By: Carol Abel, Vice President of Education, Food Marketing Institute
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Three words describe FMI Events in 2016, “Quality AND Quantity.”

While we carefully monitor the numbers, we also know we serve FMI members best by providing high-quality opportunities for them to learn what they need to grow their businesses and to meet one another face to face. So the “AND” is an important part of the sentence.

One of the best 2016 event examples successfully negotiating both dimensions of quality and quantity was the Midwinter Executive Conference in January. This signature event had its highest attendance in 19 years (1,040 attendees, a 47-percent increase since 2008). The 2016 Midwinter Strategic Executive Exchange (SEE) program—which annually provides retailers, wholesalers and suppliers the chance to conduct one-on-one meetings–grew to 431 appointments, with 19 new companies choosing to participate.

To keep track with the food retail industry’s high demand for retention and attraction of gifted leadership, FMI moved its Future Leaders program into an annual event this year with program adjustments made to help achieve the goal of making this the best event to nurture those staff who will lead the industry in the future. The program this year focused on two tracks – Developing Yourself and Leading Others. Several learning tools were improved, including a self-assessment tool, learning and action plans, and a guide for creating company teams. Post-event surveys indicated 93 percent of participants had met their goals in attending. The Future Leaders planning committee has further shaken up the format for 2017 to create a valuable interactive experience – stay tuned!

A national summit in June and a series of webinars in August attended by over 70 potential partners helped cast a larger spotlight on the Retail Management Certificate program – a community college certificate program offering retail employees a credential toward industry advancement.

The 2016 Annual Business Conference in Chicago made the calendar shift to September this year. While the scheduling adjustment meant some regular attendees were not able to participate this year, we anticipate their return in 2017, given the stated value of business-to-business meetings between CPG suppliers and wholesalers and retailers.

The FMI Events team took to heart the “Quality AND Quantity” mantra with the annual FMI Connect in June, reducing the overall number of education activities by about 30 percent and focusing on making every element as rich in content as possible.

Transition and change to our work in the world of Asset and Safety last year resulted in the newly reformatted ASAP Conference. The ASAP Conference is the only event for Audit, Safety and Asset Protection professionals in food retail that is designed to anticipate what's next in this crucial area. As with many of our conferences, a design team of representatives from FMI member companies help configure this event to ensure FMI remains focused on those areas most important to protecting your company’s profit.

In September, the FMI Executive Committee decided to retire FMI Connect. With this bold step, we are able to refocus and rethink our event strategy to be in step with the changing retailing landscape and devote more resources to the remaining FMI portfolio of 12 events, which drew more than 5,800 attendees in 2016. That focus on events, each with its own unique perspective – for instance, the always popular Meat Conference, Global Sustainability Summit and the TPA Supply Chain Conference – can better serve the retail food industry as it continues to grow, diversify and change.