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Notes & comment from the Content Guy...

DALLAS - The name of the presentation, as in past years, was “FMI Speaks.” But in some ways, it was the reaction of some retailers that really spoke volumes about the industry’s ability to face the kinds of challenges that exist today.

In the presentation Food Marketing Institute (FMI) CEO Leslie Sarasin laid out four “significant and interrelated movements” affecting the food industry, with the goal of helping retailers shape their strategies for future growth.

These movements included value-seeking as a new normal, technology-enhanced shopping (focusing on digital as a means of gathering information), e-commerce , and format innovation. All of them made perfect sense, and were beyond debate.

Except ... there was a sense, when listening to some retailers reacting to the presentation, that the whole digital/e-commerce thing was seen as the kind of change that they are not happy about, that they would prefer not to have to deal with, and that, quite frankly, they only are embracing because they have to. (Which means that they are not. Not really. We all know that a forced hug is never as good as a sincere hug.)

The thing is, keeping up with the digital/e-commerce revolution is hard. But, as Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, it is the hard that makes it worth doing.

Furthermore, it really doesn’t matter whether retailers think it is hard, or would prefer not to have to adapt to change. Because the change is happening. The only real decision is whether to keep up.

And here’s the other argument I would make to retailers who would rather not have to change. I would suggest that I know of one retailer who loves change. His name is Jeff Bezos, he is the CEO of Amazon.com, and he lives for change. He probably wakes up in the morning thinking about what he’s going to change today. He probably wakes up thinking about how his ideas will disrupt other people’s business models ... especially the models created by people who hate to change.

Leslie Sarasin laid out the challenge, but some reactions would suggest that there are a few retailers who would prefer not to accept it. That reluctance, I’m guessing, would be music to Jeff Bezos’s ears.

In a subsequent session, three leading retailers offered insights into social networking and how companies can use the findings in the latest Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council study to understand the fast growing area and plot a course for their companies.

Jerry Golub of PriceChopper offered a word of caution to those executives who are fearful that social networking will erode control over their company's message. In short, Golub told them that social networking has already eroded that control, creating a new world where shoppers' opinions on a range of topics gain increasing legitimacy almost daily. Cathy Green Burns of Food Lion said in many ways the chatter on social networking provides a "window into the soul of brands" by clearly demonstrating what customers really think about a company's products, services or stores.

And questioned about the business benefits of social networking, J.K. Symancyk of Meijer explained how his company uses social media to communicate directly with frequent shoppers on specific products, such as holiday specials, to build incremental sales and eliminate inventory that wasn't selling.

In other FMI news...

• FMI announced the 12th annual Store Manager Award Grand Prize Winners at FMI2012. The three winners were chosen from nine category finalists recognized for their work in innovative store operations, leadership and community involvement. The winners were Mike Jacob, ShopRite of Hunterdon County, Flemington, NJ; Lee Lucero, King Soopers, Denver, CO; and Ted Boyd, Bi-Lo LLC, Greenwood, SC.
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