By: Leslie G. Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute

TurntableA friend observed recently that he feels like his 45 rpm life is being played on the 78 rpm setting. Now, I know that only those of you as old as I am will get his reference, but his observation put into words what many if not most of us feel -- that everything moves faster these days. Whether we're talking about issues, opportunities or information, they are all coming at us at an unprecedented pace, allowing for less reaction time, requiring quicker decisions and forcing us to set our strategies more rapidly. The luxury of reflection and leisurely consideration is disappearing as we seek to do business in a world requiring us to stay two steps ahead or risk quickly finding ourselves three paces behind. 

So while it may feel a bit ironic in the context of a future coming at us faster than ever before, among the challenges we must get better and quicker at mastering is forecasting the issues coming our way, so we can be as prepared as possible to face them. In fact, the only way we can buy ourselves the necessary time to dedicate due consideration and careful scrutiny to an issue is to recognize it when it presents itself as a mere glimmer on the horizon headed our way. 

Consequently, we at FMI have redoubled our efforts at identifying emerging issues. We seek to name those concerns bearing potential to affect the food retail industry within the next five to ten years, especially those anticipated in some way to contribute to redefining the way we operate. And while we must identify these concerns now because they will come at us quickly, we also recognize that doesn’t mean they necessarily can be easily or quickly addressed. We must identify them now so we can begin the necessary research, cultivate the needed resources and develop the relationships required to discover the opportunities within the challenges presented by each issue.  

FMI’s senior staff team met several weeks ago for an emerging issues brainstorming session. From the various areas of expertise represented by this group of leaders, we identified more than 140 issues, both large and small, that have potential to be game-changers for some aspect of food retail operations. We then, taking into account their overlap and interrelatedness of the issues, sought to break them into five larger, more encompassing categories. The five high-impact areas we identified (and a brief description of them) are: 

• Artificial Intelligence - The ways in which technology will transform the food industry and alter the role of humans throughout its processes;

• Workforce - The impact of global changes on hiring, training, management, and corporate culture;

• New Marketplace - Rethinking what the marketplace will look like and the role of the physical store;

• Food Production - Shifts in food production caused by global changes, whether technological, environmental, values-based, or otherwise; and

• Emerging new consumerism - Defining value for consumers beyond just cost, taste, and convenience.

We are now in the process of vetting our thinking with our members- including the FMI Board of Directors - as a reality check that the horizon issues we’ve identified match the thoughts, considerations and experiences of those who – on a daily basis - live the fast paced, ever-changing world of food retail.