FMI Comes To Town For The Last Time

The Food Marketing Institute Show, which wraps up today at the McCormick Center, is the biggest food event to hit Chicago since the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in mid-April. It’s actually quite a big deal: the FMI has 1,500 food retailers and wholesalers on its roster that operate 26,000 retails food stores, which are responsible for 75% of all retail food sales in the United States. It’s a huge organization, and its programs cover everything from food safety and security (protecting the food supply is no joke) to professional education and enrichment to lobbying to putting on this show, which brings together over 30,000 people in the industry to network with each other and paw over the latest products and technologies in food retailing. As if that weren’t enough, the FMI show is co-located with the United Fresh Marketplace, All Things Organic, and Fancy Food shows. Can you imagine all these things, under one roof? We can barely wrap our mind around it.

Who was there? Well, every food retailer you can think of, but also entities as diverse as Google and Algeria. Anyone with an interest in food, selling, and selling food had an interest in being at the FMI show. We certainly had an interest in being there, but like many of our best laid plans…fortunately for the media-starved, Mike Sula managed to score a ticket and got the goods on the goods, like rare Morrocan olive oil and “organic” flavor enhancers that miss the point of organic. And last week, we noted some of the product highlights from the show, like corn-based biodegradable packaging (about time!). We’re sure more news about new products will come out of the show as people begin to absorb what they’ve seen, but in the meantime, two FMI press releases from the show caught our eye, and we wanted to share the findings with you (since no one else will):

1) FMI Consumer Trends 2007: Confidence in Food Safety Down, Energy Costs Changing How People Shop - Not that it should come as much of a surprise, but consumer sentiment toward food safety in supermarkets and at restaurants is at an 18 year low (evidently, something worse than the spinach/pet food dual crisis happened in 1989). With decreased trust and expendable income due to gas price increases, commodity inflation and wage stagnation, consumers (obviously not the rich ones) are eating out less (69%), using leftovers more (62%), buying generic (56%), canned, frozen and boxed (30%) in order to save food and money this year. Of course, that means a lot of people are buying more fresh and organic foods, but not everyone can afford to do so all the time. • This may be borne out somewhat in a new shopping strategy which Americans seem to have adapted that represents something of a return to the pre-big-box era of shopping: consumers are visiting two stores to stock up on food, usually a supercenter for their staples, and higher-end conventional stores for fresh meat, dairy and produce. Either type of store can technically fulfill one’s shopping needs, but people are increasingly customizing their food purchases to maximize quality where it counts per dollar. • Also, consumers are wary of cloned meat and animal products; 84% believe that cloned food ought to be labeled as such, an issue that has already been taken up by the California state Senate, despite the lack of FDA approval on the products.

2) FMI’s State of Food Retailing 2007: Sales Surge for National Chains, Many Other Retailers Challenged - Meanwhile, the food retailing industry itself is doing fine, even as consumer sentiment suffers. Annual sales increased 5.3% in 2006; the majority of which, it seems, came from national chains. In fact, nearly half of all food retailing locations experienced a decrease in sales last year, which is meaningful given overall industry growth. It seems like Mom and Pop are having more and more trouble turning a profit off selling food, continuing a trend that’s been in place since…oh, maybe the middle of the last century. For the sake of diversity, we hope that the two-store strategy that consumers are employing will encourage smaller, non-chain stores to find a niche (organics, prepared food, customer service) where competition with the supercenters is possible.

Finally, we note with some sadness that the show will be moving to Las Vegas next year. What, Chicago isn’t good enough for you anymore? Ridiculous.

[Photos: FMI Show Press Room]

FMI Comes To Town For The Last Time