORLANDO – Coming in the middle of perhaps the greatest financial crisis to hit the United States since the Great Depression seven decades ago, it was noteworthy to a number of attendees that day one of the annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference focused not on the strategic and tactical challenges of doing business in the current economic climate, but rather featured the following:
• FMI and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) signed a “Joint Memorandum of Understanding Collaboration Agreement,” which said that the two organizations have as an objective “to significantly enhance manufacturer/retailer collaboration to achieve greater supply chain efficiency, better ways to serve the consumer, and more efficient use of association and member company resources.” (Despite the use of the words “efficiency” and “consumer,” this apparently is not the same thing as Efficient Consumer Response.)
The agreement said that FMI and GMA “agree to a new integrated and jointly developed annual industry agenda to eliminate duplication and maximize each organization’s strengths in order to achieve a new collaboration model. While the thrust of this effort focuses on industry affairs, we are also committed to improved joint work in public policy and science.” The agreement forms a Joint Industry Relations/Industry Affairs Council, or Trading Partner Alliance (TPA), which will develop an annual work plan for the trade associations, and calls for consistent auditing of the associations’ efforts as a way of reducing duplication and building on synergies.
(After the signing of the memorandum, there were a number of attendees who seemed to think that it was a precursor to some sort of FMI-GMA merger, and who wondered why the agreement didn’t explicitly call for the exploration of such a possibility. Others, however, suggested that here were too many conflicting interests to make such a merger likely or even possible.)
• Peter Lynch, chairman, president and CEO of Winn-Dixie, began the conference by detailing how his company is working its way back to health. Lynch talked about the improvements made to stores and increased focus on improving operations in affluent, resort, Hispanic, urban and Jewish areas. But he emphasized that the key to success is building talent. "It takes great leaders in tough times," he said, adding that store managers are the key to sustained improvement by the company.
• Douglas Conant, president/CEO of Campbell Soup Co., said that even in tough economic times, “fundamental leadership challenges remain the same,” and that the keys to leadership success are “a high trust, high performance culture” that is “wrapped around an advantaged business proposition.” Conant described his philosophy of leadership by using his own career (moving from General Mills to Kraft to Nabisco to Campbell) and Campbell’s revival since the turn of the century as examples, and noted that “engaged people” are critical to any and all success.
• Leslie Sarasin, the new CEO of FMI, laid out some of her priorities for the organization, saying that she wants to “build on the many strengths of this organization and, candidly, to fix the portions that need repair.” She said that her goal is to “develop a high-performance business model – one that can be sustained, one that is fiscally responsible, and one that can manage change to maintain our position as an indispensible industry leader and business partner.”
• Neil Golub, president and chief executive officer of the Golub Corporation, received the 2009 Glen P. Woodard, Jr., Public Affairs Award, recognizing his leadership in helping the supermarket industry address important government issues.
• Rich Niemann, Sr., chairman of Niemann Foods, received the 2009 Sidney R. Rabb Award today for his community involvement and strong advocacy on behalf of the supermarket industry.
• Milton Sender, chairman and co-founder of Daymon Worldwide, Inc., received the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) 2009 William H. Albers Industry Relations Award for industry relations.
• Supervalu Chairman/CEO Jeff Noddle was honored with the 2009 FMI Herbert Hoover Award for his personal and professional excellence in serving the food retail and wholesale industry.
• Tim Hammonds, the recently retired CEO of FMI, was honored for his more than three decades of service to the trade association.
• David Gergen, senior correspondent at CNN and professor of public service at the Harvard Kennedy School, analyzed the incoming Obama administration, reassuring the audience that it would be primarily made up of “mainstream appointees” and that food regulations and food safety would not be high on the new administration’s agenda. Gergen said that this “is a good time to be engaged in constructive dialogue” with Democratic leaders, since, “for Democrats, these people are willing to listen.” And he urged the attendees to begin considering “what an integrated food policy would look like.”
In his presentation, to be accurate, Gergen did talk about the recession, noting that the general feeling is that it will not be “V-shaped,” but rather will resemble a soup bowl, with a prolonged decline, a long plateau (of uncertain duration) and, finally, a slow emergence from economic hardship. And he said that unlike past recessions, it is probably that the jobs that are being lost right now “are not coming back,” and that the nation and private industry “will need to invent new jobs” more in synch with how the nation has changed.
But also to be fair, there seemed to be a tangible dissatisfaction – at least among attendees with whom MNB spoke - with the fact that for the most part, consideration of the economy’s impact on the food industry seemed to be limited to gratitude that nobody in the audience was selling cars or in the financial services business, and that even in hard times, people have to eat.
Of course, it wasn't that long ago that the US automobile business and the financial services industry thought that they were in fine shape, untouchable, invulnerable to the ebbs and flows of the marketplace. If the last few months have taught us anything, it is that there is no such thing as an unassailable position, no such thing as an impregnable advantage. And as Day One of the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference wore down, there were those in attendance who wondered why these basic truths had not yet been addressed, why the conference had not seized the day.
- KC's View: