retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Notes and comments from the Content Guy...

MIAMI BEACH -- As a major winter blizzard cut its way toward New England and Mid-Atlantic states, senior retail and supplier executives were fortunate enough to be here, at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference, a place where the worst things likely to happen this week are a cool breeze advisory and perhaps a shortage of sunscreen.

But that's not say that people weren't working...

• In the Sunday afternoon session sponsored by the Network of Executive Women (NEW), the focus was on what the 14-year-old organization is calling a new movement with a shift in focus. "We have been focusing on the wrong issue," said NEW CEO Joan Toth. "We do not need to change women — we need to transform our organizations.

"When we try to make women conform to a male leadership style, we lose the benefits of women’s leadership — and we lose female talent. Women in our industry are voting with their feet. Dissatisfied with their prospects, unable to make a difference, they are going elsewhere, often starting their own businesses.

"Gender diversity does not mean switching from a male leadership culture to a female one. We need an inclusive work culture that values the unique strengths of everyone to make our organizations strong." And one of the reasons that this inclusive work culture is important is that it is not just women who are the beneficiaries. "Millennials share the same workplace priorities as women," Toth said. "They want balance between work and life. They want a flexible work environment. And they want to make a difference. When you create a workplace that attracts and retains women, you create a workplace that attracts and retains Millennials, too."

Lisa Walsh, SVP at PepsiCo Sales and a member of the NEW board, put it this way: "It’s time for a new leadership culture. One that’s less rigid and more flexible. Less authoritative and more collaborative. Less conformist and more diverse. More authentic and less impersonal.

"Women need it. Millennials want it. The times demand it." And the goal is to build "a new model for workplace transformation."

That strikes me as critically important. I had the opportunity to facilitate the session, and one of the things that really grabbed my attention was research showing that since 2008, there has been virtually no increase in women executives in the retail business - it haas gone from 18.5 percent to 18.6 percent of the total. The research shows that women comprise the more educated half of our workforce, that they excel in leadership traits and demonstrably improve the performance of companies they lead, why isn’t the share of women leaders in our industry soaring? NEW's new challenge is to turn this dichotomy into opportunity for growth, and create a workplace that works for everyone.

It strikes me as a noble cause that makes excellent business sense. I look forward to the conversation - and the movement - continuing on MNB.

• The Food Marketing Institute also used the weekend to announce "a September marketing initiative with the nation’s grocers aimed at highlighting food retailers’ unique family meal programs and their commitment to bringing families back to the table, one meal at a time. Numerous studies have underscored the long-term health, academic and societal benefits of eating together as a family, yet, according to a 2013 Harris poll, about 30 percent of American families share dinner every night."

The announcement went on: "With family mealtime at a critical intersection, the FMI Foundation is calling upon the industry’s collective voice and influence to launch “National Family Meals Month.” This month-long FMI member communications campaign will give the grocery industry a unified theme and turnkey promotional tools to encourage consumers to lean on their local supermarket to prepare one more family meal per week at home."

FMI said that it will "offer its members a free downloadable toolkit featuring customizable promotional and social media materials that enable grocers and consumer product brands to easily integrate National Family Meals Month marketing into their existing promotional schedules."

Smart idea ... and, to be honest, one that we've been arguing for in this space for a long time. FMI has been part of a "Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children" effort for a number of years, but the feeling here always has been that one day hardly seems like enough - that this should be a core value of the nation's food retailing industry, with a much broader marketing effort behind it than just a single day.

• Also this weekend, FMI presented its highest honor, the Sidney R. Rabb Award, to David B. Dillon, former chairman of the board of directors for The Kroger Co., recognizing him for excellence in serving the consumer, the community and the industry.

In addition, IGA, Inc. Chairman Dr. Thomas S. Haggai received FMI's Herbert Hoover Award, recognizing Dr. Haggai’s longtime humanitarian service in the food retail industry.

And, FMI awarded ConAgra Foods, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Gary Rodkin the William H. Albers Award, recognizing his exemplary business partner relations within the retail food industry.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) also announced that Steve Smith, president and CEO of Food City, today received the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) 2015 Industry Collaboration Leadership Award, recognizing him for being "an industry leader who has demonstrated excellence in fostering collaboration among consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry trading partners."

• It should be noted that while the sun was shining here, there was concern expressed by many about the blizzard conditions expected to drop several feet of snow.

As for me, I simply pointed out to Mrs. Content Guy, who marveled at my good luck not being at home for the blizzard, that in fact snow may be the least of anyone's worries ... since there will be an enormous asteroid that is about one-third of a mile in size that is scheduled to pass within 745,000 miles of Earth ... which, in galactic terms, is really, really close. It is not likely to hit us, but then again ...

KC's View: